A primer in hamstring anatomy
As with anything, it’s important to be educated in the finer aspects of muscle anatomy, before you begin training a certain part of the body. The hamstrings, which are the focus of this page go up from your lower thigh, right by the joint in your knee, to the place where your glutes, i.e. buttocks begin. In fact, the gluteal muscles, hamstrings, and lower back muscles are the catalysts of any bending and lifting movement. As such, if strengthening the hamstrings is your goal, you should know that what you’re actually working on is core stabilization of your body’s rear side.
The hamstrings are made up of three main muscle groups:
· The biceps femoris muscle
· The semimembranosus muscle
· The semitendinosus
When put to work together, these three muscles help you complete several very important types of movements. Aside from helping you bend and lift, they also help you flex your knee. They are the main reason for which you can move your hip, extend it past the width of your pelvic region, and do all sorts of things with your legs. Extensions, abductions, stability movements, leg twists, and lateral rotations all depend on how strong your hamstrings are.
Hamstring exercises for mass
So your arms can do a curl with more than 100lbs? That’s great, but what do your legs have to say about it? You see, beginner weightlifters and even wannabe pro bodybuilders sometimes fall under the impression that lifting is all about having strong arms. Of course, this matters too – to a great extent, even. But it’s your legs, namely your quads and hamstrings that have to support the plate weights, as well as the weight of the bar itself. Have you ever wondered how bodybuilding experts do a clean 500lbs+ lift without so much as a jolt? It’s all in the legs – and today you’re going to learn what the top 5 exercises for leg muscle mass are.
Deadlifts with a stiff leg
When performing a regular deadlift, you are working out your hamstrings, but not to their full potential. In fact, most of the load is taken on by your lower and upper back muscles. But a small alteration to this classic weightlifting movement will bring your hamstrings into focus to a huge extent. The stiff leg version of the deadlift is probably the most intensive hamstring exercise you can perform. For the initial stance, you’ll need a platform to stand on, so that the weight you lift goes further down than normally. This way, by bending ever lower, you will be stretching your hamstrings to a greater extent. Pull the weight up to the very top with a deadlift movement, then lower it back down to the floor with an ample stretch of the hamstrings, achieved by bending from the waist. To lift the weight back up again, support the weights, as well as your bodyweight, with the force of your hips.
Do you know what makes a good workout crazy good? The fact that it requires absolutely no equipment – just some weight that can add resistance training to your circuit. Of course, you could use resistance bands, but you can also go forplate drags, which fall into this category of exercise, because all you need to complete them is a plate from a set of free weights. The initial position will have you lying down, holding on to a fastened bar or another object that you can securely attach yourself to. Reach out with your legs and insert your heel into the hole in the middle of the weighted plate. Then, drag it toward the center of your body by bending your legs at the knee. Push the plate back by extending your knees back down. The key to properly executing this exercise is to work your way up, from lighter weights to heavier ones.
Wide box squats
Even beginner fitness enthusiasts, who simply want to tone up overall, know that squats are the ideal movement for strengthening the upper part of the thigh muscles. However, all you need to do, in order to tailor this move for the hamstrings, is to add some elevation into the mix. You can either do this with the aid of a box or with some weight plates (alternatively, a regular bench machine can also be used). Pick a sturdy object, in any case, because at the bottom of the exercise, you will have to rest on it. By starting out the movement with your feet wider than hip-width apart you will be exerting higher pressure than usual on the hamstrings. At the lowest point of the negative part of the squat movement, hold the stance on the box for a few seconds, then lift your bodyweight with the aid of your hips.
Leg curls, lying down
You may find it hard to believe that you can get in some hamstring action in any other position than standing up. However, the lying leg curl is a great way to work this muscle group with a minimum input of effort. There are plenty of other, far more efficient moves to work the hamstrings out there, but this one works by isolating the muscles. As such, it’s a good idea to integrate it in a compound routine, which also uses deadlifts and squats, for instance. For this exercise, you’ll need a weight that stretches the muscle, without overexerting it, as well as a piece of gym equipment which will allow you to lie down, with your face to the floor. Make sure you don’t push your knee too far in the lower-most point of the negative movement included in this leg curl.
We’ve previously discussed how deadlifts are some of the best leg exercises out there, because they include most muscle groups in this part of the body. In fact, a quick online search for free leg workouts will typically yield hundreds of variations on the theme of the deadlift. The barbell lift is better suited for working your hamstrings, because it requires you to focus on stabilization, but also to apply extra pressure on the muscles of your legs, as you support your core. The barbell deadlift is ideal for any number of goals, including cutting muscle, burning calories, shedding pounds, and strengthening. Start out with your legs at shoulder-width distance and the barbell placed before your shins, right above your ankles. Lift the bar straight up, by engaging your whole bodyweight. Your core needs to be stabilized during the positive part of the movement, while your glutes, legs, and hips will be doing most of the lifting work per se. Keep your back as straight as possible and the weight close to you. Hold the top stance of the move for a few seconds, then slowly lower it back down to the ground. During the negative part of the movement make sure to keep your core muscles tight and controlled.
Hamstring exercises for women
While many men focus on sculpting their legs through hamstring routines that involve weightlifting, or programs such as P90X, Crossfit, or TRX, womens hamstring exercises pursue a different goal. The female pattern of storing fat throughout the body conceals women’s hamstrings underneath layers of adipose tissue. That’s why for most women toning these muscles is as important as strengthening them. Luckily, there are plenty of leg exercises out there dedicated to women. We recommend checking out YouTube videos, creating a customized workout plan based on your own goals, downloading it in .pdf format and then printing it out, to make it easier to follow. You can choose from the 5 great exercises we’ve listed and described below: pick 2, 3, or as many as you see fit and perform 10 to 15 reps of each move. You’ll see your legs shaping up in next to no time and you’ll also have a therapeutic solution to pains in various parts of your body. Stronger hamstrings can help you prevent knee pains as well as aches in your lower back region. Don’t underestimate your hamstring muscles, ladies, because they play a major part in helping you move about your life.
The hamstring march
For this exercise, which works your buttocks and core, aside from your legs, you’re going to need a Bosu ball for support. You can also perform the exercise with your head and shoulders placed directly on the floor. Your arms should be outstretched to your laterals, while your legs should be bent at the knee in a 45-degree angle. Lift your hips into the air until your entire body, from the shoulders down to your knees, forms a straight line. Raise your right leg straight up, positioning your knee right over your hipbone. Reach in front with the same leg, to align your thighs parallel to each other. Resume the initial position and switch over to the left side. That’s one rep; aim for 10 to 12 reps in a single set.
The leg press
Sure, squats are great as far as core stabilization goes, but for some women (beginners in particular) free weightlifting might prove a bit daunting. That’s because most females have less strength in their torso and are not as well equipped as men to stabilize the load with their core muscles. A leg press, on the other hand, puts the legs of the muscles to work more. You’re going to need a bench and, as you pull the weight back down, tuck your knees as close to your torso as possible, without experiencing discomfort. Push the weights back up with your heels and make sure your knees are not locked down when you reach the top point of the movement. Remember that the higher you position your feet on the foot plate of the bench press, the more you’ll be working out your hamstrings.
The great part about lunges is that they’re incredibly versatile, as far as resistance training exercises go. You can perform them with any type of weights, from the straight barbell to dumbbells to kettlebells, to the Smith machine, and to your own bodyweight. You can lunge in front or behind – the only rule you need to bear in mind as far as form goes is to keep the knee of the leg which supports the weight behind the toes of that same leg. In lunge stance, lower your body down to the floor, until the opposite knee touches the ground. If you feel you’re about to collapse, go as low as you can, while still being comfortable. Push your body back up to the initial position with the aid of your leg and lunge forward or backward with the opposite leg. Also, you can opt for traveling lunges or static ones.
The plank dumbbell hamstring curl
The name of this particular leg exercise is about as self-explanatory as they get: you use a pair of dumbbells, curl your legs, and end up in plank position. But let’s get into a bit more detail than that. First off, you should select a pair of dumbbells of a comfortable weight, which can range from 5 to ten pounds. The key is for you to be able to perform 12 to 15 reps without collapsing, but to also feel some burn after one set of repetitions. For the initial position, put your knees on the floor and stretch out your arms so that your palms are flat on the ground, right beneath your shoulders. Place one dumbbell behind your right knee and grip it with your calf. Extend the opposite leg to your rear and hold your balance on the ball of your left foot. Press your core abdominal muscles into your spine and position your body in plank position – this means that your head, torso and leg (through the heel of the extended leg) should be aligned in a straight line. Then raise your right knee to your hip and lower it back down. Switch legs and repeat to complete a full rep.
The towel hamstring curl
We also included the hamstring curl in our list of the best exercises for leg mass above. A variation of this exercise can also work wonders for women who want to tone their glutes, as well as their leg muscles. Lie on the ground with your face up and your feet resting on a towel. Your knees should be bent in a 90 degree angle, while your arms should be resting by your side. Simultaneously raise your hips and the toes of your feet into the air. Tighten your abdominal muscles, then push through your legs to extend them as much as you can. Don’t allow your hips to touch back down on the ground. Then, slowly resume the initial position, by bending your legs at the knees. Put in 10 to 12 reps.
Hamstring exercises at home
With the advent of the Internet, downloadable workout routines for every muscle group imaginable, and the increasing affordability of home gym equipment, it’s no wonder that more and more people are opting to tone up and get fit at home. However, the hamstrings make for a peculiar case in this landscape of at-home fitness, in the sense that they’re often overlooked. That’s largely because most workout plans that trainers provide, both online and off, rely on gym equipment to strengthen this group of leg muscles. There are a lot of machines that specifically target them, such as the hammer strength seated hamstring machine, the Thera band, the prone hamstring curl machine, or the hammer strength standing hamstring machine. This makes for a paradoxical situation. Even with this plethora of devices, you can start to feel like there’s nothing to do at home to tone up the hamstrings. Fortunately, though, this isn’t true. Check out our selection of the best 7 isometric exercises for your knee and hip flexors which you can perform in your home gym room.
This exercise for the hamstrings works much in the same way as a typical hamstring curl machine would, at your local gym. It’s inspired by TRX and the key difference is that this exercise only makes use of your bodyweight to build resistance in your leg muscles. For the initial position, kneel with your back to a wall and attach your feet tightly to it. Place a mat or some form of carpeting under your knees for cushioning and support, then raise your body from the knees up, but without bending at the hip. Extend your arms straight out and gradually lower yourself to the ground. Make sure you’re not bending from the waist or the hips during the negative part of the movement. Tighten your hamstring as you descend, hold the bottom stance, then push through your hamstrings (but not your hips), to resume the initial upright position.
This is a complex compound exercise, which engages a wide range of muscles, including your core, glute muscles, and hamstrings. Since it’s inspired from both yoga and Pilates, it’s also great for improving your balancing and stabilization skills. For proper form, it’s essential to keep your ab muscles contracted throughout the duration of this exercise and to tighten your gluteus at the topmost position of the movement. At the start of the exercise you should be lying face up on the floor, with your back and feet flat and your legs bent at the knee. Position your palms flatly on the ground, on your sides. Push through your heels to raise your hips into the air. Raise your body until it reaches bridge position – at this point you should only be touching the floor with your heels and shoulder blades. For a full repetition, lower your body back to the ground.
The stability ball leg curl
This is one of the best isolation exercises for the hamstring muscles that you can perform at home. You’re going to need a stability ball (also known as a Swiss ball), to support your heels in the initial position. Your upper body should be lying down on the floor, with your knees bent at an angle that’s slightly narrower than 90 degrees. Your palms should be lying to your sides on the floor. Gradually raise your hips off the floor in a controlled move, with your palms still lying flat on the ground and your arms stretching out. At the top point of the movement, your body should form a diagonal line from the heels up to your shoulders. To resume the initial position, bring your knees as close to your chest as possible.
The hamstring foam roll
This exercise is great for hamstring injury prevention, as well as from relieving the pressure from your leg muscles. Looser muscles are less likely to tear up or be otherwise injured. You’re obviously going to need a foam roller for this exercise and, as a word of advice, it might feel a bit uncomfortable at first. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it in time! Place the roller right underneath your hamstrings, i.e. between your knee joint and the place where the thighs end and the glutes begin. Sit on the roller with your entire bodyweight. Slowly roll back and forth on the roller, by pulling your upper body through your arms. The foam roller should be moving on your muscles much in the same way as a rolling pin would on a piece of dough.
The hyperextension in reverse
If you were at the gym, you’d be using a dedicated hyperextension machine for this exercise – but you’re not. You’re working out in the comfort of your own home, where you’re only going to need a bench or a balance ball, as well as a single weight. This weight can be a dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a full bottle of water, if you can’t afford to invest in weights. Lie face down on a bench, with your arms wrapped around it, your legs hanging to the floor and a weight placed between your ankle. Lift your feet as high up into the air as you can, with your legs outstretched. Then, raise your legs, too – if possible, try to go higher than the level of the bench. At the top of the movement, give your gluteal muscles a good squeeze. In a controlled movement, gradually lower your feet back to the floor.
The ‘Good morning’
The name of this hamstring exercise for women is very fitting and suggestive: at the top of the movement, you’ll look as if you’re performing one highly rewarding morning stretch. The key to proper form in its case is to keep your back in a neutral position, without rounding it or arching it in the least. Also, don’t lock your knees – keep them soft, but straight. The point of the ‘good morning’ is to feel that your hamstrings are stretching; the second you feel the slightest stretch in your leg, stop bending over. Pick up a barbell, spread your feet at hip-width distance and position the barbell on your shoulders. The distance between your hands should slightly exceed that between your shoulders. Bend your elbows out to the sides and have your palms face ahead. Push your buttocks toward the rear by bending ahead from your hips. Make sure your knees aren’t locked and stop when your torso is almost (but not entirely parallel to the floor). Resume the initial position by tightening your glutes.
The leg stretch with cross-over
The key difference between this exercise and most others is that this one acts upon each hamstring in turn. If your muscles are feeling a bit sore and very pressured, then the crossover leg stretch is going to help loosen them up and make them longer, leaner. Bear in mind that you should not overexert your back during this movement, by reaching too far back. At first, stand straight, with your feet close together and your arms hanging in neutral position by your sides. Cross your right leg over the left one and bend over from the waist, so that the fingers of your hands reach down to your toes. Keep leaning forward until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings; at this point, hold the stance for 15 up to 30 seconds. Slowly stand back up again and switch to the other side, for a full repetition.
Hamstring exercises with no equipment
Is it possible to work out your hamstrings without any weights or any other type of equipment, for that matter? Many fans of weightlifting and bodybuilding will tell you that it isn’t, or they’ll argue that hamstring workouts with no equipment are simply ineffective. To a certain extent, they’d be right, since this long muscle group, running all the way up your thigh is difficult to target without any specialized gym machines. However, this is not to say that it’s impossible to give your legs a good workout, straight from the comfort of your own home, without any heavy weights or sophisticated fitness devices involved.
We’ve selected the top seven best hamstring routines with no weights for you. They all use your bodyweight and nothing else and you can either integrate them into your current workout routine, or you can use them as is, in a separate plan for intensively working out your hamstrings. Each move described below should be performed for 15 reps. Some of them address each leg individually, so make sure to avoid creating an imbalance by working out both sides. It’s also a good idea to give your muscles some time to warm up by doing about 10 minutes of cardio. Also, at the very end, don’t forget to stretch, so as to maximize the effect of the workout. As a final note, bear in mind that, should you choose to perform these ten exercises as a stand-alone workout routine, you’ll be exercising far more muscles than just your legs. The exercises included on the list below target your gluts, calves, ab muscles, lower back, hip flexors, pecs, quad muscles, and many others.
The Pilates heel tap
If you want to tighten and tone your butt and thighs, the Pilates heel tap is perfect for you. The only piece of equipment it requires is a yoga mat, but you can always use any carpeting you have at home. The initial position will have you lying down on the mat, with your palms positioned right underneath your shoulders. Your elbows should be pinned to your sides. Stretch out your legs, to the point where your knees and upper thighs are facing away from one another, while your feet are at hip-width distance. Tighten your leg and core muscles, flex your toes up, and breathe in. Breathe out to push your body upward and raise your legs and torso off the floor. Your body weight should be supported by your hands and arms. Breathe in again, to drive your legs as far apart as possible, but make sure they’re not touching the ground. Bring them together again, tap your heels twice, breathe out – and you’ve just completed a full rep.
The weightless deadlift
This exercise works both your legs at the same time and starts out in standing position. Make sure not to push your muscles too much, especially if you’re currently recovering from a hamstring injury. To perform a deadlift, bend over from the hips and tighten your core muscles as you perform the entire movement. For an easier version of this type of deadlift (suitable for beginners, as well as for those in recovery), clasp your hands together behind your back, with both arms stretched down. Lower your upper body, until it is parallel to the floor. Resume the initial position to complete the full rep.
The ventral hop
This plyometric exercise will work out both your core as well as your lower body. Your buttocks, calves, quadriceps, hip flexors and hamstrings are all involved in performing the movement. What’s more, ventral hops improve the strength and stability of your ankles, hip joints, and knees. If you’re a professional athlete or have delicate ankle and knee joints, this exercise is essential for making sure that these areas of your body stay safe and sound, protected against injuries. For the initial position, stand up straight, with your feet close together, but your knees unlocked. Jump straight ahead for as long a distance as possible, then immediately jump back to your starting stance. Keep putting in reps for as high a number as you want, or for as long a time as you can do it without collapsing.
The high knee
While there is no such thing as fat spot reduction, this exercise is particularly great for those with weight loss and body fat percentage reduction goals. Its intense nature renders it similar to HIIT, although it actually qualifies more as cardio, since it manages to raise your heart rate almost instantly – as well as without any equipment. Since it’s a total body move, it also works out your abs, thighs, and hip flexor muscles. To perform it, begin with your arms down by your sides and your feet close together. Start jogging in place, raise one leg higher and pull it up, to the point where it is bent at the knee in a 90-degree angle and the thigh is at least on the same level with the hip. You can even bring your leg higher, if this does not cause discomfort. As you bring the first leg back down, simultaneously start pulling the other one up to the same position. Continue jogging with your knees high in the air, by alternating the pull movement.
The classic squat
We’ve discussed the benefits of the squat for the hamstrings before, but we couldn’t have left it out of our top ten of the best no weights exercise list. You’re probably already familiar with the movement, but here’s a refresher: to perform it, simply hinge your glutes back from the hips, the same way you would right before sitting down on a chair. Your core muscles should be contracted as you perform the movement, while your feet should be positioned at hip-width distance. Proper form is very important when performing the squat, as you don’t want to risk knee and/or back injuries. Keep your torso braced straight up during squats and make sure you’re not leaning forward.
The wall sit
If you like varsity movies, you may already be familiar with this exercise, since many a fictional coach has used it to castigate his or her team members. Aside from the fact that the wall sit has often been used as a punishment method, it’s also a highly effective hamstring exercise without weights. Not only does it work your hamstrings, but your thighs are also engaged. There is virtually no way to cheat at this exercise and it determines some major muscle burn. Sure, the wall sit may hurt at first, but, boy, will you love the way your thighs and hips are toned thanks to it. Wall sits are endurance tests, which will have you lean against the wall, with your back pressed to it and your knees bent to a 90-degree angle. Slide down the wall, until your thighs are parallel to the floor and make sure your back remains flat against the wall. This will help it support your whole body weight in squat position. In time, this exercise will work wonders for your lower body strength, so make sure to increase the hold time.
Jump turns are great for your hamstrings, but they’re also ideal for people who want to improve their overall levels of balance and movement coordination. They might seem simple at first when, in fact, they’re actually quite challenging and perhaps best suited for intermediate workout enthusiasts. To perform them, begin in standing position, with your feet at shoulder-width distance. The challenge of this exercise is to jump up and to the right at the same time, landing with your body half turned from the initial position. Right after you land hop again, this time to the left, to land in the starting position. Complete up to 15 repetitions by continuously jumping to the right, then to the left. A pair of jumps makes for a full rep.
Hamstring rehab exercises
Hamstring injuries, such as the dreaded hamstring pull or muscle tear, are atrocious in terms of pain and the damage they cause to your overall mobility. In fact, in the Middle Ages, severing the hamstring muscle was regularly used as a torture method. To avoid torturing yourself, make sure you start hamstring recovery the minute you’ve discovered the injury. Such issues like pulled muscles or tendonitis are common with runners. In addition, their hamstrings may pop as a result of exceeding weight pressure applied onto them. The word ‘pop’ is used appropriately here, since hamstring injuries actually sometimes produce that sound.
The key thing to recovering this muscle group is to improve the flexibility of your hips. As your hip joints become more mobile and easy to flex, you may notice that other physical therapy exercises, which focus on strength gains in other areas of your body, become easier to perform. To boot, by improving flexibility and strength at the same time will help you avoid injuries in the future.
To ease yourself into the recovery and rehabilitation process, start out by gently working with hip extensions and knee flexions. Perform exercises that target these two types of movements independently, to avoid further strain. As you regain your hamstring muscle strength in the strained areas, you will gradually begin to perform them together. It’s important to loosen up your hip flexors as well. These muscles, whose main job is to lift your knees, can also cause a forward tilt in your hips, if they’re tight. To loosen them up, while also making your hips stronger, go for Romanian deadlifts of the double and single leg variety. Your hip flexors can greatly benefit from cable knee lifts and workouts on the 4-way hip machine. You can also put in stability ball ham curls, glute bridges on a ball, as well as some mild cardio like running. Squats are also great, especially for the upper part of your hamstrings, as are seated hip extensions. And the current star of rehab exercises for the hamstrings is the Nordic eccentric hamstring exercise.