The problem with most strengthening exercises is that they don’t actually target the hamstrings.
For those you don’t know, your hamstrings are the muscles at the back of your thighs. They help you walk, run, bend and extend your knees. Unfortunately, they are quite susceptible to injury, especially in athletes.
By targeting specific areas of these muscles with these exercises (and working them regularly), you’ll be able to strengthen your legs. Hence, they stay healthy and injury-free, serving as a solid foundation for all other activities.
The Romanian deadlift targets your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. It’s an excellent exercise for those looking to add strength and power to their legs because it challenges you to use heavy weights while maintaining proper form. It also reinforces proper body alignment while performing the lift, which can help prevent injury down the road from poor movement patterns.
How to perform the Romanian deadlift:
- Stand with feet just shoulder width apart with toes pointing forward.
- Bend at the hips until your torso is roughly parallel to the floor. Keep your back straight and bend only at the hips; don’t round forward or round your lower back. Also, engage your core.
- Holding a barbell with both hands over your feet, slowly lift it by extending through your knees and hips until you’re standing straight again.
- Lower the barbell under control until it reaches just above (but not touching) the ground again; then repeat for reps as desired.
The Swiss ball hamstring curl is a fun and challenging way to get your hamstrings in on the action. While it generally targets the hamstrings, it also provides the added challenge of balancing on the Swiss ball, which forces your core and glutes to work.
How to do a hamstring curl on a Swiss ball:
- Lie flat on your back while keeping your heels on a Swiss Ball. Ensure your arms and shoulders are flat on the floor too.
- Lift your hips until it forms a straight line with your knees and shoulders.
- Next, with your feet flat on the ball and core engaged, roll it towards your buttocks until your knees start pointing towards the ceiling.
- Reverse the motion above to complete a rep. Repeat appropriately.
Swinging those bells will strengthen your core, increase your endurance, and help strengthen multiple muscles, including the glutes and hamstring. You can do it anywhere, anytime—even in your living room!
Here’s how to do the kettlebell swing:
- Stand with your feet more than hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell on one or both sides of your body.
- Bend down as if you’re going to pick something up off the ground, but instead of picking it up, thrust your hips forward, straighten your legs, and swing the bell while keeping your arms straight (the bell should be in front of your chest)
- Swing back down to start position and between your legs by bending at your hips, not knees.
- Repeat as appropriate.
The single-leg deadlift is a great way to strengthen your hamstrings while focusing on stability and balance.
To perform the single-leg deadlift:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and toes pointing forward. In your hands, hold a barbell, two dumbbells, or a kettlebell in front of you.
- Slowly lean yourself forward by bending at the waist while extending one leg behind you in a straight line. Make sure you have good posture with your chest up, shoulders back, and core engaged.
- With one of your legs extended backward, tilt your upper body forward to form a “T” with your body. Remember to keep your hands bearing the weights extending downward.
- Return to the starting position slowly until you’re standing upright again. Repeat the movements described above with the opposite legs to complete a rep.
This exercise primarily works the hamstrings and calf muscles. The quads and glutes also benefit from this workout.
Here’s how to do the lying hamstring curl:
- Lie face down on the floor, with your legs together behind you. Use your forearms as support for your upper body.
- Place and grip a dumbbell vertically between your feet.
- Slowly raise your heels towards your buttocks as far as possible without lifting your hips off the floor. Pause for a second at the top of the movement before lowering back down to the starting position and repeat.
The sumo squat is another great exercise for strengthening the hamstrings and glutes. It also works your adductor muscles (inner thighs) as you descend and rise from the squat.
This exercise can be done with or without weight. Here’s how:
- Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Your toes should point outward at 45 degrees.
- Hold out your arms straight in front at the height of your shoulder.
- Keep your back straight, engage your core, and squat as if sitting in a chair. Make sure to keep your heels on the ground as you go down.
- Once you get to the bottom of the movement, push through your heels to return to the starting position.
It’s a simple exercise but one that can pay big dividends.
This exercise is excellent for both beginners and people who are more advanced. Step-ups are one of the best hamstring exercises because they work on the entire leg.
They also help strengthen the glutes and quadriceps, which makes them ideal for building strength in your legs and butt.
Try this weighted step-up variation if you want to add weight to your step-ups. You can use a dumbbell in each hand.
- Stand before a step, gym bench, or box. Holding dumbbells at the level of your shoulder.
- Step on the obstacle with one foot while keeping the other foot on the floor behind you.
- Next, step up with your other foot so both feet are now elevated off the ground.
- Hold for a second or two, then return down to the start position. Repeat and keep switching legs
The bridge is an excellent bodyweight glute exercise that isolates and strengthens the hamstrings for a stronger posterior chain.
How to do the basic bridge exercise:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent (so it is pointing to the ceiling) and your feet flat on the floor but a bit farther from your butt.
- Slowly lift your hips off the floor as high as possible (until they align with your knees and shoulders), keeping your back straight, your head facing up, and your glutes and core engaged.
- Hold for up to 10 seconds, and then slowly lower yourself down again. This is one rep.
Planks are great for targeting your front muscles, which help you maintain a strong core and tight waist. But if your goal is to strengthen the backside of your body, try out some reverse planks because it is excellent for isolating the posterior muscles of the body, like the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles.
How to do the reverse plank:
- Lie on your back with your legs straight, heels planted on the floor, and arms resting at your sides.
- Press into the ground with your heels, elbows, and forearm, then lift your hips off the floor. Your body should form a straight line from head to toe.
- Hold for 30 seconds, then return to the starting position to complete a rep.
Leg curls are an isolation exercise that targets the hamstrings without placing more stress on your low back. This exercise can be done with free weights or with an exercise machine and will strengthen your legs.
Here’s how to do a variation of the leg curl – the lying leg curl:
- Lie down on your stomach on a leg curl machine with your legs straight behind you and your heels under the roller pad. Keep your hips firmly placed on the machine throughout this exercise.
- Slowly lift your heels toward the ceiling until they are as close to your butt as possible.
- Ensure to hold, then reverse direction by lowering your legs back to the starting position.
We hope that this list of hamstring stretches and exercises has been helpful to you. Hamstring muscles are important for many reasons, but they’re often neglected in favor of other muscle groups like the quads or glutes. If you want to improve your overall strength and flexibility, we encourage you to spend some time practicing these exercises regularly.