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The 10 Best Hamstring Exercises

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The Best Hamstring Exercises

What are the best hamstring exercises?

It’s no secret that the best hamstring exercises can improve performance in the gym, post-workout recovery, and boost overall leg strength, including the hips and knees. 

If you’ve spent any amount of time working out, whether, in a professional setting or your home gym, you know skipping leg day isn’t an option.

In order to jump higher, lift heavier, and train harder, hamstring exercises have to be at the top of your priority list. 

Strong, developed hamstrings facilitate general movement from the knee joints and hips, promoting endurance, flexibility, and mobility.

So, what are the best hamstring exercises for you? 

In this post, we’re highlighting the best hamstring exercises that will help you build the jacked, muscular legs you’ve always wanted!

 

The Best Hamstring Exercises

Our exercise lists are created by determining the best exercises for muscle growth, core strength, and overall health and well-being. 

Here’s our list of the 10 best hamstring exercises:

 

10. Barbell Hip Thrusts

Best Hamstring Exercises - Barbell Hip Thrusts

Great for:

A versatile movement, additional glute training, and lower body focus 

How to do it:

  1. Put your barbell parallel to a bench
  2. Sit on the floor with your back against the bench
  3. Roll the bar over your hips, letting it rest in the crease of your hips 
  4. Lift your hips off the ground, steadying the barbell and with your back against the bench, squeezing your glutes the entire time
  5. Hold for 2-3 seconds
  6. To return to the starting point, hinge your hips downward 
  7. Repeat as desired

Why:

Because of its versatility, barbell hip thrusts are not only a hamstring workout but a challenge to the glutes and entire lower body.

They activate the hamstrings, quads, and the other muscles in the posterior chain of the body. They strengthen hip flexors and put extra weight on the glutes.

When:

Barbell hip thrusts can be completed during leg day.

We recommend starting with 2 sets of 5-10 reps, ensuring your form is right, and the movement feels right.

Then you can add reps to each set from there.

 

9. Kettlebell Swings

Best Hamstring Exercises - Kettlebell Swings

Great for:

Pelvis and hip extension, a metabolism boost, and total back muscle training. 

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your knees bent, with the kettlebell in front of you 
  2. Hold the kettlebell with both hands and swing it back between your legs
  3. Keep your core activated and your back flat 
  4. Swing the kettlebell up to about eye level with both hands while squeezing your glutes 
  5. Allow the momentum from the kettlebell to draw it back down to your starting position
  6. Repeat as desired 

Why:

Kettlebell swings are a true triple threat; they work the hamstrings, force the hips into extension, and get the heart rate up.  

When:

Not only are kettlebell swings one of the best hamstring exercises you can perform, but they’re also a great warm-up exercise to get your heart pumping and the blood flowing for the rest of a workout. 

When you’re doing kettlebell swings, focus on keeping your form tight and your core engaged.

As for reps, try to complete 10 reps three times over.

 

8. Glute Bridges

Best Hamstring Exercises - Glute Bridges

Great for:

A convenient exercise you can do anywhere and an entire torso workout.

How to do it:

  1. Lie with your back on the mat and your knees bent
  2. Your feet should be flat on the floor, hip-width apart
  3. Your head should be flat on the mat and your arms lying at your sides
  4. Squeeze the glutes and lift your hips, back, butt and thighs, so they’re in a straight line above the floor 
  5.  Keep your knees a fist-width distance apart at all times
  6. Hold the position for 2 seconds
  7. Lower back to the floor, without letting your glutes rest on the ground
  8. Raise your hips up again, and hold for 2 seconds
  9. Repeat a few more times, then let your body rest
  10. Repeat as desired

Why:

We love an exercise that works to sculpt more than just one muscle group, and glute bridges do just that!

Hamstring exercises are great, but if you can get a few more muscles working in the same movement, we’re here for it. 

Glute bridges are ideal for any fitness level and can be done anywhere you have the room to lay down on the floor. 

Tone the abdominals, calves, glutes, and hamstrings in one movement. Versatility at its finest!

When:

You can perform glute bridges as an exercise during leg day to warm up muscles before leg day or any other workout. 

For building strength, 3-5 reps per set should get the job done. Try a couple of sets first, and add reps from there.

 

7. Glute-Ham Raises

Best Hamstring Exercises - Glute Ham Raises

Great for:

Training both the hamstrings’ functions simultaneously while hitting the muscles on the back of the body

How to do it:

  1. Climb onto the machine and make sure the footplate is far enough away that your knees hang below the bar when you’re in the position
  2. Point your feet straight down, hip-width apart
  3. Start with your torso upright
  4. Lower your torso slowly over the edge of the machine until you are horizontal, looking at the floor
  5. Bend your knees and use your hamstrings to pull yourself back up to a tall kneeling position 
  6. Repeat as desired

Why:

The glute-ham raise works the hamstrings’ two primary functions — bending the knee and hip extensions — simultaneously and in one movement.

This makes it one of the best hamstring exercises for mass because it focuses solely on the hamstring and working that muscle to achieve hypertrophy. 

When:

We recommend glute ham raises be completed on leg day when those muscles are already activated and ready for use. 

To prevent injury and ensure you’re getting all you can from these raises, strive for perfect form before adding reps or frequency.

When you feel confident in your technique, start with 2 sets of 6-10 reps.

 

6. Lying Leg Curls

Best Hamstring Exercises - Lying Leg Curls

Great for:

Isolating the hamstrings, training calf muscles, and improving flexibility.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on the curl machine with your ankles under the pad
  2. Secure your hips down onto the pad
  3. Quickly draw the weight pad towards your glutes, and slowly lower the pad back to rest
  4. Repeat as desired  

Why:

When properly done, lying leg curls can both isolate and strengthen the hamstring muscle.

Because the hamstring’s primary responsibility is to help flex the knee, lying leg curls put your body in the right position to do that. 

Lying leg curls are one of the most effective hamstring exercises you can do to target the hamstrings every time. 

When:

Leg day can get intense… we know. Don’t get intimidated!

Building a strong foundation for the hamstrings and overall leg muscle development takes time and consistency.

We find it’s best to stick with the same weight and reps for four to six weeks before adding more weight and reps to your leg regimen. 

As for the workout itself, start with anywhere from 10-15 reps. Focus on your technique and ensure you aren’t overcompensating with other muscle groups as the curl gets heavy.

 

5. Single-Leg Deadlifts

Best Hamstring Exercises - Single-Leg Deadlifts

Great for:

Improving balance, targeting hamstrings and glutes 

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart
  2. Shift your weight to your left leg, and bend it slightly
  3. Drive your right leg straight back behind you and hinge at the waist
  4. Stop when your torso is horizontal to the floor and your eyes are looking straight down
  5. Lift your torso and start to stand up while returning your leg to the floor
  6. Repeat as desired, then do the same movement with the left leg, with your right leg anchored

Why:

Single leg deadlifts work the hamstrings, glutes, and core.

Deadlifts are a great exercise to activate the hamstring and its surrounding muscle groups, making it versatile and challenging with or without weight.

Deadlifts also improve balance and stability, which we can all use more of.

When:

Single-leg deadlifts can be paired with other deadlift exercises, like the sumo and Romanian (keep reading for those) or any other leg workout. 

If you are new to this move, get your form right before adding any weight. You’ll feel your leg muscles burn after just a couple of reps.

 

4. Sumo Deadlifts

Best Hamstring Exercises - Sumo Deadlifts

Great for:

A deadlift variation that will help you lift heavier and target your glutes.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with dumbbells or a barbell in front of you
  2. Rotate your feet out 30-45 degrees (whatever is most comfortable)
  3. Bend at the hips and keep your chest up as you drive your hips back to get your hands on the weights
  4. Squeeze your glutes and thrust your hips forward as you pick up the weights
  5. Straighten your legs as you raise the weights
  6. Lower the weights back to the floor 
  7. Repeat as desired

Why:

Not only are sumo deadlifts a strength move, but they also work the hip flexors and improve mobility in the hips. 

Deadlifts are certainly one of the best hamstring exercises you can do in the gym, and it’s just a bonus that they hit the glutes too!

When:

Incorporate sumo deadlifts into any leg day workout, up to three times a week, for a great sculpt and heavy lift for your lower body.

 

3. Deadlifts

Best Hamstring Exercises - Deadlifts

Great for:

Hamstring muscle growth and development.

How to do it:

  1. Push your hips as far back as you can, and bend your knees to grab the bar
  2. Grip the bar tightly with both hands and slowly stand up, keeping your spine tall and your shoulders back
  3. Squeeze your glutes while you stand up 
  4. Lower the bar back to the ground while keeping your back straight and your hips back 
  5. Repeat as desired

Why:

Deadlifts build strength and definition in the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

In a deadlift, the hamstring stabilizes the glute muscle during the lock-out phase of a lift. It also acts as a support muscle for the knee joints. 

Deadlifts can also help prevent injury because of the strengthening they offer to the back muscles, particularly the lower back. 

When:

Deadlift training can benefit people of any fitness level, particularly beginners, as they build strength and perfect their form. 

We recommend deadlift training one to three times a week. Depending on the weight you’re lifting and your fitness goals, this frequency can vary.

 

2. Barbell Back Squats

Best Hamstring Exercises - Barbell Back Squats

Great for:

Strength training and burning calories.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
  2. Step underneath the barbell and place your hands on either side
  3. Let the barbell rest on your upper back
  4. Unrack the bar and take a few steps backward
  5. Rotate your shoulders outwards to activate your back muscles 
  6. Keep your back straight and lower your body into a squat, bending your hips, knees, and ankles simultaneously 
  7. Push your feet into the floor to begin the upward movement, squeezing your glutes
  8. Repeat as desired

Why:

Barbell back squats are undoubtedly one of the best hamstring exercises for mass. Thanks to the added weight from the barbell, more muscles are activated than in a traditional squat. 

Not only do these squats work the hamstrings and glutes, but they can help to improve your form and technique for all other weight training exercises. 

When:

Most weightlifters squat two or three times a week, depending on their fitness goals. 

As your form and technique improve, you’ll find that adding these types of moves to your routine becomes easier.

Strength obviously plays a role as well; the more you develop the hamstrings and glute muscles, the more reps you’ll be able to complete.

 

1. Romanian Deadlifts

Best Hamstring Exercises - Romanian Deadlifts

Great for:

Targeting the hamstrings while protecting against strain or injury.

How to do it:

  1. Hold the barbell at hip level with an overhand grip
  2. Keep your spine long and straight and your shoulders back
  3. Put your weight in your heels, push your hips back, and slowly lower the bar to your feet
  4. Drive your hips forward as you come to a standing position, squeezing your glutes as you stand up

Why:

To avoid putting pressure on the lower back, Romanian deadlifts are a great option if you want to perform the exercise without risking injury.

They also work the hamstrings more than the traditional deadlift. 

Deadlifts are great for increasing hip mobility, building hamstring and glute strength, and overall strength training for the lower body.

When:

Add Romanian deadlifts to your current leg day routine by starting with lighter weights and working your way up.

 

FAQs About Hamstring Exercises

With so many hamstring exercise tips and recommendations available online, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about hamstring exercises.

 

Q: What do you use your hamstrings for?

The hamstrings are responsible for creating movement in the hips and knees.

They support the body with walking, running, jumping, bending the knees, and the movements required of the hip flexors. 

Because the hamstrings bend the knees and flex the hips backward, their mobility and strength are essential for weightlifters and athletes of any caliber in and out of the gym.

 

Q: Why is it important to workout your hamstrings?

The hamstring plays a pivotal role in the mobility of the knee and stabilizing its joints.

Without consistent strength development for the hamstrings, you risk injury that can result from overdeveloped quadriceps putting too much pressure on the knees.

 

Q: What are the benefits of strong hamstrings?

Strong hamstrings promote movement in the back, hips, knees, and legs.

The stronger your hamstrings are, the more flexible you will be and the better your chances are of avoiding injury during workouts or daily life. 

Common strain to the knees and hips that come with age and weight gain can be avoided by training the hamstrings and other muscle groups in your legs and back.

 

Q: What happens if you have weak hamstrings?

When the hamstrings aren’t properly exercised, you run the risk of potential injury in your knees and hips.

Studies show that ACL tears are often linked to weak hamstrings, so make sure you don’t neglect this important muscle in your workouts.

 

Q: What is the best exercise for hamstrings?

In our humble opinion, the best hamstring exercise is the Romanian deadlift.

These target the hamstrings and glutes while promoting posture and mobility and help reduce the chances of injury.

 

Summary

If you feel like you neglect the hamstrings during workouts, this list is all you need!

Hamstring workouts are simple enough to incorporate into any leg day routine.

The best hamstring exercises will help you build overall strength in your lower body while preventing common injuries in the knees and hips. 

Here’s a quick recap of the 10 best hamstring exercises:

  1. Romanian Deadlifts
  2. Barbell Back Squats
  3. Deadlifts
  4. Sumo Deadlifts
  5. Single-Leg Deadlifts
  6. Lying Leg Curls
  7. Glute-Ham Raises
  8. Glute Bridges
  9. Kettlebell Swings
  10. Barbell Hip Thrusts

What’s your favorite hamstring exercise? Leave a comment below. 

With almost two decades of lifting experience under his belt, Matt shares his knowledge and expertise with us around bodybuilding and supplementation. Deadlifts and barbell curls are his go-to exercises, and, when he's not writing about health and fitness, you'll find him in the gym busting out some arms! Follow Jacked Gorilla on Instagram: @jackedgorillanews

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