Big, strong hamstrings are part of the foundation of a well-sculpted body. Everything rests on them – literally and figuratively. If you’ve been skipping leg day time and time again, you need to change your ways, because giving some undivided attention to your hamstrings is essential. Here are some of the best hamstring exercises, to get you started.
1. One-Legged Deadlift
Let’s start with a more basic exercise: the one-legged deadlift. This one targets your hamstrings without exerting too much energy. What’s more, it’s simple to do.
Start on one side with just body weight, by picking the base leg. Let’s say it’s your left. Your left leg will stay planted on the ground, and you bend forward at the hip and to bring your right leg backward. Keep your back straight and core engaged. Your body should move like a lever, your back leg lifting at the same rate your torso is lowering.
Now, let’s add weight. One option is to use a kettlebell or dumbbell. (We love these kettlebells from Armortech.) Try it in both your left and right hand, without changing your base leg, to see which way feels better. This exercise can be performed either way. You can also hold one dumbbell in each hand. Some people find this helps them balance.
Another option is to use a barbell, like this one. Start with very light weight, because this is tougher than it looks.
2. Romanian Deadlift
Isolating the hamstrings can be tough, but this next exercise does just that. There’s a reason so many athletes use the Romanian deadlift to build their hamstrings — your body is on tension in a whole new way.
This lift starts at the top, meaning you deadlift the bar, and then begin the movement. Your start position should be feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Now, it’s time to get low. Keeping your core tight, start to lower the torso as if you were setting the bar down, except you stop before the bar hits the ground. Depending on your strength and flexibility, this could be when the bar is mid-shin, or when the plates are hovering just about the ground.
Aim to keep your weight evenly spread between your feet, although your hips will go back slightly. You should feel the tension in your hamstrings.
3. Glute-Ham Raise
Warning: you might need to seriously scale this in the beginning!
Hop on the GHD machine and adjust it so your knees hit lower on the pads. Start with your arms folded across your chest and your knees bent, so that your torso is upright. Staying slow and in control, lower your torso while keeping your core engaged. Stop when you hit parallel, and bring yourself back up.
These are no joke, and it doesn’t matter how strong your hamstrings are — if you’ve never done glute-hamstring raises, you probably won’t be able to execute them like this. Here are some ways to scale them.
- Only do the negative. Once you hit parallel, carefully release tension so you lower the rest of the way, and then put yourself back into the starting position.
- Push your butt way back and lean your torso forward. This removes some of the weight from your hamstrings.
4. Kettlebell Swings
You might not think of the kettlebell swing as a hamstring-building exercise, but it is. This exercise is a great “all-arounder,” but is especially effective at targeting your legs and core. Start with a weight that allows for challenging sets of 8-10.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place the kettlebell in front of you. Soften your knees slightly, grip the kettlebell with both hands, and draw it back between your legs. Quickly open the hips and squeeze your glutes to send the kettlebell forward and overhead.
Don’t let momentum be the driving force here. This is about being explosive through your legs and hips. You control the kettlebell — not the other way around!
5. Sumo Deadlift
Sumo deadlifts can target the hamstrings even more than traditional ones. With the bar in front of you, start with your feet wide apart — this will vary for everyone, but you should not have any issues balancing. Fold at the hips and grip the bar.
Keeping your chest up and core engaged, deadlift the bar. Pull your shoulder blades together as you do so. Remember to do the negative (set the bar down) in a controlled manner. So many people disregard this part of the lift, and it’s an excellent opportunity to get more work in.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
You’re using your hamstrings even when you don’t notice. Spend time strengthening them, and you’ll see improvements in your training across the board.
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