Do you want a stronger lower back to prevent injuries? Are you suffering from a chronic back pain due to tightened hamstring muscles? Do you want leaner legs for better performance? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, then you must incorporate some best hamstring exercises in your workout program.
I admit, I fail to work on my hamstrings before because I train in areas that are more visible, like the abs and biceps. Well, that changed everything after a friend told me that I could achieve the most progress by working out my hamstrings!
#1. Romanian Deadlift
If you want to build strength and size on your hamstrings, then you need to include Romanian Deadlift (RDL) on your leg workout program. Contrary to its name, RDL doesn’t originate from Romania.
It got its name when the American lifters witnessed a Romanian weightlifter perform this exercise during the 1950s. Since then, they have been using the term “Romanian Deadlift”.
As compared to leg curls, the RDL is a more powerful hamstring exercise because it provides a higher level of intensity and functionality. Considering that hamstrings are composed mainly of fast-twitch muscle fibers, it’s best to use high-intensity training.
RDL is a more functional exercise than leg curls because it involves a hip extension – a movement vital for daily activities, like walking, running, and jumping.
To get a clear overview of how to properly do this exercise, watch this video.
To set up, position your feet by shoulder-width apart and chest up. You want your lower back to be slightly curved, and your knees slightly bent. To begin, pick up the bar by bending your knees and pushing your hips backward.
#2. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts
Another great hamstring exercise is the Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift which gives the added benefit of stability and balance.
This accessory movement doesn’t only work your hamstrings but also the gluteus muscles and adductor magnus to extend the hips. This hamstring exercise is ideal if you often suffer from back pain or just simply wanting to reduce overall spinal loading.
Since you do this exercise with just one leg, the weight is minimized by about 50% as compared to the Romanian deadlift. To set up, select any weight you want to lift: kettlebell or dumbbells. You don’t want anything that’s too heavy, or you end up with serious injuries.
Watch how to do a single-leg Romanian deadlift in this video here.
To begin, bring down the weight by lowering your upper body and extending one leg back to the wall behind you. In this position, you’ll be stabilizing yourself with one leg.
Return the moving leg back to the starting position and do the suggested repetitions. Switch to the other side of the leg to work on both hamstrings.
#3. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts
For those who want to work on their lower and upper body muscles, opt for the barbell power snatch. Since this involves massive weight, this might be only ideal for those with advanced skills.
However, if you’re a beginner, you may try using a lightweight. The muscles involved in this weight exercise are hamstrings, shoulders, back, calves, and core.
During barbell power snatch, the hamstrings play a vital role in stabilizing your knees. Hamstrings are at work whenever you flex your knees to squat down. The hamstrings work with the gluteus maximus in extending the hips during the initial pull.
Here’s a quick demo.
To begin, stand with your feet apart and place the balls of your feet under the bar. When you pick up the bar, bend your knees and move your hips backward. Hold the bar in an overhead position and make sure that your hands are wider than the width of your shoulders.
To raise the bar, drive through your heels and extend your knees, hips, and ankles as fast as you can. After you have completed the position, drop the bar to the ground. For safety, make sure your barbell is geared with bumper plates to prevent it from bouncing back to you.
#4. Glute Ham Raises
If we talk about hamstring isolation exercises, we can’t afford to miss glute ham raises. In the lifting world, glute ham raises have grown in popularity due to their effectiveness in strengthening the hamstrings.
Hamstrings get an optimal workout with hip extension and knee flexion. With glute ham raises, you’ll be able to enhance your deadlift, do better squats, and run faster.
According to Muscle & Fitness, the best time to do glute ham raises is after deadlifts and squats. You can do about three sets in 6-10 repetitions. There’s a specific equipment needed for this exercise, like this glute & hamstring machine.
However, if the budget doesn’t permit, you’ll still be able to work your hamstrings out with some natural glute ham raise techniques.
There are many versions of this exercise. The easier version is to start with a kneeling position, bend your hip until your forehead touches the ground, and then move back up. The more challenging version is to fall forward, catch yourself with your hand, and push back up.
#5. Kettlebell Swings
One of the best hamstring exercises that I love is the kettlebell swings. The swinging motion may look like child’s play, but it’ll work your whole posterior chain, most especially your hamstrings.
Aside from that, this hamstring exercise can help you lose weight and improve your heart’s health.
The weight used for this exercise needs to be lighter than a deadlift because you don’t want to overload your lower back while doing the rapid swing movements. Watch a simple demonstration of kettlebell swings in this video here.
One of the most significant motion in kettlebell swings is the hip movement. Think of your hips as the hinge on a door. With a light grip, swing the kettlebell from your inner quads up to your chest level.
As you pull the kettlebell forward, squat down. When it reaches the chest level, stand up. Drive through your heel and hips to make the shift from backward to forward.
#6. Lying Leg Curls
If you like to work directly on your hamstrings, then the lying leg curls is a great exercise to do. While the Romanian deadlift works the whole posterior chain, the leg curl works for only the hamstring group.
To do this hamstring exercise, you need the help of a good leg curl machine, like this one.
The lying leg curl trains the muscle’s knee flexion function and works your hamstring muscles directly, making it an excellent foundation for bodybuilding. More than that, this exercise helps provide a full leg balance.
If you want to know how to do a lying leg curl, watch this video here.
To begin, lie down on the leg curl machine face down and position your feet under the foot pad. When lying on the bench, avoid arching your spine. Now, bend your knees and curl your legs upwards.
Hold the curling position for one count and slowly return the legs back to the initial position. To get better results, consider changing the rep speed every now and then.
#7. Bulgarian Split Squat
Another hamstring exercise that’s rising in popularity is the Bulgarian split squat. According to a 2016 study, this squat training is ideal for strengthening the leg and for reducing stress on the lower back. It’s useful in building more muscle size on your hamstrings, quads, and glutes.
Watch this video to know how to do the Bulgarian split squat.
To perform this exercise, you need to to have a decent pair of dumbbells and a bench to elevate your foot. Start by standing with your back facing the bench. Hold a pair of dumbbells and rest one foot on the bench as you squat down.
Keep descending until your knee is almost touching the floor. As you move back up, extend your front knee and hip simultaneously. If you’re a beginner, start with light weights, or you can practice the correct form first with no weights at all.
Did you enjoy the list of the best hamstring exercises? Before, I tend to overlook this important part of the body because I focus on what’s more visible, like the abs and chest.
Thanks to this list, I can do various exercises to strengthen my leg, promote flexibility, and prevent injuries.