15 Best Hamstring Exercises for Building Strong Muscular Legs

Muscular man doing heavy deadlift exercise

 

The hamstrings may not be the legs’ most glamorous muscle group; however, it’s a key functional muscle and essential for elevated performance in the gym. The hamstring connects and acts at both the hip and knee. This means it plays a role in both knee flexion and hip extension. As such, if you have strong hams, you’ll lift heavier, run faster, and jump higher. Plus, you’ll have better posture, a lower risk of injury, and potentially reduced lower back or knee pain. These hamstring exercises can help isolate the group but also target the glutes and other posterior chain muscles. Adding these into your schedule will round out your leg or lower body workout days and help develop mass and power.

 

1. Barbell Romanian Deadlift

Also known as an RDL, a barbell Romanian deadlift is a fundamental hamstring exercise. The mechanics are basically the same as a dumbbell RDL, but just a different weight format that can be easier to overload. Adding this to your weekly routine can improve your lifts and squats by strengthening the posterior chain and increasing hip flexion. With this exercise, you’ll want to maintain a neutral spine, keep your chin slightly tucked in, and shoulders down and back, ensuring you don’t hunch your spine.

 

How to:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and deadlift the bar to the starting position in front of your thighs using an overhand grip slightly outside your thighs. 
  • Use a hip-hinging movement to push your butt backward while slowly lowering the weight and maintaining a neutral spine. 
  • Keeping your knees soft but not bent, descend until your upper body becomes parallel to the ground (or until you feel a good stretch depending on your hamstring flexibility).
  • Be careful not to drop too low that your spine starts to flex or your shoulders drop. 
  • To return to the starting position, contract your hamstrings and glutes to push your hips forward, so you’re upright again and get a full hip extension. 

 

 

2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is another great hip-hinging movement that eliminates any extra knee action even further, allowing you to shift the emphasis to the hamstrings and glutes. As always, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. When performing this hamstring exercise, you want to keep your core tight, shoulder blades together, and chest up. You’ll also want soft knees that aren’t completely locked out and to maintain your lower back arch, so your shoulders don’t hunch.

 

How to:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs with palms facing in. 
  • Keeping your arms straight and knees soft, shift your hips back using a hinging movement to lower the weight down until you feel a stretch through your hamstrings or until your upper body becomes parallel to the ground. 
  • To return to the starting position, contract your hamstrings and glutes to push your hips forward so you’re upright again, breathing out as you rise.

 

 

3. Kettlebell Deadlift

Another essential exercise for your hamstring workout is a deadlift – in this case, using a kettlebell. This hip extension move allows you to load up the hamstrings, creating excellent tension. While it’s not a complicated move, there are some things to keep in mind. As you stand, you want to focus on essentially contracting the whole body. This means keeping your abs engaged, squeezing your glutes, keeping your shoulders back and down, and focusing on drawing the knees and quads up towards your groin. You’ll also want to gently put the weight on the ground rather than slamming it down with a jarring movement.

 

How to:

  • Stand with your feet on either side of the kettlebell, with the handle forming a line between your ankles. 
  • Face straight ahead of you, and push your butt back, hinging at the hips, until you can grab the kettlebell handle with both hands using an overhand grip.
  • Your knees should be bent slightly, with shins and back straight.
  • Pull the weight up until you’re standing upright, focusing on contracting the whole body. 
  • Repeat the movement in reverse, pushing your butt back and lowering the weight back with control to the ground. 

 

 

4. Hex-Bar Deadlift

The mechanics for most deadlifts are the same in the lower body. They’re a hip-hinging move that loads up the hamstrings for excellent muscle development. However, one of the key differences with using a hex bar is the lower stress on the upper body. This comes from having the hands in a neutral position by your sides, which lets you load up with even more weight for a better lower body challenge. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the hex bar has a lot more room in the front, so you need to be careful not to overextend your lower back. Do this by keeping your shoulders above your hips at the top of the move.

 

How to:

  • Stand with your feet three to four inches behind the line of the bar.
  • Face straight ahead of you, and push your butt back, hinging at the hips, until you can grab the handles, ensuring your shoulder sits above your wrists.
  • Your knees should be bent slightly, with shins and back straight.
  • Create tension through your whole body as you lift the weight up until you’re standing upright, with your shoulders sitting above your hips. 
  • Repeat the movement in reverse, pushing your butt back and lowering the weight back with control to the ground. 

 

 

5. Glute Bridge

A glute bridge is a fairly simple yet fundamental exercise to have in your arsenal to work the posterior chain and strengthen your hamstrings and glutes. Performing this move regularly can help with back pain, enhance overall hip extension, improve your performance of other exercises, and give you overall better athletic capacity. Plus, you’ll get a great-looking, firm butt!

 

How to:

  • Lie with your back flat on the floor; knees bent at 90 degrees, feet flat, and hands flat by your sides.
  • Push your hips towards the ceiling, driving through your heels, until your torso, hips, and thighs are straight. 
  • As you lift, squeeze your glutes, and hold the position at the top for ten seconds. You should feel it in your glutes and hamstrings. 
  • Lower your hips back to the floor gently.
  • If you’re having trouble activating your glutes, you can hold a foam block between your knees, use a resistance band around the knees, or shift your heels closer together and lift your toes off the ground.

 

 

6. Single-leg Glute Bridge

Take your glute bridge to another level by performing it with just a single leg. It lets you put extra tension on the glutes and hamstrings and is excellent for core engagement as your abs work to stabilize your body. Plus, it’s an excellent utility exercise that you can warm up with to ensure your muscles are firing well or to add after squats or deadlifts. Finally, it’s also effective for creating a mind-muscle connection if you’re having trouble engaging your glutes and hams in a regular glute bridge.

 

How to:

  • Lie with your back flat on the floor, with your core engaged and pelvis rolled under.
  • Have your knees bent at 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor, and hands flat by your sides.
  • Then, lift one leg, extending it out, so you’re only using the other leg. 
  • Push your hips explosively towards the ceiling, driving through your heel until your torso, hips, and thighs are straight. 
  • Your core should remain engaged, with your hips locked level – don’t let the extended leg fall to the side, twisting your spine.
  • You should feel the exercise in your hamstrings and glutes of the working leg. 
  • Hold the position at the top for a couple of seconds before lowering your body back down for a count of three. 
  • Pause for a moment at the bottom before repeating. 

 

 

7. Bench Hip Thrust

Another alternative to glute bridges is bench hip thrusts. They’re excellent for developing the glutes and hamstrings, you can overload the weight safely, and set-up is easy. However, one thing to note about the bench hip thrust setup is that it varies between people, so you might have to play around with the position of your shoulders and feet to find the best fit for you. The bench you’re using, and even the shoes you’re wearing can also influence this. Your reps and weight will change with your goals. Lower reps with higher weights are great to increase strength, while higher reps with lighter weights are good for size maximization. Mixing things up is best for overall glute and hamstring development. 

 

How to:

  • Sit on the floor in front of a bench, with your upper back resting against the edge of the bench, with your shoulder blades making contact to ensure you’re stable.
  • While sitting on the floor, roll the barbell towards your torso, so it’s sitting across the front of your hips. You can use a bar pad or towel for cushioning if you need it.
  • Pull your feet in towards your body, keeping them flat on the floor around shoulder-width apart. You might have to adjust where they are positioned to suit you. 
  • To get into the starting position, support the bar and lift your hips towards the ceiling, keeping your body slightly bent at the hips.
  • Bring your feet in more until your shins are vertical; tuck your tailbone in and chin down to keep the pressure off your spine. 
  • Thrust the bar up until your torso and thighs are straight, squeezing your glutes at the top of the move for a couple of seconds. 
  • Lower back to the starting position, and repeat.

 

 

8. Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl

A Swiss ball hamstring curl is a killer move that will max out your hamstring engagement. The mechanics are similar to the glute bridges and thrusts but shift the focus onto the hams, with engagement in both directions of the move while you flex and extend. This is an exercise that’s good for both beginners and advanced people and is sure to give you a satisfying burn. However, if it’s still not enough, challenge yourself more by trying it with a foam block held between your knees or even one leg at a time.

 

How to:

  • Lie on your back, with the heels of your feet resting on a Swiss ball and palms flat on the floor by your sides.
  • To get into the starting position, lift your hips towards the ceiling, squeezing your glutes until your body is straight while your shoulders and head remain on the ground. 
  • Roll the ball in towards your body by bending your knees and pulling your heels towards your butt. As you lift your hips higher, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings. 
  • Slowly roll the ball back to the starting position, focussing on not letting your hips drop. 
  • If you want even more hamstring engagement, lift your toes to the ceiling.

 

 

9. GHRS (Glute-Ham Raises)

GHRS or glute ham raises are a killer move for the hamstrings. It’s an excellent assistance exercise that works the hamstring through its full range of motion. As such, it’s a popular choice for many lifters. There are a few tips to keep in mind for the best outcomes. Use your toes rather than heels on the footplate, as it will help remove your calves from the equation. Then, aim to descend so your upper body is parallel to the floor rather than bent all the way over. This will stop the temptation to use momentum to rise. When you do rise, don’t push with your butt first; instead, bend your knees. Finally, if you need to take it to another level, adjust the thigh pad lower if you can, or raise the back of the machine slightly!

 

How to:

  • Set yourself up on the glute hamstring machine, so the footplate allows your feet to sit with your toes pointed down (or slightly in), driving through your toes rather than heels. 
  • The front of your thighs should rest on the pad, rather than your knees, so that your knees can bend down into the gap. 
  • Engage your core, and using your hamstrings and glutes, lower your torso (with control) down to parallel with the floor. Your knees will straighten while keeping your head, back, and hips in line.
  • When you lower, think about pushing through your toes and extending your knees rather than flopping forward – this will help maintain correct form. 
  • To ascend, bend your knees while you contract your hamstrings and glutes – your whole body should move as one unit back to the start. 
  • Avoid arching or rounding your back or using momentum. Move the footplate further away if it’s too difficult. 

 

 

10. Kettlebell Swing

If you’re looking for a powerhouse move, then the explosive nature of a kettlebell swing is ideal. This exercise loads your hamstrings and hips with weight. Then, you need to use a ballistic force through your hips to drive the weight up and out. Not only is it great for strengthening the hamstrings, but you’ll also get a great aerobic workout while working your back. Start with lighter weights if you’re new so that you can perfect your form. Then, once you’ve nailed it, you can increase the weight for a more effective cardio and musculature workout.

 

How to:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold the kettlebell with both hands, locking your hands to set tension in your lats and upper arms. 
  • Gently swing the kettlebell behind you, using a hip-hinging movement to push your butt back. Keep your back straight, your head aligned, and your knees soft.
  • Drive forward and up with your hips in a thrusting motion. As your knees straighten, use that momentum to swing the dumbbell up to shoulder height. 
  • The top of the move should look similar to a plank but standing. 
  • Repeat in a continuous loop. 
  • Set a small foam roller behind you if you want to check your form for squatting. If you hit it, you’re bending your knees too much. 

 

 

11. Seated Band Leg Curls

Seated Band Leg Curls are an excellent way to target the hamstrings, build muscle and improve your squat and deadlift game. It’s a relatively simple move and a great addition between squat sets to increase hamstring blood flow. Alternatively, challenge yourself at the end of your workout to hit 100 reps in as few sets as possible. Plus, these are excellent for off days as well. 

 

How to:

  • Attach your band securely to an anchor point.
  • Sit at the end of a bench, far enough away to create decent tension on the band, when your knees are bent.
  • Loop the band around the back of your ankles, and brace yourself with your hands on the bench behind your butt. 
  • Pull your feet backward towards you, keeping them just off the ground, and focus on squeezing your hamstrings. 
  • Once your hamstrings are fully contracted, hold it for a couple of seconds before slowly releasing your feet with control. 

 

 

12. Partner Hamstring Curls

If you don’t have access to the GHRS machine, but you do have friends, then partner hamstring curls are a great alternative. Like a glute-ham raise, it’s a killer accessory movement designed to work your hamstrings and glutes. It makes these muscles work through both the eccentric (downward) phase and the concentric (upward) phase. For this hamstring exercise, you’ll need a pad for your knees, a partner willing to hold your heels, and your body weight. Start with just four to six reps if you’re new, working your way up as you get stronger.

 

How to:

  • Kneel on your mat, with your feet either flat or toes tucked under (whatever you find more comfortable). 
  • Have your partner hold your heels and apply downward pressure to counterbalance your moving weight. 
  • Keep your body straight and lean forward enough to feel your hamstrings engage while pressing against your partner’s hands.
  • Continue leaning forward as far as you can. The goal is to lower your body to the floor with control. If you lose control on the descent, catch yourself with your hands, kind of like landing in a push-up. 
  • To lift yourself back up to the starting position, give yourself a little push off the floor with your hands. Once you feel your hamstrings and glutes engage, continue to squeeze them until you’re upright again. 
  • Don’t use only your arms to get back up; the goal is to work your hamstrings, not biceps and chest. 

 

 

13. Glute Bridge Walk

A glute bridge walk is like a regular glute bridge combined with a Swiss ball hamstring curl. It’s a great way to shift the focus onto the hamstrings while also working your glutes, core, and lower back. Tips for this include keeping your core engaged, ribs down, and tailbone tucked to help maintain a rigid position while your feet are moving.

 

How to:

  • Start by lying on your back on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat.
  • Bend your arms so your elbows drive into the floor, bracing your body. Tuck your chin in.
  • Like a regular glute bridge, drive through your heels, lifting your hips towards the ceiling while squeezing your glutes. 
  • Keeping your hips as high as you can, begin slowly walking your feet away from your body. You can shift your foot position from flat to weight on your heels. 
  • As you move, you want to keep your butt off the floor but spine neutral. 
  • When your legs are extended as far as you can go, if you can, point your toes out slightly to maximize glute engagement. 
  • Hold the position for a couple of seconds before walking your feet back into the starting position. 

 

 

14. Wall Squats

Even though there is no movement in a wall squat, they’re still a killer exercise for your hamstrings, quads, and glutes. You can choose to aim for a particular time, such as 30 or 60 seconds, or just hold as long as possible. No matter what you choose, they’re a great hamstring exercise to add to the very end of your workout. Fun fact – the Guinness world record for a wall squat is an epic 11 hours 51 minutes 14 seconds, held by Thienna Ho and set in 2008. However, that’s probably a bit much for your regular weekly schedule!

 

How to:

  • Find yourself a clear wall, and press your shoulders, lower back, and hips against it. 
  • Slowly walk your feet out, sliding down the wall until your knees are bent at 90 degrees, pushing through your heels while keeping your spine neutral. 
  • You can either place your hand on your hips, hold them up, or clasp them behind your head like you’re casually watching a sunset. All of these will keep them out of the way.
  • However, if you’re new, placing your hands on your knees can make it a little easier. Alternatively, you can choose not to sink quite as low as 90 degrees. 
  • Stay in this position for your chosen time. 
  • Once you’re spent, slide yourself back up the wall and try not to collapse from jelly legs. 
  • Finally, if you’re in a public space, grab a towel to wipe any sweaty back prints off the wall.

 

 

15. Dumbbell Good Morning

A good morning is a very similar hamstring exercise to the Romanian deadlift but shifts the position of the load. You can do a barbell good morning with the weight behind your shoulders or use a dumbbell where the weight sits higher at the top of your chest. Doing so still allows excellent hamstring engagement and hip hinge reinforcement but forces you to brace with your core for improved strength. Another benefit of this exercise is that you don’t need to use very heavy weight.

 

How to:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Hold the weight at the top of your chest, rolling it up in your arms, so there’s no movement. Keep your elbows elevated. 
  • With a slight bend in your knees, shift your butt back, hinging at the hips and keeping your back straight. 
  • Lower your torso until you’re parallel with the floor. 
  • Rise back up by squeezing your glutes and pushing your hips forward. 

 

 

FAQs

What are the benefits of hamstring exercises?

There are many benefits to hamstring exercises because they’re such an important muscle for daily function and elite performance. Strong hamstrings can help prevent injury, reduce knee and hip pain, and improve posture. You’ll be able to run faster, jump higher, and lift heavier. 

What is the best exercise for hamstrings?

The best exercises for hamstrings are glute-ham raises, deadlift (all kinds), and hamstring curls. 

How can I strengthen my hamstrings at home?

There are some great exercises that involve minimal equipment but still target the hamstrings. Try wall sits, glute bridges, partner hamstring curls, and Swiss ball hamstring curls. 

How often should we incorporate hamstring exercises into our fitness routine?

You should aim to be training your hamstrings as part of a leg or lower body workout two to three times per week. Mix your schedule up, so you have some rest days to allow for optimum muscle repair and recovery. 

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