Top Hamstring Exercises for Impressive Legs
Searching for the best hamstring exercises? If you have read our page on leg and glute exercises, you will already know that the best hamstring exercises are functional exercises which also involve your legs and glutes.
Multi-joint leg exercises, such as squats and lunges, are functional movements. Functional exercises are similar to movements which we do on a daily basis. These movements do not isolate specific muscles but use an entire muscle group.
If you perform functional exercises properly, you will work all the muscles in your legs efficiently without doing any time-wasting isolation exercises for a specific muscle. Functional training helps you recruit more of your muscle mass. Exercising more of your muscle mass will help you not only build muscle, but increase metabolism. This helps you tone up and lose weight more efficiently.Functional exercises burn more calories, encouraging the fat loss necessary to see muscle definition.
Through functional exercises, your body will also become more efficient at specific patterns of movement. You will be able to use your individual muscles more efficiently. This holds true with the best hamstring exercises, as well as exercises for your entire body. Exercises which involve the hamstrings are important for achieving well-developed legs.
Why Hamstring Isolation Exercises are NOT a Good Addition to Your Leg Workout
Hamstring isolation exercises are the exercises you see in the gym. Seated and lying leg curls (right) are exercises which may do more harm than good. Read the posture problems page to learn why certain exercises, such as hamstring isolation exercises, are not good for people with certain muscle imbalances.
Another reason why people perform hamstring isolation exercises is to mistakenly try to tone the back of the legs. It is important to mention over and over again, no matter what you have heard, there is no such thing as spot reduction.
You cannot perform a weight training exercise to reduce the fat or cellulite which is covering an area of your body. You must focus on a full-body fat loss program that will shed fat from your entire frame. That’s just how fat loss actually works.
The best hamstring exercises which you find below are multi-joint exercises. Multi-joint exercises work muscles which cross more than one joint. If you use proper form and muscular control, you can use them as the best hamstring exercises to work your hamstrings and the surrounding muscles, which will encourage proper muscle balance.
The Hamstrings Act Across Two Joints
In order to understand proper form for the best hamstring exercises, you should know the basic anatomy of the hamstrings. The hamstrings are so named because the tendons (behind the knee) resembled a pig’s leg when it was hung up to cure. The hamstrings are made up of four heads: semimembranosus, semitendinosus and the two-headed biceps femoris.
This isolated function of all heads of the hamstrings is knee flexion. Knee flexion is the motion of curling your leg back to touch your heel to your butt. Since three of the four hamstring heads originate on the ischial tuberosity (bottom back of the hip bone) , the hamstrings are also active in hip extension.
Your glutes are supposed to be the primary hip extensor, receiving assistance from the hamstrings. Hip extension is the motion of your thigh when you kick something behind you. If you have weak glutes, your hamstrings may take over work intended for the glutes. This is referred to as synergistic dominance, a form of muscle imbalance that puts you at risk for muscle strain in the tight, overactive synergist.
Chronically tight hamstrings can also lead to lower back problems. This is precisely the reason why isolation exercises for the hamstrings are not beneficial for everyone, as hamstring isolation exercises only increase hamstring tightness.
Remember, your hamstrings are a relatively small muscle group. If your goal is to tone up or rid the back of your legs of cellulite, you can do the best hamstrings exercises all day and it will be futile. You need to work large muscle groups in order to burn fat.
Tips for Incorporating the Best Hamstring Exercises Into Your Workout Routine
Since the hamstrings are part of the legs, it’s best to exercise the hamstrings during full leg workouts. Sometimes people set up their weight training splits to exercise the hamstrings / legs on the same day they exercise their back.
If you know you have chronically tight hamstrings, isolation exercises like lying or seated hamstring curls on the machine should be avoided. Instead, exercises such as the Romanian Dead Lift (below) are preferred as they will help keep your hamstrings flexible.
If you plan to go for a big run the next day, isolation exercises for the hamstrings are not a good idea either.
Another Point to Consider is Hamstrings to Quadriceps Strength Ratio
In special cases, isolating the hamstrings may be called for. Hamstring to quadriceps ratio is especially significant to sprinters and athletes, but can have importance for the average person. A balanced body will always be a more efficient body. At the very least, your hamstrings should be able to lift 75% of what your quadriceps can. The exact number is debatable.
You can test your leg extension strength on a leg extension machine at the gym. If you notice you can extend your leg with far more weight than you can when you flex (curl) your leg you may need to add some more hamstring isolation exercises in your exercise program. Alternatively, you can focus more on your hamstrings during all your leg exercises.
The Best Hamstring Exercises Which Use Multiple Joints
Romanian Dead Lifts
The RDL or Romanian Dead Lift is one of the best hamstring exercises.
For the many people with tight hamstrings, the RDL is the best exercise to help correct the leg muscle imbalance which could lead to posture problems. Form is crucial, so make sure you get it right.
Start: You can either have a loaded barbell or dumbbells on the floor or in a low-hang position. Keep your legs in a slightly bent position for the duration of the movement.
It is also essential to maintain your shoulders stabilized in a retracted position (pinched together in back) for the duration of the movement.
Begin the motion: Draw in your core tightly as you begin moving. Hinge at the hips as you stick your butt backward, lowering the bar or dumbbells as close to your body as possible.
Only lower the bar to where you can keep strict form. Straighten your legs as you raise the weight back up, contracting your glutes firmly at the top of the motion. It is very important you retract your shoulder blades (squeeze them together) at all times.
Stability Ball Hamstring Curls
Start: Lie on the floor with your hands by your sides. Place the stability ball under your heels with your legs fully extended. Your butt should be touching the floor.
Begin the motion: Draw in your core. Pull the ball towards your body with your heels as you raise your hips up toward the ceiling in one continuous motion.
At the top of the motion, your hips should be as high as possible while you maintain a neutral spine (no arch).
In one continuous motion, lower yourself back to the original position. You also have the option to plantar flex your feet (push your toes into the ball) to add emphasis to the calf muscles.
Modifications: Change hand positions and/or use one foot at a time to increase the difficulty of the stability ball hamstring curl. This increases difficulty for these stability ball exercises because more stabilization and strength is needed.
Elevated Split Squats
Elevated split squats or stationary lunges are versatile exercise which you can use as one of the best hamstring exercises.
Start: Place your front foot onto an elevated surface. Position your knee so the middle of the knee joint is right above your ankle. Hold a pair of dumbbells in the low-hang or high-hang position.
Scoot your rear foot backward until your can create around a 90 degree angle with your back leg, matching your front leg. The ball of your back foot should be on the floor. Draw in your core and keep your shoulders retracted.
Begin the motion: Slowly lower your torso straight down towards the floor. Your upper body should remain upright with a neutral back.
Since you are trying to make these the best hamstring exercises, your front knee can slide forward slightly. When your back knee approaches the floor pause for a second and lunge back up to the top position as you squeeze your hamstrings.
Modifications: A controlled unstable surface for your front foot will make these best hamstrings exercises more difficult. A BOSU ball would be a good choice. These are also an excellent exercise to use in combination with upper body exercises such as shoulder presses or biceps curls.
How-to Structure and Maximize Your Leg Workouts & More
- Sets and Reps for Hamstring Movements Explained
Find a sets and reps strategy which will work for you to maximize the best hamstring exercises and any other muscle group you choose to work.
- Hamstring Workout Training Volume Tips
Learn how to control and measure the amount of work you perform during your exercise sessions and why this is important.
- How-to Properly Split your Ham Workouts
How many times do you want to work out during the week? You can adjust your workouts accordingly if you have a proper weight training split.
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