7 Best Hamstring Exercises to Boost Your Strength and Mobility
Studies have shown that in the fitness world trainees may feel the urge to focus on what is called “mirror muscles”. In other words, they tend to train the muscles that they get to see in the mirror every day and turn a blind eye to other similarly important, neglected muscles (also known as non-mirror muscles). The hamstring muscles are one of those, and they most certainly deserve your attention.
Your hamstrings play an important role in your overall strength and mobility, so it's no surprise that they're often a target for injury. The good news is that the many muscles in this area are also very adaptable and can be strengthened with the right exercises. In this article, we'll go over some of the best ways to build muscle mass and increase flexibility in your hamstrings—so you can keep lifting heavy loads or sprinting full speed ahead without any pain.
What Are the Four Hamstring Muscles?
The hamstring muscles are a group of four muscles that run down the back of your thigh. They're responsible for bending and flexing your knees, as well as helping you raise your toes when they're pointed downward. The four main hamstring muscles are:
Biceps femoris (biceps): Short head
Biceps femoris (biceps): Long head
The biceps femoris is the largest of the three hamstring muscles, and it runs from your pelvis to your knee. The semitendinosus and semimembranosus are smaller and run from the pelvis to just below the knee. Luckily, there are lots of different hamstring exercises that can help you improve this muscle group's strength and mobility. We've rounded up 7 favorites here:
Deadlifts are not only a great exercise for developing strength and power in your hamstrings but they also work your glutes, lower back, and upper back. This is a full-body exercise that involves picking up a weight from the floor and standing up straight with it before putting it down again.
If you don't have access to weights or equipment at home or the gym, you can use dumbbells instead of barbells. To do this variation of deadlifts:
Stand with feet hip-width apart and toes pointing slightly outward, holding onto the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing down).
Lift the weight off of its rack by extending at the knees while keeping your back straight; don't round forward or arch backward when lifting off the ground. Keep your head up throughout this movement!
Once you're standing straight up with the weight, it will be right about time to return to the starting position (since your muscles are probably burning by now). With your knees slightly bent, lower the weight back down to the ground. Repeat for reps and sets as desired, but the best way to get the most out of your deadlift is to alternate 4-6 sets of 10-12 reps with lighter weights and 5-6 sets of 4-6 reps with heavier weights.
2. Single-leg glute Bridge
To do this exercise, you'll need a bench or step. Place one foot on the bench and lie down with your shoulders on the floor. Place your other leg straight out in front of you for balance and stability.
Keep your hips level throughout the movement--don't let them drop toward the floor at any point! This will engage more glute muscles and lower back muscles to get maximum benefits from this exercise (no pain no gain, right?). Also, make sure to tighten up those abs so they're braced against any movement happening during this exercise, giving you more control of your upper body as well. Then, hold for 30 seconds before switching sides.
When you're ready, repeat the same steps on the other side. You can also try this exercise off a step or even off your bed if you don't have access to a bench or step. Keep in mind that it's not just about how many repetitions you can do--it's also about quality!
3. Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is a brilliant exercise if you are looking for effective ways to strengthen your leg muscles, especially your hamstrings. It's also a great way to target the glutes, quadriceps, and core muscles.
To perform this exercise, stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Take a step back with your left leg, placing it on an elevated surface (like a bench or box). Bend both knees until they form 90-degree angles and keep them there throughout the movement.
Keeping a straight back and chest up, slowly lower yourself by pushing through your heel until you reach full extension at the bottom of the movement. Pause for two seconds before pressing yourself back up to the starting position again by contracting your hamstring muscle and glutes at once--this is where you'll want to make sure that your shoulders are behind both knees so that they don't bow forward out of alignment during this motion. Now switch to your right leg.
4. Quadruped Hip Extensions With Band
For this exercise, you will need a resistance band. Start in a quadruped position with shoulders and hips parallel to the floor. Lift one leg, hold for 5-10 seconds, and lower it back down to the starting position. Repeat on the other side if necessary or move on to another hamstring exercise if you're ready for more challenging variations.
5. Forward Lunge With Kettlebells
The Forward Lunge With Kettlebells is a great exercise that targets the hamstrings and quads. However, it's important to remember that stretching is key before and after any workout, so make sure you do some light stretching before you begin this one.
To perform this exercise: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding two kettlebells in front of your chest with arms bent at 90 degrees (like you're holding onto an invisible steering wheel). Take a big step forward with either foot and lower into a lunge until you get both knees bent at least 90 degrees; keep your hips square as they move toward the floor. Finally, push back up through feet until legs are straight; do 4 sets of 8 reps and switch sides.
6. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL) With Stability Ball or Swiss Ball
The single-leg Romanian deadlift (RDL) is a great way to work your hamstrings, but it's also a fantastic exercise for strengthening your lower back and glutes. The trick here is making sure that you maintain good form throughout the movement.
To do this exercise, stand on one leg with your other foot flat on the floor, knee bent at 90 degrees. Make sure that both feet are pointing straight ahead and aligned under your hips (not turned out). Keep your back straight and core tight throughout the entire movement. Hold onto a stability ball or Swiss ball in front of you for support if necessary.
Keeping both knees soft and in line with toes, slowly bend forward at the hips until parallel with the floor -- don't round over! Think about keeping your chest open as much as possible throughout this motion so that it doesn't collapse down toward the floor.
When finished lower yourself down into a position where arms hang straight down from shoulders without any tension pulling them forward (i.e., there should be no stretch), press through heels into the ground while raising your chest back up again until the starting position is reached once again before repeating the entire process until desired number repetitions have been completed.
7. Ball Leg Curls on a Stability Ball or Swiss Ball
This exercise is similar to hamstring curls on the floor, but it's more challenging because your legs are elevated and you have to keep them straight. If you don't have a medicine ball or Swiss ball lying around, try using a couch cushion or large pillow instead.
Place the ball under one leg at a time while keeping both feet flat on the floor. Your back should be straight with no arching in either direction--you want to keep your spine neutral throughout this movement so that all of your stress is transferred through your hamstrings rather than being absorbed by other areas of your body (like your lower back).
From here, raise each leg toward where they meet under your buttock while keeping them straight; then slowly lower them back down again until they touch down lightly on top of each other without letting them rest completely against each other before repeating this motion over again for 8 reps (4 sets).
Push Your Boundaries With LLF
If you're looking to improve your hamstring strength and mobility, these seven exercises are a great place to start. They're easy enough for beginners but will challenge even experienced athletes.
But remember! What you wear affects how you train, and -let’s be honest- you want every single workout to count; you not only want to do the job but you want to do it right, and this is why LLF is here to help. With the biggest selection of women's activewear, LLF offers you breathable, comfy, and stylish outfits.
Visit our shop now and turn the beast mode on!