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Training Hamstrings – 12 Best Exercises For Stronger Legs

Training Hamstrings

The hamstrings are one of the largest muscle groups in the body. Yet, they are also among the most neglected. For many people it’s a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when it comes to the hamstrings. Sitting at the back of the upper legs, they are certainly not a ‘show’ muscle. Training hamstrings, though, is critical to balanced development.

Weak hamstrings will make you prone to injury. When your quads are stronger than your hamstrings, the imbalance can lead to a hamstring tear. It will also compromise your strength on exercises like squats and deadlifts. In this article, we’ll provide a dozen hamstring exercises, along with a complete hamstring training guide. 

Posterior muscles: the muscles that are situated on the back of your body.

Anterior muscles: the muscles that are situated at the front of your body.

Palpation: the application of pressure to a muscle by pressing down with the hand or thumb.

Hamstrings: the common name for the group of four muscles that are on the back of the thigh.

Biceps Femoris (long and short head): the scientific name for the two main hamstring muscles.

Semimembranosus: small hamstring muscle.

Semitendinosus: small hamstring muscle.

Opposing muscle group: a muscle that sits on the opposite position of the body to another muscle and relaxes when that muscle contracts and vice versa.

Lateral: a part of the body that is most distant from the center of the body.

Medial: a part of the body that is closest to the center of the body.

Knee flexors: the muscles that internally or externally rotate the knee joint.

The Anatomy Of The Hamstring Muscles

The Anatomy Of Hamstrings

What Are Hamstrings?

The hamstrings are the collective name for a group of four muscles that sit at the back of the upper leg. The four muscles are:

  • Biceps femoris long head
  • Biceps femoris short head
  • Semimembranosus
  • Semitendinosus

The long head of the biceps femoris originates on the pelvis and inserts of the fibula, which is the thinner of the two lower leg bones. The short head of the biceps femoris originates on the femur (upper leg bones) and also inserts on the fibula.

The two smaller muscles originate on the ischial tuberosity of the pelvis and insert on the upper end of the tibia, which is the larger of the two lower leg bones.

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What Do Hamstrings Do?

The hamstrings main function is knee flexion, that is bending the knee to bring the foot back and up toward the glutes. The secondary function is to assist in hip extension. However, hip extension is mainly performed by the glutes and adductors.

Why Are Hamstring Muscles Important?

The hamstrings play an important role in knee stability. They also help a person to achieve proper hip and torso stability and alignment. Weak hamstrings will not do these things properly, leading to an increased risk of injury.

Strong hamstrings will also help you to be a faster and more efficient runner. They will allow you to maintain an upright posture and to perform everyday tasks involving the lower body with ease.

Training Hamstrings: Best Hamstring Exercises & Workout

1. Romanian Deadlift

Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian Deadlift is a variation of the standard deadlift where you do not take the weight down to the floor between reps. This places greater emphasis on the hamstrings. It can be done with a barbell, dumbbells or a kettlebell in your hands.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and the resistance in your hands at full arm extension. Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Hinge the hips to lower the weight down to shin level. Allow your torso to come down to about a 45-degree angle.
  • Push the hips forward to return to the start position.

2. Seated Leg Curls

Seated Leg Curls

Seated leg curls are a very effective isolation exercise for the hamstrings.

  • Sit on a seated leg curl machine and adjust the pads for your height. You want the lower leg pad to be sitting at shin level.
  • Place your legs over the lower leg pad. In this start position the legs should be almost straight.
  • Push down to flex the hamstrings and bend your knees.
  • Stop just short of full knee flexion.
  • Return to the start position under control.

3. Lying Leg Curls

Lying Leg Curls

The lying leg curl is similar to the seated version, but works the hamstrings from a slightly different angle. It is not as good because there is more opportunity to ‘cheat’ by lifting the hips off the bench.

  • Lie on the lying leg curl machine and grab the side handles. Put your ankles under the lower leg pads.
  • Keeping your hips down, curl the pad up to achieve near full knee extension.
  • Lower under control.

4. Barbell Back Squat

Barbell Back Squat

Barbell squats are primarily a worker of the glutes and quadriceps. There is some hamstring involvement, however. Some form of squats should be part of a well constructed lower body workout program.

  • Load a bar on a squat rack. Position yourself under the bar and unrack it with the weight resting across your trapezius and shoulders. Take a step back.
  • Hinge the hips to descend to a parallel squat position while maintaining a neutral spine.
  • Push through the heels to return to the start position.

5. Bulgarian Split Squat

Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat provides all the benefits of the barbell squat without placing strain on your lower back. It also allows you to work each leg unilaterally.

  • Stand about two feet in front of a bench with a pair of dumbbells in your hands.
  • Put your left foot on the bench.
  • Descent to a parallel squat position.
  • Push through the right heel to return to the start position.

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6. Glute-Ham Raise

Glute-Ham Raise

The Glute-Ham Raise is a very effective exercise for isolating the hamstring and glute muscles. This bodyweight exercise makes for a great finishing exercise after your resistance moves.

  • Position yourself on a glute-ham raise machine so that your ankles are under the rear support pads and your torso is hanging over the top of the hip pad.
  • Lie flat so that your body forms a straight line from head to toe. Cross your arms across your chest.
  • Bend at the knees to pull your torso up to kneeling position.
  • Lower under control and repeat.

7. Nordic Hamstring Curl

The Nordic hamstring exercise is similar to the glute-ham machine curl except that you don’t need a machine to do it. All you need is some way to secure your feet above the ankles. That could be a barbell bar, a strap or a person pushing down on your ankles.

  • Sit on your knees with your feet anchored at the ankles. Cross your hands over your chest.
  • Slowly lower until your torso is as low to the ground as you can get it while maintaining a straight line from the head to the knees.
  • Pull back to the start position using the strength of your hamstrings.

8. Exercise Ball Hamstring Curls

Exercise Ball Hamstring Curls

The exercise ball hamstring curl brings the added challenge of instability to your workout. The small stability muscles of the lower body and core need to keep your body stable as you move the ball in and out.

  • Lie on the floor with your heels resting on a stability ball. Place your hands on the floor.
  • From a starting position with your legs straight, pull your heels in to bring the ball toward your butt.
  • Slowly return to the start position and repeat.

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9. Heel Slides

Heel Slides

For this bodyweight exercise you will need a pair of heel sliders. You should also do the exercise on a slick floor that allows the sliders to effortlessly move up and down.

  • Lie on a slick floor with a pair of heel sliders under your heels. Bend your knees just slightly so that your legs are nearly straight.
  • Pull your heels back toward your butt.
  • Reverse the action to slide your heels back to the start position.

10. Razor Curl

The Razor Curl is an advanced version of the Nordic Curl that adds hip flexion. This allows for a more forceful hamstring contraction. For this move, you will need a slider.

  • Sit on your knees with your feet anchored at the ankles and a slider into front of you on the floor. Cross your hands over your chest.
  • Slowly lower until your torso is as low to the ground as you can get it while maintaining a straight line from the head to the knees.
  • Place your hands on the slider and push forward until your arms are fully extended and your torso at floor level.
  • Reverse the action to pull the slider back.
  • Pull your torso back up to the start position using the strength of your hamstrings.

11. Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing is a dynamic exercise that will hit your hamstrings as it burns calories.

  • Stand with a kettlebell held at arm’s length between your legs and your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Hinge your hips and bend your knees to swing the kettlebell down between your legs.
  • Reverse the direction of the kettlebell to swing it up to chest level.
  • Continue this swinging motion to complete your rep count.

12. Cable Pull-Through

Cable Pull-Through

The cable pull-through is a hip hinge movement that places constant tension on the hamstrings.

    • Set the pulley on a cable machine to its lowest setting and put a rope handle on the end of the cable.
    • Stand two feet in front of the machine, facing away from it with the rope handle held between your legs. Adjust your positioning until the cable is taut.
    • Hinge at the hips and bend the knees to bring the cable down below your legs.
    • Reverse the movement to pull the cable back to a taut position.

The Ultimate Hamstring Workout For Muscle Growth And Strength

The Ultimate Hamstring Workout

The following four hamstring workouts will blast the back of your upper legs to produce fast growth and strength development. Do this workout once per week.

Warm Up

The best way to warm up for a hamstring workout is to spend 10 minutes on an elliptical machine. For the first 5 minutes, do a forward stride. Then reverse the action to stride backward for the last 5 minutes.

Barbell Back Squat: 4 sets of 8 – 10 reps

Romanian Deadlift: 4 sets of 10 – 15 reps

Bulgarian Split Squat: 2 sets of 12 reps

Glute-Ham Raise: 2 sets of 12 reps

Common Issues With Hamstring Muscles And How To Correct Them

  • Tight, inflexible hamstrings – correct with strength training.
  • Recurring hamstring injuries among sports people – correct with strength training.

Benefits Of Training Hamstrings

Injury Prevention

Weak hamstrings create a strength imbalance with the quadriceps. This can cause a hamstring sprain or tear. Weak hamstrings may also cause knee joint instability.

Run Faster And More Efficiently

Your lower leg flexion and contraction power, VO2 max and neuromuscular efficiency will all be enhanced, making you a better runner.

Improved Deadlift And Squat Technique

Strong hamstrings will improve your level of eccentric control while squatting. It will also allow for more efficient hip extension and a stronger lockout on the deadlift.

Frequently Asked Questions

The best exercise for hamstrings is the seated leg curl machine leg curl. This exercise allows for complete isolation of the hamstring. The seated position also prevents you from cheating by lifting your hips off the bench, which you can do with the lying leg curl. The machine also allows you to gradually increase the resistance used.

You can work your hamstrings at home by using the exercises in this article that do not involve resistance equipment. These include the nordic hamstring curl, razor curl and heel slides. For the razor curl and heel slide, though, you will need to use sliders to help you move on the floor.

Yes, squats will train the hamstrings but not to a very great degree. Squats mainly work the quadriceps and the gluteus maximus muscles. The quads are the opposing muscle to the hamstrings. When one is working, the other is shut off. The hamstrings mainly work through the eccentric or lowering part of the squat.


Training hamstrings is crucial to complete lower body strength and development. Strong hamstrings will also help you to avoid hamstring injuries, such as strains and tears, which are so common among sports players. Select three or four hamstring exercises from the dozen provided to create your own hamstring workout or use the sample workout provided.

We recommend doing no more than 12 sets in total for the hamstrings. Work them once or twice per week for best results. Be sure to warm them up thoroughly beforehand. If you have access to it, the elliptical machine provides the ideal cardio warm up for the hamstrings.