Well-developed hamstrings can make the difference between winning and losing, whether it’s on the bodybuilding stage, the powerlifting platform or the playing field.
Strong hammies can improve sprinting speed, strengthen your deadlift and fill out the back of your legs for powerful physique.
Sadly, most hamstring workouts are relegated to the antiquated leg curl machine for the cliched 3 sets of 10 reps. It should be a crime to neglect the back of your legs.
To avoid posterior chain prosecution, try these three hamstring exercises that will leave you needing a new pair of pants.
Deadlifts may be the “King of Exercises,” but when it comes to hamstring development, Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs for short) are true royalty. Because of the exaggerated hamstring stretch during the eccentric portion, you’ll increase time under tension and enhance the force of muscle contraction via the length-tension relationship.
Scientific jargon aside, RDLs build massive legs.
Here’s how to do them:
- Set up a barbell in a power rack with the J-hooks at hip height
- Stand so your hips are pressed against the bar with your knees slightly bent
- Grab the bar with your hands just outside your legs and your arms straight
- Squeeze your glutes, pull your shoulders back and pull your ribs downs to keep your spine in a neutral position
- Without bending your arms, straighten your legs to lift the bar out of the rack
- Take a few steps back from the rack and slightly bend your knees
- With your weight evenly distributed between your heels, midfoot and toes, push your butt back to initiate the movement
- Keeping your chest up and ribs down, continue to hinge at the hips and let the bar slide down the front of your legs (you should feel a good hamstring stretch on the way down)
- Keep your knees slightly bent as you lower the bar down – don’t let your knees lock out
- Once the bar reaches your mid-shin, push your heels through the floor to stand back up
I prefer to have people start out of a power rack rather than lift the bar off the floor so you can begin the exercise with the eccentric movement. Don’t round or arch your back too much – this will take tension off the hamstrings. Finally, use straps if necessary so you can load up more weight. In this case, heavier is better.
NATURAL GLUTE HAM RAISES
Glute ham raises (GHRs for short) are unique in that they train the two functions of the hamstring – knee flexion and hip extension – at the same time. Traditional GHRs require a special piece of equipment to perform, but Natural GHRs can be performed anywhere you can hook your feet, such as under a bench or a power rack.
This variation omits the hip extension portion of the movement, but it more than makes up for it with the insane eccentric stress as you lower yourself down. Aim for 4-5 seconds on the negative portion and expect some crazy soreness the next day.
SLIDEBOARD HAMSTRING CURLS
Now that we’ve hit a heavy hip extension movement and eccentric-focused movement, we need a high-rep, concentric-focused exercise to finish off our legs. Enter the Slideboard Hamstring Curl.
Again relying on our own bodyweight for resistance, the Slideboard Hamstring Curl forces us to use our glutes to resist lumbar hyperextension while our hamstrings flex the knee for a full-blown backside assault.
The key coaching points here are:
- Keep your hips high, but don’t let your lower back arch or ribs flare up
- Keep your heels down and toes up throughout the entire movement
- Don’t let your knees cave in – if you have trouble with this, wrap a band around your knees and try to break the band throughout the movement
If you don’t have a slideboard, grab a pair of furniture sliders or paper plates on a tile floor and you’ll get the same effect.
Here’s a sample hamstring-focused workout that covers all your bases – strength, hypertrophy and muscular endurance. Give it a try:
A1. Romanian Deadlift – 4 sets x 6 reps (4-1-X Tempo)
B1. Natural Glute Ham Raises – 3 sets x 8 reps (5-0-X Tempo)
B2. Dumbbell Walking Lunges – 3 sets x 10 reps per side
C1. Slideboard Hamstring Curls – 3 sets x 15 reps (2-0-1 Tempo)
C2. Leg Press – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
D1. Reverse Crunches – 3 sets x 10 reps
D2. Standing Calf Raises – 3 sets x 20 reps