There's more to hamstring training than bigger muscles. The hamstrings are a part of the so-called posterior chain. Why is this important? The posterior chain comprises of many important muscles involved with function, balance and strength. And because most lifters focus on mirror muscles (chest, biceps, quads) they neglect back, triceps, glutes and hamstrings.
Related: The 60 Minute Leg Demolisher Workout
But don't kid yourself. What are you doing to builder, bigger, stronger hams? Do you just throw in a few sets of machine leg curls at the end of leg day? Or maybe skip them altogether?
Below are 5 hamstring exercises to spark not only some interest back into training them but also to shore up strength gaps and help with the bigger lifts. Not into training hams? Drop the attitude, rise to the challenge and let's get busy.
MTS Nutrition CEO Marc Lobliner presents 5 moves for nasty hamstrings and a healthy core.
5 Hamstring Exercises for Advanced Gains
#1 - Hack squat machine Romanian deadliftI know a machine. But at least it's not a lying leg curl machine. You may have seen this a few times at your local gym and chalked it up as someone who didn't know what the heck they were doing. As you may have been correct some of the time, one can use the hack squat machine as a potential hamstring scorcher.
Think of it as a machine Romanian deadlift. The hack squat allows you to fix your body into a position to better isolate the hamstrings without the worry of balance. Of course you will still want to include other free weight exercises as well.
The how: In an angled hack squat sled (with shoulder pads) stand facing the back pad. Affix your shoulders under the pads leaving space between your face and the pad. Place your feet at about shoulder-width with feet pointing straight ahead. With a light amount of weight loaded on the machine unhook the sled from the safeties and put a slight but rigid bend in your knees.
Hinge at your hips as you slide the weight down. You should feel tension in your hamstrings and glutes. Your back should remain straight, not rounded as you achieve a deep stretch. Your butt will angle out behind you as you descend. Reverse the direction to a straightened positon.
#2 - Single-leg Romanian deadliftThe Romanian deadlift remains one of the most effective hamstring builders by far. But as with all lower body training you will eventually develop a dominant side if not already. One leg will take the brunt of the exercise and since no one is built perfectly you will soon need some unilateral (single limb) training.
So, why not take one of the best ham builders around and use it to our advantage? Enter the single-leg Romanian deadlift (RDL).
The how: This one will take some practice especially of you aren't used to unilateral training and need some time to develop your balance. Grasp a single light dumbbell in your left hand. Bend your left knee slightly and lock into that position.
Start hinging at your hip forward while slowly swinging your right leg behind you. You should be balancing on your left leg keeping the weight close to your body. You may need to extend your right arm out in front of you for extra balance.
The weight should travel about mid shin level before returning to the starting position. Be sure your back is straight and that you are bending at the hips and not the lower back. Switch sides and repeat.
No, I'm not here to dazzle you with a new way to use the leg curl machine. I'm here to bring a little challenge to your tired, forgetful hamstring routine.
#3 - Ball leg curlThe one disadvantage of leg curl machines is that they don't allow for much free motion. They tend to lock you into a specific position in hopes to isolate the hamstrings. This, however, doesn't allow for much hip and lumbar movement.
Why is this important? Not everyone fits perfectly into a machine no matter how well you adjust it. Performing leg curls "free-style" allows you to adjust to the best possible angle to hit your hamstrings without being locked in which could eventually cause knee and hip pain.
This can easily be accomplished by utilizing a stability ball.
The how: Lie on the ground with your lower legs on a stability ball. Your calves should be in contact to allow for enough movement later. Place your hand out by your sides and flat on the ground for support.
Begin by raising your butt off the floor and forming a straight line from your shoulders to feet. Curl your lower legs toward your glutes by rolling your heels on the ball. Keep the straight position from shoulders to knees as you curl in. Pause for a moment at the top and then slowly return to the starting point. The key is to go slow and controlled while consciously contracting your hamstrings.
#4 - TRX leg curlIf you haven't been introduced to a TRX suspension trainer yet don't waste any more time. Versatile, mobile and highly effective a suspension trainer may become your new favorite.
Much like the stability ball leg curl described above, the TRX version is similar but still a different enough stimulation to make it worthy of a mention. Instead of having to fight stability from the ground up (as with the ball) a suspension trainer has you unbalanced from above. A definite new feeling for lagging hamstrings.
The how: Lie on the ground with your ankles strapped into the end handles of a suspension trainer. As with ball curls you will place your hands out to your sides for stability and form a straight line from feet to shoulders.
While keeping this straight position curl your lower legs toward you from your knees as your body rises up. Contract your hamstrings in the top position for a count before returning to the start. This may pose as a larger challenge than the stability ball there is a learning curve.
#5 - Overhead banded ham raiseThe glute/ham raise is a favorite in sports strength and conditioning circles. As a potent and effective hamstring builder and strengthener glute/ham raises requires serious strength and coordination.
Many will use a partner to help assist or a pole to help with the concentric (positive contraction) portion of the movement. But what if you are lifting solo and/or aren't comfortable with using assistance such as a pole or other stable structure? Banded ham raises are the answer.
The how: Loop a band though an overhead pulldown station (where you would normally perform lat pulldowns) and put the pin on the heaviest weight possible on the stack you will use the weight stack as your anchor. Kneel on the seat facing away from the machine in an upright position. Grab the ends of the bands with both hands behind your head.
Your hands will stay in that position throughout the exercise. In a straight line starting from your knees to your hands/head descend forward and toward the ground. The bands will assist you and increase tension as you go deeper.
Once you are parallel with the floor reverse direction by pulling with your hamstrings back up. You may need to try different tensions with the bands to find which ones work for you.