3 Hamstring Strengthening Exercises That Don't Involve Machines
The same goes for your physique and performance. Overlooking what you don't see in the mirror when you're admiring the wicked pump you've got can cause more problems than just an imbalanced physique.
The hamstrings are the most neglected muscle group (next to the glutes and calves) because they aren't a sexy muscle and you can't see them. This makes it amazingly easy to skip on hitting your hammies hard, or at best, you throw a few sets of leg curls in to punch the clock.
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Before I throw a few movements your way to try, it's important that you understand why you should be doing them. While the quads get a lot of the attention, the hamstrings play a larger role than you think. First, they help stabilize the knee joint which is important for athletes, Joe Schmoe's and soccer moms.
The hamstrings do serve as a medium for knee flexion. However, they aren't a single functioning muscle group.
The hamstrings are made up of three muscle groups which cross two joints: the hips and knees. Because of their anatomy (and conjunction with the glutes), their primary function is opening the hips (hip extension) which is vital to squatting, running, jumping and low-back health.
If you've been slacking on your hamstring work, or your posterior chain is as strong as a 4-year-old's, this post if for you. Also, I'm assuming that you have access to at least a barbell, a squat rack and some resistant bands.
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3 Best Hamstring Strengthening Exercises
Movement #1: Romanian Deadlift
If you've got a barbell and some plates to load, you have access to a movement that will give you a better physique, a bigger squat and deadlift, a faster 40-yard dash and a higher vertical jump. The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is the king of hamstring exercises.
To execute, take a double overhand grip on the bar with your hands just outside of your shoulders. Ideally, you'll rack the bar out from pins because the movement starts (and finishes) at the top.
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From starting position with a soft bend in the knees, you'll initiate by sending your hips back while keeping your chest high with a tight back. Your arms are acting like cables keeping you attached to the bar. The bar itself should travel straight down over the midfoot.
As you descend you should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. It's important to note that the flexion in your knees should stay constant throughout the movement. Once the barbell reaches about the mid-shin (the bar should not touch the floor), you'll recover to starting position. Be sure to keep tension throughout your back and a high chest as you recover to the top.
Movement #2: Banded Lying Hamstring Curl
There's a lot of criticism geared towards machines since the surge of "functional" fitness has hit the scene. Free weights should be the only movements trained and isolation work is judged like Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane.
While the approach of training exclusively with free weights does have its value, it's absurd to say that you should avoid all machines or isolation work at all times. This holds particularly true for the leg curl. This is because the leg curl is one of the best exercises to directly hit the hamstring muscles.
The Romanian deadlift, or any hyperextension exercise, involves a hinging movement at the hip. This is often metabolically demanding (taxing not only the hamstrings but the glutes and low back too). This range of motion makes these exercises a stretch exercise. The leg curl is a direct contraction movement; making it a vital movement for strength and physique development.
The problem with doing leg curls at home is that a leg curl machine is so damn expensive. You'll drop at least a few hundred bucks (and maybe even a few stacks) for a single functioning machine. Instead, you can buy a resistant band for $20-30 and hack a leg curl machine in your garage. All you need to do is hook the band to two anchor points which could take a little creativity depending on your set up.
Although overall weight will be lower with the banded lying hamstring curl, it makes up for it by providing accommodating resistance (increased resistance through the full range of motion). You'll start by lying on a flat bench (or on the floor would work too) and wrapping the band around both feet slightly above the ankles. From this starting position, you'll flex at the knee contracting the hamstrings (think about bringing your heels to your butt).
At the top of the movement squeeze the hamstrings. When you recover to starting position, don't recover to locked knees because this will take the tension of the hamstrings.
Movement #3: Bosu Ball Hamstring Curl
I know. A bosu ball? But stick with me for second.
Considering the environment of this post and assuming that you don't have access to machines you're probably training at home, this makes perfect sense. It's a cheap investment that yields too many functions (especially for ab work) and when the girl you invited over for dinner (who happens to love yoga) see's the stability ball in your living room it'll give you both a reason to talk about something other than "where did you go to school?"
To start, you'll lie in a supine position on the floor with your heels resting on top of the ball. Your arms will be at your side for support. To initiate, you'll raise your hips to the ceiling while simultaneously pulling your heels toward your glutes. Hold and squeeze the hammies at the peak position. To recover you'll extend the knees and roll into starting position without letting the hips touch the floor.
Non-Machine Hamstring Strengthening WorkoutWith these three movements, you have to the tools and movements to hack your hamstrings with no machines. With a few pieces of equipment, you no longer have an excuse to skimp on hamstring work.
To make it even better, you can blast your hammies in about 40 minutes using these three moves. Here's one workout you can try:
- 4x25 Lying Banded Hamstring Curls. Rest 60 seconds between sets.
- 6x8 RDL's. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.
- 4x10-12 Stability Ball Hamstring Curls. Rest 60 seconds between sets.