Although many leg exercises and leg workouts do work the hamstrings, it tends to be that athletes focus more on exercises for the quads and glutes rather than the hamstrings specifically.
The hamstrings, which are a group of three muscles that run along the backside of the thigh from the bottom of the pelvis to the back of the knee help extend the leg at the hip and flex the knee.
The best hamstring exercises focus on one or both of these functions of the hamstrings, helping build strength, stability, and power in these posterior chain muscles.
In this article, we will discuss how to structure your workouts for hamstrings and provide step-by-step instructions for some of the best hamstring exercises to add to your hamstring workout routine:
- Lying Leg Curls
- Stability Ball Hamstring Curls
- Toes-Elevated Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
- Razor Curls
- Nordic Hamstring Curls
- Kettlebell Swings
- Glute-Hamstring Raises
- Hamstring Slides
Let’s dive in!
How to Structure Hamstring Workouts
With hamstrings workouts for strength, work up to performing 2-6 sets, 3-5 reps per set, and at least 85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for the load. The fewer reps you perform, the closer to 100% of your 1RM you should aim for with your weights.
When your primary goal is hypertrophy (muscle growth), you should work up to performing three sets of each exercise, using loads that are 70 to 85% of your 1RM for 8 to 12 reps.
The 8 Best Hamstring Exercises For Strength And Power
Here are some of the best hamstring exercises you can include in your hamstring workouts:
#1: Lying Leg Curls
One of the best hamstring exercises is the lying leg curls for your hamstring workouts at the gym.
Unfortunately, this exercise for hamstring strengthening Is often done with poor form, which can increase the risk of injury and decrease the effectiveness of the exercise.
When you are adding this move to your hamstring workout, it is crucial that you think about “gluing” your hips and upper body down so that you are only initiating and controlling the movement from your hamstrings.
Moreover, in order to maximize the effectiveness of this hamstring exercise, you need to move through the entire range of motion, straightening your legs all the way out and then bending your knee to bring your heels all the way up to your butt.
Here are the steps for performing this hamstring workout exercise:
- Lie on your stomach on the leg curl machine with the backs of your ankles slipped underneath the pad.
- Keep your core tight and press your hips down, making sure to only move your lower legs by contracting your hamstrings.
- Squeeze your hamstrings to curl the weight up towards your butt.
- Squeeze in the top position when your heels or the pad of the machine is all the way up near your bottom.
- Slowly lower back down, aiming to extend the eccentric (lowering) portion as long as possible.
#2: Stability Ball Hamstring Curls
The stability ball hamstring curl is a good exercise for building strength and stability in the hamstrings, hips, and core.
Here are the steps for this hamstring exercise:
- Lie on your back with your legs straight and your heels up on a stability ball. Place your arms at your sides with your palms down on the floor.
- Engage your abs and glutes to lift your hips up so that your body is in a straight line from your heels to your head. Your shoulder blades should be on the floor.
- Engage your hamstrings and glutes and press your heels into the ball as you bend your knees to roll the ball in towards your butt.
- Return to the starting position. Move slowly and with control.
- Complete 15 reps per set.
#3: Toes-Elevated Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts
Romanian deadlifts are one of the best posterior chain exercises for your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back extensors.
Performing a deadlift with your toes elevated up onto a weight plate or bumper plate so that you are sinking into your heels helps isolate your hamstrings.
Therefore, when you are trying to do a hamstrings-focused leg workout, try this deadlift variation.
Keep in mind that because you are narrowing your base of support, this is a more challenging deadlift variation that requires greater activation from your core, as well as the smaller stabilizing muscles in your ankles and hips.
For this reason, you might not be able to lift as much weight, particularly at first.
Moreover, because the hamstrings are generally weaker than the glutes and this is more of a hamstring isolation exercise relative to the normal Romanian deadlift, you should begin with a lighter weight than you normally deadlift.
Here are the steps for performing this hamstrings workout exercise:
- Grab a 25-or 45-pound weight plate or bumper plate and set it on the floor.
- Prop the balls of your feet and toes up onto the edge of the weight plate so that you are weight-bearing with just your heels on the floor.
- Your feet should be much closer together than with a standard deadlift.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms down and your sides and your palms facing the wall behind you.
- Hinge from your hips, reaching the dumbbells down towards your feet, imagining the dumbbells tracking up and down a vertical line that is extending above your toes rather than tracking along your shins with a typical Romanian deadlift.
- Move as slowly as possible as you lower the way down, pausing at the bottom position.
- Think about contracting your hamstrings to stand back up to the starting position, hinging back up at the hips rather than rounding your spine.
#4: Razor Curls
The razor curl hamstring exercise is an advanced hamstring strengthening exercise.
Because your hips are flexed, you can get a more powerful contraction of the hamstrings at the knees.
You should not add this move to your hamstrings workouts until you have built up strength in your hamstrings and mastered the basic hamstring curl technique.
Here are the steps to perform this advanced hamstrings exercise:
- Kneel down with an upright torso on a pad or cushioned weight bench to improve the comfort of your knees.
- Have a partner hold down your ankles and feet, or find a secure bar or weighted object to hook your heels under to keep your feet anchored down.
- Cross your arms over your chest. As you progress in your hamstrings workouts, you can hug a weight plate to your chest.
- Flex your hips slightly, so that you are hinged forward at the hips about 10°. This will increase the intensity of the potential contraction force of the hamstrings at your knees while performing this exercise for hamstrings.
- Fall forward, meaning your entire body from the knees rather than just hinging at the hips, maintaining the slight flexion in your hips, and moving your body from the knees to the head as one solid plank.
- Try to “fall“ towards the floor in a slow and controlled manner. If you are not using a weight, you can use your hands to lightly touch the floor and help you press back upward. As you get stronger, just squeeze your hamstrings to reverse the motion and initiate the concentric contraction back up to the starting position.
When you progress this exercise in your hamstrings workouts, you can gradually increase the angle through which you are moving, bringing your chest much closer to the floor as your hamstrings strength increases.
#5: Nordic Hamstring Curls
The Nordic hamstring curl is very similar to the razor curl. The only real difference is that you do not hinge your hips, so it is slightly easier on your hamstrings.
Studies have found that this is an effective exercise for hamstrings in terms of injury reduction.
Therefore, adding the Nordic hamstring curl to your workouts for hamstrings can potentially help keep your hamstrings healthy.
To perform this hamstring exercise, follow the exact same steps as you did for the razor curl but keep your hips fully extended so that your body is in a straight line from your knees to your head.
#6: Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings or a fantastic posterior chain exercise that not only works the hamstrings, glutes, and low back extensors, but also works the anterior side of your body, strengthening your hip flexors, core, and shoulders.
In fact, according to a research study conducted by ACE Fitness, kettlebell swings are one of the most effective exercises for hamstrings.
Here are the steps for how to perform this exercise in your hamstrings workouts:
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, gripping the horn of a fairly heavy kettlebell with both hands. Your arms should be fully extended so the kettlebell is hanging down in front of your body.
- Keep your heels firmly planted but allow a gentle bend in your knees.
- Engage your core and glutes as you press through your heels and explode through your hips to drive the kettlebell upward until it’s roughly chest height and your arms are fully extended out in front of you.
- Control the kettlebell as it descends, loading your glutes and hamstrings. The kettlebell should swing backwards through the opening between your legs.
- At the end of the arc of the swing, snap your hips forward again to drive the kettlebell back up to chest height.
- Complete 12-20 reps.
#7: Glute-Hamstring Raises
If you are doing hamstring workouts at gyms with a glute-ham raise, you can use this machine for a highly effective hamstring exercise.
As you get stronger, you can add weight plates or chains for hamstring hypertrophy workouts.
Here are the steps:
- Secure your feet on the machine and then rest your quads in the middle of the glute-ham raise machine pad. Cross your arms over your chest.
- Bend your knees 90 degrees and make sure to keep the rest of your body completely straight.
- Press your toes into the pad as you straighten your legs.
- Hinge at your hips to slowly lower your torso until your chest is parallel to the ground.
- Contract your hamstrings and glutes to lift your body back up to the starting position.
#8: Hamstring Slides
Unlike exercises for hamstrings like the hamstring curl, which primarily focus on just one of the two joint actions of the hamstrings (knee flexion in this case), hamstring slides are one of the best functional hamstring exercises because the move involves both joint actions of the hamstring, maximizing your functional strength improvement.
It is also a joint-friendly, beginner-friendly hamstring exercise because it is a bodyweight movement that does not involve loading your hamstrings.
You will improve your eccentric hamstring strength.
To perform this exercise in your hamstrings workouts, you will either need to use a slide board with the booties or you can perform it at home on a hardwood floor with slippery socks or nylons on your feet.
You need to be on a surface where your heels have very little friction.
Here are the steps for performing this hamstrings workout exercise:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent 90°, shins perpendicular to the floor, and heels on the slide board or hardwood floor underneath your knees.
- Squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up as if performing a standard glute bridge.
- Slowly extend your heels away from your body, straightening out your knees. Beginners can start with just one leg at a time, keeping the other heel planted in the bridge position. As you get stronger, move both heels and try to extend your legs as far out as possible without flopping all the way down, maintaining tension in your hamstrings so that you can control the movement.
- Contract your hamstrings to pull your heels back in towards your butt until they are underneath your knees.
After your hamstring strength workouts, try our foam rolling leg exercises to loosen up. You can find the guide here.