8 Hamstring Building Exercises

Many people often overlook strong hamstrings which can ruin the rest of your workout.

The out of sight out of mind mindset may apply to things like the mess at home, but overlooking things that you can’t see in the mirror can have repercussions.

No group is more out of sight than your hamstrings at the rear of your thighs so it is easy enough to skip them another day, the hamstrings, a group of three muscles comprised of the biceps femoris, semimembranosus and the semitendinosus, these are important than just simply how good you look from the back.

They help stabilise the knee-joint, important for athlete’s and especially women who are more prone to knee injuries due to weaker hamstrings. They are among the most frequently injured muscle groups for both sexes accounting to nearly 25% of all athletic injuries. Add to this the fact that compared to quads, pretty weak hamstrings need building up and are responsible for a high instance of strains in the hamstrings and other ligament injuries, don’t let your hamstring strength lack.

Time To Get The Hammer Down

Because weak hamstrings can lead to injury and small hamstrings are aesthetically embarrassing, they need to be taken seriously, start with these 8 strategies if you are looking to strengthen them up, incorporate one or all of them to help stabilize your knee-joint or for aesthetic reasons.

Having strong hamstrings can benefit the rest of your workout too.

1) Rewire Your Hamstring Workout

Changing up your workout may seem like an obvious thing to do but this can require a lot of changes to your training split. You most likely have a leg day with exercises like squats, leg presses, leg extensions and lunges etc.

Many times, hamstring exercises will come at the end of the workout when your fatigue levels are high and you can hardly walk and all you can think about is finishing up and leaving, hardly productive when it comes to hamstrings.

By changing up your exercises short-term, doing hamstring exercises when energy levels are highest can have a dramatic effect on rear-thigh strength gains. This will make you stronger on the ham exercises but weaker on others towards the end of your workout, this is to be expected and one reason to do this for the short-term.

Another method is to train hams after a rest day. Strategically placing a rest day, eating right and getting plenty of sleep before training a lagging body part can help you do a challenging workout, the rest day also helps rest your mind as lots of days in the gym raises fatigue levels and demotivates you.

A pro bodybuilder strategy is good too, separating hamstring days from quad days. Here do each workout on separate days allowing for a greater energy in each workout without straining one muscle after the other in a single workout.

The key here is to make sure workout are separated by 48 hours as there will be some crossover, the hamstrings will be doing some form of work on squats and leg presses so you don’t want to end up doing them back to back, an upper body workout between the two days ensures plenty of time has passed.

Performing squats incorrectly can result in lower back injuries and knee problems.

2) Supercharging Squats

Research has shown that the hamstrings are recruited during a squat, engagement of them however is limited. Squat programs do not specialise in hamstring development, size or strength.

You can still increase the muscular tension on the hamstrings during hip extension/flexion movements like squats, this can be done by increasing the depths of your squats, making sure that your back does not round too much and that proper form is always used.

As you go down into a squat, muscle fibers of the quads are stretched and those of the hamstrings, especially the semitendinosus activate to help stabilise the knee-joint. Because of this activation during the eccentric lowering phase the deeper you go the greater the number of hamstring fibers are recruited.

Placing your feet out in front of you when doing a squat especially on a Smith machine removes quadriceps activation and makes the glutes and hamstrings work harder.

3) Go Ham First

Normally I would suggest starting workouts with heavy compound movements, however many lower-body compound movements don’t really help you build hamstring size and strength. Most of the emphasis is on the quads, so start your workout with a deadlift or other hamstring focused exercise.

A study published in 2009 found that the Russian curl was the top hamstring movement in terms of EMG, the Russian deadlift is ideal to include in your workout if you are not deadlifting.

This is a reletively difficult exercise to master (always bend at the knees not at the hips), experiment with the exercise at the beginning or end of a hamstring focused workout dependent on reps. Stay in the 8-12 rep range, going to muscle failure on the last rep for maximum effect.

Romanian deadlifts bring a huge extra workout to your hamstrings.

4) Loading Up On Leg Curls

Studies of EMG have shown that out of the various leg-curl movements like the standing leg-curl, seated leg-curl and Russian leg curl, each individual movement gets the hamstrings a bit differently. That is a reason workouts are all constructed with more than one exercise. on hamstring day it makes sense to do multiple leg-curl exercises. The same study also reported that the high-ranking of the Russian leg curl suggests that the seated leg curl is second in electrical activity.

Regardless of whether seated leg curls or lying leg curls are chosen, do them in a slightly different rep range to what you would do your first movement. So if the workout begins with 8 reps choose a different resistance on the second exercise for different intensity like 10-12 reps to failure.

Choosing a lighter weight that targets the muscle for a higher rep target you ensure that the muscle gets trained in more than one way from a different angle.

5) Working Hamstrings From The Hips

Exercises that compliment leg curls is not restricted to movements taking place at the knee-joint, since the hamstrings attach above the hips, movements where you are bending over the hip work the area of the hamstrings and glutes very well, you can choose a good morning exercise or a Romanian deadlift.

Many people often confuse Romanians with stiff-legged deadlifts but there are a few key differences. The stiff does recruit the hamstrings to a degree but is more of a lower back exercise not a hamstring movement and form is different also. Romanians do not round the back, the bar stays very close to your legs and don’t descend much past mid-thigh.

Remember these definitions so that you choose a hip-joint movement that effectively targets hamstrings.

Squats are a fantastic exercise for glutes when your legs are set in front of you during the exercise.

6) Work Past Failure

Gaining muscle the fastest means embracing going to complete failure, this means training until you can do no more good reps on your own with good form. Taking certain sets past muscle failure by employing intensity boosting techniques can also boost muscle gains greatly (not always strength), forget about lowering the weight when it gets hard, we have work to do.

Doing ever set past failure is actually counterproductive but it can be done with 1-2 sets of your heaviest sets of an exercise. Here are a few advanced intensity boosting techniques, some you will need a spotter for:

Without A Spotter

  • Partials – You should be able to lift at least 90% of your 1 rep max for 3-4 reps. So if you can do 225 pounds for 3 reps, divide 225 by 0.9, your 1 rep max is about 250 pounds.
  • Dropset – As you get close to muscle failure, rather than ending the set quickly reduce the weight by 25% and carry on to the next bit of muscle failure. This is best done with pin-loaded machines, cables and dumbbells where you have all the right weights in place when starting a set so no time is wasted searching.

With A Partner

  • Forced Reps – Have someone spot you on your heaviest sets, giving just enough assistance to keep a rep going past a sticking point. This will allow a few more reps that you wouldn’t have squeezed out on your own.
  • Negatives – As you get to muscle failure your partner steps in to help you carry on the lifts and then you lower it very slowly, taking a full 5 seconds to complete the full contraction. Do as many reps as possible until you no longer have control of the descent speed. This technique works well with lying leg curl and seated leg curl machines.

Doubling up on hamstring workouts can see impressive gains quickly.

7) Double Up On Ham Work

Training splits longer than about 5 days allows targeting of lagging body parts by doing it twice over the course of a split rather than just once. To really focus on short-term hamstring growth, train the hamstrings more than once a week for 6-8 weeks.

Don’t repeat the same workout you did the first time if doing this workout, the first workout could emphasize leg curls from the knee-joint and the second workout could focus on the hip-joint with a Romanian deadlift.

Training hams twice could affect your quad workout and recovery a little bit so pay special attention to how the split is constructed. Ensure a 48 hour gap between each of the three workouts or even combine quads and hams the same day to add more recovery time.

8) Stretching!

Any target muscle should be stretched after a workout ideally, it is even more important with hamstrings given their high chance of injury and relationship between tight hamstrings and lower back pain. Tight hamstrings pull on the pelvis which contributes to misalignment that can then lead to lower back injury. Nearly every long-term bodybuilder has dealt with lower back pain at some point and it is nothing to be taken lightly.

Some 30-second hamstring stretches can help to elongate the muscle tissue that becomes shortened as a result of an intense workout.

A much more foolproof way to perfect your form in the squat.


Do not restrict your hamstrings workout to just movements bending at the knees. Bending at the hips also works the upper hamstrings and is a smart complement to leg-curl movements, all of these tips will help you to build up your hamstrings and create good exercise and workout routines from it.

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