To get the most out of your lower-body workout, adding in some hamstring exercises are a great way to make sure you’re training efficiently—and keeping your routine balanced.
There are tons of benefits to strengthening your hamstrings (more on that later!), but if you’re new to strength training or have been sticking to the same workout routines, you may feel a little uncertain as to which other exercises you can slot in. No need to worry: We’ve rounded up some really great hamstring exercises for you below, some of which use external resistance like barbells, dumbbells, or even resistance bands, and others you can do with just your bodyweight.
But before we get into the best hamstring exercises, let’s take a step back and focus on the back-of-the-leg muscles themselves. Below, everything you need to know about your hamstrings, including why building strength in them is so important, the best way to train your hamstrings, and some really great exercises to help make that happen.
What are your hamstring muscles?
Your hamstrings are large muscles that run along the back of your body, or on your posterior chain. They’re actually made up of three separate muscles: your biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus.
Together, your hamstring muscles serve an important purpose. They help you extend your hips and flex your knees—movements which allow you to do everything from standing upright and bending forward to walking, running, and jumping, Dane Miklaus, CSCS, CEO and owner of Work training studio in Irvine, California, tells SELF.
What are the benefits of building hamstring strength?
Strong hamstrings are vital for power, especially in those movements mentioned above like sprints and jumps. Plus, training your hamstrings help you work toward balanced strength, which is important both during strength training and in everyday life.
Many people tend to be quad-dominant, Miklaus explains, meaning that their quad muscles, which run along the front of the thighs, tend to be way more developed than their hamstring muscles. While it’s normal for your quads to be a bit stronger than your hamstrings, a large imbalance between the muscles can set the stage for knee injuries or knee pain down the line, especially if movements like sprinting, jumping, lunging, or squatting are regular parts of your routine.
“If you are not stabilizing at the knee appropriately—and that’s a big part of what your hamstring does, it helps keep the knee joint in place—you risk a greater incidence of injury when your quads are way overdeveloped and the hamstrings are too weak,” he explains.
Plus, thanks to too much inactivity throughout the day—think long days sitting at your desk or in your car for your commute—your hamstring muscles tend to tighten up, Miklaus says. This tightness can contribute to lower back pain. So moving them regularly, like with dedicated hamstring exercises, help keep those muscles stretched and elastic, which can help ward off the back pain, he says.
What are the best hamstring exercises out there?
The best hamstring exercises are those that incorporate the movement patterns of extending your hip (think hip hinge, like if you were deadlifting) or flexing your knee (like with a glute bridge, where your hamstrings fire as your heel applies force to the floor), says Miklaus.