Only a handful of gym-goers get excited about leg day. And then, on leg days, only a few of them will train their hamstrings. Admittedly, quads don’t get the same love that chest muscles get, but for unknown reasons, the hamstrings get even less – it’s like they always receive the short end of the stick in terms of building leg strength and size. And that’s really a shame, because the hamstrings are kind of like the triceps of the legs in the way their development holds the key to building truly big, powerful and sculpted legs.
The most important function of the hams is hip extension, which as you can guess, is vital for explosiveness, sprinting, jumping and overall pelvic mobility, but they also play an important role in stabilizing the knee joint, so it’s easy to understand how a pair weak, underdeveloped hams will diminish the effectiveness of your leg training, make you look like a novice and leave you at risk for imbalance and injury.
If you’ve been slacking on your hamstring training or your posterior chain could use some extra activation, here are 4 moves that will help you bring up your hams and develop a truly strong, well-developed backside!
#1. Romanian Deadlifts: 4 x 6-8
Romanian deadlifts are one of the most effective and most overlooked hip-dominant exercises for training your legs, especially the hamstrings that can actually give you much of the full-body benefits as squatting.
The hamstrings are primarily made up of fast-twitch muscle fibers, which cannot be trained with leg curls. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are best trained with higher intensity levels, and since unlike leg curls romanian deadlifts allow you to use heavy weights, this exercise works great for overloading the hams. Also, RDLs are an important functional exercise that will improve your hip extension and strengthen your posterior chain.
To begin, hold a bar with a pronated grip at hip level, keeping your shoulders back, knees slightly bent and back slightly arched. Lower the bar by moving your butt back as far as you can while keeping the bar close to the body. Ideally, you should end the movement just below the knee. Return to the starting position by driving the hips forward.
#2. Barbell Hip Thrust: 4 x 6-8
Hip thrusts are one of the best exercise you could ever perform for developing strength, power, endurance and mobility in the core and the entire lower body, including the glutes, quads, hams and even calves. They’re mainly used to activate dormant glutes and improve hip extension, but the hamstrings’ contribution is just as important as the glute activity in the successful execution of this lift, so it’s really a double win.
To perform them, sit on the ground with your back against a bench and feet planted firmly on the floor in front of you. Grab a padded barbell and place it in your lap. Keeping your lower back and knees stable, raise the barbell by extending your hips, pushing them forward as you squeeze the glutes. Continue rising up until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees, then slowly descend back.
#3. Barbell Box Squats: 4 x 6-8
For the purpose of hamstring development, box squats beat squatting to full depth because when properly performed, they recruit a lot more hamstring tissue than the latter and can help you develop explosive strength in the squat movement and effectively train the posterior chain.
The most important advantage of this squat variant is that it forces you to pause at the bottom, which then forces you to recruit more muscle fibers to get out of the hole and back up, and that translates to bigger strength and mass gains.
To perform them, stand in a power rack with a box that can bring you to a parallel squat behind you. Place your feet wider than shoulder width to shift more emphasis on the glutes, adductors and hams. Maintain a tight core and keep your head facing forwards. With the bar across the back of your shoulders and a tight arch in your lower back, push your knees and butt out and begin descending. Sit back with your hips until you’re seated on the box, pause to relax the hip flexors, then forcefully flex the abs, hips and glutes and drive upward off of the box to return to the starting position.
#4. Eccentric Glute Hamstring Raises 2 x 6-8
The hams and quads provide power for hip and knee movement and play a crucial role in knee stabilization. That being said, the responsibility for bending the knee and extending the hip falls mostly on the hams, so training hard and heavy with weak and too tight hams will most likely result in hamstring injury.
This can be prevented by training your hams with exercises that focus on building the most neglected part of leg strength – eccentric strength – and there’s no better way to do that than with eccentric glute hamstring raises.
To perform them, get in a tall kneeling position, with your heels secured under any kind of immovable object. Without bending forward at the waist, squeeze your hams and abs and dig in hard with your heels to ensure stability as you slowly descend toward the floor with your body for a 5-second negative rep. At the end of the movement, you should gently land on the ground in a push-up position. Push yourself back up to the starting position and repeat.