7 Best Hamstring Exercises (Leg-Strengthening Workout)

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: February 26, 2024
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It's been more than a decade since I started my fitness journey, and since then, I've learned a lot about what makes a good hamstring exercise.

Exercises that target the hamstrings vary greatly, from something simple like a nordic hamstring curl to a more dynamic exercise like a Romanian deadlift, and choosing the right can be challenging.

So, after doing some research and observing my clients for years, I've devised a list of exercises that can help strengthen and tone the hamstrings.

So, let's get started.

Quick Summary

  • The best hamstring exercises activate all the muscles in the hamstrings, and some of the most effective ones are the Romanian deadlift and glute bridge.
  • Take your time and pay attention to how your lower body feels during each exercise, as hamstring exercises can be quite strenuous.
  • According to the Cleveland Clinic, tight hamstrings can cause postural issues, lower back pain, and other debilitating injuries that require prolonged rest or rehabilitation.
  • In my professional opinion, the integration of these hamstring exercises is a game-changer for athletic performance and injury prevention.

How to Warm Up for Hamstring Exercises

Woman warming up inside her home gym

The hamstring muscles (biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus) are vital to our locomotion.

They are connected to the knee and hip joints, influencing knee flexion and hip extension, as shown in studies published in the National Library of Medicine [1].

In my experience as a fitness trainer, beginning with dynamic stretches not only prepares the hamstrings but also benefits the upper back and shoulders.

Dynamic stretches don’t have to be complex.

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For an effective warm-up, consider jogging, walking lunges, leg swings, and hamstring stretches. Emphasize the full range of motion to prime the muscles.

As a coach, I've seen how proper warm-ups significantly lower the risk of hamstring strains or tears during leg workouts

The Cleveland Clinic notes that hamstring injuries can be quite debilitating, necessitating prolonged rest or rehabilitation[2].

“Most often, the quadriceps get overdeveloped from weakening hamstrings. This could lead to a risk of injury to the knee joint, as well as the hamstrings themselves.”

- Denise Chakoian, Exercise Specialist

Working your hamstrings is good for their flexibility, which is crucial for good posture. Tight hamstrings can lead to postural issues and even lower back pain, as they affect the tilt of the pelvis and the alignment of the spine.

7 Best Hamstring Exercises to Strengthen Your Legs

Women doing glute bridges and hamstring exercises

Here are some of the best hamstring exercises that you can do to make your legs stronger.

1. Glute Bridge

The glute bridge targets the biceps femoris, glutes, and core muscles. It’s an amazing glute-ham raise alternative.

This exercise is particularly beneficial as we age, helping to counteract the natural decline in muscle strength and flexibility in the hamstrings.

Related Article: The Best Glute Ham Raise Alternatives

You can modify this exercise by adding a resistance band or using a single leg to challenge the hamstrings further. 

How to Do It:

  • Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Then, drive your heels to the floor.
  • Raise your hips off the ground.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • Hold this position for a few seconds before slowly returning to the starting position.

2. Sumo Squat

A woman doing sumo squat exercises

The sumo squat, straightforward and requiring minimal equipment, boosts performance in sports like basketball and soccer by fortifying the hamstrings, essential for agility and power.

From my experience as a fitness coach, it's adaptable for all fitness levels, effective with or without weights.

How to Do:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing outward.
  • Keep your chest up and your core engaged.
  • Slowly lower your upper body as if you were sitting in a chair.
  • Ensure you keep your back straight and your knees in line with your toes.
  • Stay in this position for a few seconds, and then slowly return to the standing position.

3. Nordic Hamstring Curl with Barbell

Nordic hamstring curl simulates the same motion as a lying leg curl. It’s an ideal exercise if you can’t access the lying leg curl machine.

This exercise is a great way to add variation to your workout routine.

How to Do It:

  • Place the barbell on the floor and secure it so it doesn't move.
  • Then kneel in front of the barbell.
  • Place your ankles and calves beneath the barbell to secure your feet.
  • Keep your neck neutral, your chin tucked, and your abs and glutes contracted.
  • You'll then need to bend your elbows, placing your hand in front of your body.
  • Slowly lower your body towards the ground while resting with your hamstring.
  • Land on your hands, then reverse the movement back to the original position and repeat.

For maximum results, keep a straight line from your knees upward.

4. Kettlebell Swings

Holding a kettlebell doing swings

The kettlebell swing involves the hip hinge. It drives the weight up with the hips and legs.

How to Do It:

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Place the kettlebell between your ankle bones.
  • Get in a deadlift position, and then pick the kettlebell in front of you with both hands as you squeeze your armpits.
  • Lift the kettlebell off the ground.
  • Engage your core and initiate hip hinge exercises to swing the kettlebell between your legs.
  • You want to start with a small momentum as you gradually increase your pace.
  • Drive your hips forward to swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height. Keep your back flat and your arms straight throughout the movement.

One mistake I observe with most beginners is picking the dumbbell with a rounded back or failing to engage the core, which may lead to poor results.

Related: Best Kettlebell Back Exercises

5. Single-Leg Deadlift

The single-leg deadlift is a great exercise for the lower body and core muscles.

How to Do It:

  • Stand on the left leg and hold a weight in the opposite hand.
  • Keep the chest up and maintain a straight back as you slowly lower the weight toward the ground.
  • When you reach a comfortable spot, pause for a few seconds before slowly rising back up.

As an experienced fitness trainer, I recommend three sets of 8–10 reps per side, emphasizing core engagement throughout.

A frequent error is bending both knees or extending the leg too far back.

Incorrect weight placement, on the other hand, can lead to an imbalanced form, hindering effective results.

6. Barbell Hip Thrust

Woman holding barbell performing hip thrust

The barbell hip thrust effectively targets the hamstrings and glutes and aids in hip extension, enhancing lower body power and stability.

Requiring minimal equipment, it's ideal for home workouts — just a barbell, bench, and mat.

Integrating this exercise into daily routines, beyond gym sessions, is crucial to preventing hamstring injuries in daily activities like lifting or sudden movements.

How to Do It:

  • Sit on the ground with your back against a bench, your feet planted firmly on the ground.
  • Place the barbell across your hips.
  • From there, take a deep breath and thrust your hips up while squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement before lowering your hips back to the starting position.
  • Repeat the process while keeping it nice and neutral.

7. Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift not only gives your hamstrings a great workout but also activates your glutes, core, and lower back muscles.

The exercise is an effective way to increase your strength and stability. Plus, you can adjust it to meet individual needs and fitness levels.

How to Do It:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold the barbell in front of you with an overhand grip, then lift it to a deadlift position.
  • Keep your lower back straight and bend at your hips to lower the barbell towards your feet.
  • Slightly bend your legs and engage your abs as you lower the barbell.
  • Once the barbell is as low as you can comfortably go, pause and slowly lift it back up to the starting position.

A balanced diet rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants can aid in the recovery and strengthening of hamstring muscles, making exercises like kettlebell swings more effective.

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FAQs

What Exercises Activate Hamstrings the Most?

Exercises that activate the hamstrings the most include sumo squats, lunges, single-leg Romanian deadlift, and glute bridges. Ensure that you perform the exercises properly and safely to get the best results.

How Do You Fix Weak Hamstrings?

You can fix weak hamstrings by doing exercises like single-leg deadlifts, glute bridges, and nordic curls. Additionally, stretching your hamstrings regularly can improve their flexibility and reduce muscle tightness. Start slowly and progress rather than going for a heavier weight and risking hamstring injury.

How Can I Strengthen My Hamstrings at Home?

You can strengthen your hamstrings at home through glute bridges, nordic hamstring exercises, leg curls, and sumo squats. You can also use resistance bands or free weights, like dumbbells or kettlebells, to add resistance to these exercises.

How Long Does It Take To Strengthen Hamstrings?

It may take anywhere from three to eight weeks of regular exercise to strengthen hamstrings enough for you to notice. Remember to take rests between your workouts and focus on proper form and technique to get the most out of your exercise routine.

How Many Times a Week Should I Train Hamstrings?

Train your hamstrings at least two to three times a week. If your goal is to build strength, then focus on doing lower volume, higher intensity workouts, but if you want to increase endurance, then do higher volume, lower intensity workouts.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.niBK546688/
  2. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17039-hamstring-injury
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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