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The Whole Ham Program: 7 Hamstring Exercises At Home (With Dumbbells)

Across 20 years as a certified personal trainer, I’ve identified three groups of people who really care about hamstring exercises & training…

  1. Physical therapists
  2. Strength and conditioning coaches
  3. Bodybuilders who have had bad feedback from judges on their hamstrings

I’m joking of course, but when it comes to ‘body parts people are excited to train’, they’d be pretty much bottom of the list. 

That’s a shame though… 

Because strong hamstrings are a cheat code to incredible athleticism and general fitness and physique results.

In the Whole Ham program, you’ll learn why and how you should train your hamstrings. You’ll build strong, injury-resistant muscles that will catapult your athleticism and help you improve your numbers across all of your major lifts. 

Within two months, you’d expect to see a serious improvement in strength and power. You’ll lift heavier, run faster and jump higher. 

That’s a promise.

I know this because I’ve used this exact program with dozens of clients (and yes… they all resisted this program idea at first).

Interested? Read on…

The Whole Ham Program: Improve your athleticism in 8 weeks 

Why are strong hamstrings a cheat code to athleticism?

Hamstrings are an integral part of the posterior chain – the muscles that run up the back of the body. In strength and conditioning circles they’re sometimes referred to as the ‘go’ muscles because they help to generate huge amounts of force.

By building strong hamstrings, you help to improve the functionality of the lower body. Here are three benefits of strong hamstrings in more detail…

Benefits of hamstring exercises

Benefit 1: You reduce your injury risk

Anyone who takes part in a sport or activity where any kind of speed, jumping or explosive movement is required will be putting their hamstrings under intense load. You may have even injured your own hamstrings in your sport. By directly strengthening your hamstrings, you significantly reduce the injury risk.

This also makes these hamstring exercises ideal for seniors.

Benefit 2: You’ll run faster

These hamstring exercises are ideal for runners. 

Eccentric training of the hamstrings has been shown to improve sprint speed in subjects who have directly trained them. In research conducted in 2019 by Siddle et al, they found that a group of team sports players who underwent direct hamstring training were both faster and stronger, suggesting the importance of hamstring training for speed and strength.

Strength is a prerequisite of speed. The stronger you are, the more forward propulsion you can generate.

Benefit 3: You’ll move more effectively

The hamstrings work on flexing the knee and extending the hip, which has opposite effects on the length of the muscle. When you flex the knee you concentrically contract the hamstring (shortening it), when you extend the hip, you eccentrically contract the hamstring (lengthening it). 

With strong hamstrings you will accelerate and decelerate more smoothly, you’ll jump further and higher, and you’ll be able to change direction more effectively – all with a lower injury risk too.

A person performing an exercise with a barbell

5 Steps to Use the Whole Ham program effectively

Hamstring exercises infographic

We’re looking to build strong, functional, and injury-resistant hamstrings in this program, so we want to dedicate a whole training day to them. We won’t be using the Whole Ham program as an accessory workout. 

It’s a single hamstring workout program, designed to be completed twice per week.

In the one workout, we achieve all of our training goals – we strengthen the hamstrings across a variety of rep ranges. We make the hamstrings work concentrically and eccentrically.

We perform different hinge movements engaging the hamstrings and we provide a variety of training stimuli to the muscles.

Follow these steps to maximize the effectiveness of the program…

Step 1: Follow the program twice per week

The Whole Ham workout isn’t ‘just’ a hamstring program insofar that it’s full of isolation hamstring exercises. It’s a program that involves various forms of pulling, hinging, and swings as well.

6 functional movements patterns

This means that it’ll benefit other areas of the body too. 

By following the Whole Ham program you’re not just dedicating two days to one body part – you’re doing some serious posterior chain work!

Here’s how I suggest you put it into your training week…

Monday: Whole Ham program

Tuesday: Upper body and abs

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: Whole Ham program

Friday: Upper body and abs (check out our abs workout here)

Saturday: Optional cardio

Sunday: Rest

If you approach your training week like this you’ll cover all of your training bases and still manage to get a couple of days worth of rest into the week.

Step 2: Complete the hamstring workout in its entirety

The Whole Ham program is a big workout – there’s a lot of volume in this session, so the temptation will be to cut it up. I don’t want you to do this though, because there’s a lot of volume there for a reason.

The posterior chain is a group of muscles that are capable of a lot of work, plus they cover a large area of the body. The aim is to make the whole area strong and powerful. These workouts aren’t easy, but the results will be absolutely worth it.

Posterior chain muscles

Step 3: Pay attention to the rep ranges

You’ll notice in the Whole Ham program how we are covering different rep ranges – we go from the heavy weight, low rep work with the barbells to the high rep work with the kettlebells and bands.

We’ve even got bodyweight work with the Nordics hamstring curls in there. This isn’t an easy exercise, so I want you to progress them at a rate of one rep per set, per week. 

This is a safety measure to prevent potential injury.

You’ll notice we do the powerful and heavy movements first, so the exercises with a higher injury risk are performed earlier in the workout, so you’re fresher. The lighter, higher rep work with lower injury risk is performed at the end of the workout when you’re tired.

A person working out hard with a barbell

Step 4: Warm up carefully

Although this is a hamstring program, there’s a lot of use of the glutes, hips, quads and lower back in the hamstring workouts. This means you need to be thorough in your warm up because the risk of injury is always there.

When we combine a lot of volume with some heavy weight, you have to make sure your body is well prepared for what is about to come. Here’s how I suggest you warm up…

Hamstring warm up infographic

Also, for each new hamstring exercise, make sure you perform a warm up set with a very light weight, before going into your working sets with your normal weight. This warm up should take no more than 10 minutes – closer to 8 or 9 even.

Step 5: Watch your lifting speed

In the eccentric exercises (the ones with the * next to them in the program) here we want to emphasize the time under tension (the only exception being the kettlebell swings). 

Don’t worry if you can’t picture the differences between the types of contractions – just follow the exercises and the speed guidance in the descriptions below. For reference though, this little video may help you visualize the contraction types…

I won’t prescribe a precise lifting tempo here, but I want you to make a conscious decision to slow your lifting down, performing your reps carefully. Shoot for a couple of seconds up, a couple of seconds down, but don’t worry if it’s slightly longer – just move deliberately.

The reason for this is the hamstrings will work both concentrically (where the muscles shorten as they contract) and eccentrically (where they lengthen as they contract). This means in order to function properly in both of their jobs, they have to be strong throughout the full range.

You do this by slowing the tempo down, forcing the hamstrings to work hard throughout the full range of movement. 

With the banded hamstring curls, I want you to work at a higher speed. Emphasize their fast-pull nature. These are explosive movements where we want the hamstrings to work powerfully and quickly.

The whole workout, including the warm up, should take around an hour.

Hamstring ExerciseSetsReps
Double Arm Kettlebell Swings*520
Stiff leg deadlifts*5
Nordic Hamstring Curls*46 (increase by 1 per week)
Barbell hip thrust48
Single leg deadlifts*48 (per side)
Swiss ball hamstring curl415
Banded hamstring curl415

(All exercises with a * next to them are eccentric in nature.)

Notes on the program design

Part of my intention in these articles is to educate as well as give you great programs. This section is an insight into my thinking about the program, so you realize it’s not just a heap of hamstring exercises thrown in together.

If you understand the ‘why’, you’re more likely to understand the ‘how’. 

It’s here you’ll peek behind the curtains, with a little physiology thrown in to understand how a program is put together to make sure it’s safe, effective, and progressive.

Hamstring exercises important factors

There’s a lot of emphasis on eccentric loading

If you follow machine-based hamstring exercises, you’ll spend most of your time working on concentric contraction. The problem is that most of the injuries in the hamstrings occur eccentrically, so this does nothing to make them more injury-resistant.

That’s why this program includes a lot of hamstring exercises with dumbbells or barbells. 

In this Whole Ham program, I’m emphasizing eccentric contraction so you strengthen the muscles at their most vulnerable point. 

Appreciate the wider anatomy

You may look at the exercises here and wonder why hip thrusts and single-leg deadlifts are included in the hamstring workout program, given they’re both predominantly glute exercises. 

The reason for this is when you look at the hamstring you’ll realize it influences hip movement at one end, and it’s responsible for helping knee stability at the other. The hip thrusts help to build the strength of the glutes and hip complex, whilst still working the hamstring.

The single-leg deadlift forces the hamstring to engage, whilst also helping to stabilize the knee during the movement. These are examples of the wider benefits to exercise programming – these exercises train the target muscles, whilst helping overall athleticism. It’s a double win.

Work across different rep ranges

There may be people wondering why a program that focuses on hamstring strength has so many exercises where the prescribed rep range is not traditionally associated with strength (12+ reps per set).

The answer is two-fold…

  1. Athletically, the hamstrings are going to be required to work at all different rep ranges, so we need to make them functionally strong across different loads.
  2. Muscles are made from a combination of slow and fast twitch fibers, so we need to train them all. High rep work accommodates that, and increases the general strength of a muscle.

We want the muscles to be healthy and strong across the whole spectrum of their uses, not just a small subset.

All of the heavy work is eccentric

You’ll notice that the heaviest hamstring exercises in the program are the eccentric ones. I’ve done this for a few different reasons, so let me explain…

  1. The heavy exercises (deadlifts, hip thrusts) have more global (train lots of muscles) benefits than the lighter exercises, so I wanted to go heavy on those.
  2. Not many people can curl a lot of weight with their hamstrings, so technique suffers. If technique suffers, injury risk increases and we don’t want that.
  3. A heavy hamstring curl usually needs equipment that a lot of home gym users don’t have. Unless you have access to a hamstring curl machine, it’s not a home gym-friendly exercise, so not very practical for many readers.
  4. Eccentric exercises are usually slow, which is helpful when the weight is heavy. It’s difficult to lift a heavy weight fast.
  5. I want the concentric work (banded hamstring curls) to be fast and powerful, so it’s better done with a lighter weight.
  6. Eccentric work increases time under tension, which makes the movements slow and controlled. This generally improves technique.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but I hope that makes sense. It’s not an accident that there’s more eccentric heavy work, for safety and practicality reasons. It’s also beneficial physically. 

Equipment needed for the Whole Ham program

These hamstring workouts are designed to be as home gym friendly as possible, so you won’t need to invest in any crazy equipment to do them well. Here’s what you’ll need to do these workouts…

With all of these, you won’t need to edit the workouts in any fashion at all.

The Whole Ham program: The Hamstring Workout

As mentioned, this is a workout to be done in its entirety twice per week. When you’ve warmed up (as shown above), perform the first set of each new hamstring exercise with a light weight. 


It’s a safe way for you to practice each movement, it also serves as a further warm-up. Once you’ve done the set, put your working weight on the bar and get busy.

Workout time required: 60 mins max

Sets and reps:

Hamstring ExerciseSetsReps
Double Arm Kettlebell Swings*520
Stiff leg deadlifts*5
Nordic Hamstring Curls*46 (increase by 1 per week)
Barbell hip thrust48
Single leg deadlifts*48 (per side)
Swiss ball hamstring curl415
Banded hamstring curl415

(All exercises with a * next to them are eccentric in nature.)

Focus: Volume and slow eccentric movements for the hamstrings. The banded hamstring curl should be fast explosive movements.

1. Kettlebell Swings

The kettlebell swing is the ultimate hip hinge exercise. Compared to deadlifts it’s light, and the high resp nature is perfect for warming everything up. I like it in this context because it allows emphasis on the eccentric contraction of the hamstrings and the movement comes from the hips (and a tiny amount of knee flexion).

Equipment needed for kettlebell swings:

  • Kettlebell

How to do kettlebell swings:

  • Hold the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip
  • Keeping your back straight, tilt your hips back and drive them forward using your glutes – this puts momentum into the kettlebell
  • At the top of the swing, squeeze your glutes together hard
  • Keep your legs mostly straight throughout the whole exercise – the only joints to move a lot are the hip and shoulders
  • Keeping your back and legs straight throughout, build momentum with each swing until you’re reaching chest height with the kettlebell
  • Repeat as many times as required

2. Stiff legged deadlifts

The stiff legged deadlift is one of my favorite hamstring exercises because it combines the eccentric contraction of the hamstrings with a lot of weight. It means you can load the muscles well, whilst benefiting a lot of the other muscles around it. It’s also a simple and safe way to lift if you have a decent deadlift technique.

Equipment needed for stiff legged deadlifts:

  • Barbell and plates

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

How to do stiff legged deadlifts:

  • Hold the barbell with the grip of your choice
  • Deadlift the bar into your starting position, which is where you’re holding the barbell with straight arms
  • Keeping your back and legs straight, tilt your hips back as your torso starts to point towards the floor
  • Keep pushing your hips back, with your legs straight as you lower the bar towards the floor
  • As you feel your hamstrings stretch fully, pause for a second and push the hips forward and lift the bar back to the starting position
  • At the top of the movement squeeze the glutes together
  • Repeat as many times as required

3. Nordic hamstring curls 

The Nordic hamstring curl is a fantastic exercise because it’s incredibly effective, easy to set up and there is little technique to learn. It’s a very challenging exercise because it forces the hamstrings to control the descent of the torso.

Huge amounts of research show it’s a very effective way of training the hamstrings. They improve knee stability and hamstring strength better than most exercises, plus they are linked with improving strength and speed.

This is the best hamstring exercise that requires no equipment.

Equipment needed for Nordic hamstring curls:

  • Foot anchor point – this can be a weighted barbell, a friend or under a chair. 
  • Knee pad or mat to protect the knees.

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

How to do a Nordic hamstring curl:

  • Anchor your feet so you can lead forward with control
  • From a kneeling position, lower your torso towards the floor, using your hamstrings to control the speed of descent
  • When your torso reaches the floor push yourself back to the starting position
  • Repeat as many times as required.

4. Barbell Hip Thrust

A barbell hip thrust is the kind of exercise that can be progressed significantly – even beginners will be lifting serious weight on it within a few weeks. It’s a great hamstring exercise because it requires so much hip drive – a movement helped in part by the hamstrings. Keep the movement slow and deliberate here.

Equipment needed for hip thrusts:

  • Barbell
  • Bench to lean on
  • Pad (optional for comfort)

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do hip thrusts:

  • With your back and shoulders on the bench and feet flat on the floor, place the barbell on your lap
  • Drive the barbell up using your glutes until you’ve reached full hip extension.
  • Pause at the top, then slowly lower your hips down.
  • Repeat

5. Single leg deadlift

This is a very challenging exercise, so give it some respect! But it’s another great hamstring exercise that can be performed at home.

It can be performed using either a kettlebell or dumbbell, but I suggest the kettlebell because the handle and grip is better suited. If it’s your first time on these, go light and make sure you maintain great form throughout the movement.

Emphasize the knee stability element of it throughout by controlling the speed of the movement.

Equipment needed for single leg deadlifts:

  • Kettlebell/dumbbell

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do single leg deadlifts:

  • Hold the weight at your side with one hand, your back straight and both feet on the floor
  • Keeping your back straight, tilt forward at the torso, taking the opposite leg straight back as you do
  • You will be standing on one leg, so move slowly and keep your balance and the weight moves towards the floor
  • When the weight touches the floor and your torso is parallel to it, return to start position with a straight back and controlled movement
  • Repeat as many times as required for the set, then switch sides

6. Swiss ball hamstring curl

The Swiss ball provides a good challenge for all kinds of exercises because it’s unstable. This inherent instability forces the body to work extra hard to keep balance and form in control. This version of a hamstring curl gives the glutes, spinal erectors and calf muscles a good workout too, so offers a more generalized benefit than a hamstring curl machine.

There’s also a time under tension element at play, because you can’t rush this movement. The slow and controlled element of it makes for a real challenge for the hamstrings.

Equipment needed for Swiss ball hamstring curls:

  • Swiss ball

How to do a Swiss ball hamstring curl:

  • Lie on your back, feet on top of the swiss ball 
  • Lift the glutes from the floor, keeping your back straight and shoulders in contact with the floor
  • Roll the ball away from you, keeping the feet on top of the ball and extending your legs. Ensure the glutes stay off the floor the entire time.
  • Once the legs are at full extension, roll the ball back towards you until the legs are fully bent again
  • Repeat as many times as required

7. Banded hamstring curls

The best hamstring exercise with bands is the banded hamstring curl. 

It’s a staple for a lot of home gym users. 

It replicates the prone hamstring curl machine that used to be popular in gyms in the 90s. As well as being a functional exercise, it’s really easy to set up and requires no technique to learn. A hamstring curl done this way has an interesting strength curve – it gets harder the further along the rep you go, so as the elastic becomes tighter, the exercise gets harder.

This makes the exercise different to a normal hamstring curl where the force curve is similar throughout the exercise.

Equipment needed for a banded hamstring curl:

  • Resistance band – thickness depends on your strength
  • Anchor point – squat rack or bench is fine

REP PR-4000 Power Rack

REP-PR-4000 Power Rack
Read our best squat rack guide here

Looking for an affordable yet high quality power rack?

Look no further!

After comparing over 100 types of squat racks the PR-4000 came out on top.

You can add any attachment to it (including cables, dip bars and plate holders). You can even add additional uprights to back to make it even more of a beast!

The 1 inch westside hole spacing means you can position the spotter arms to the ideal height when you bench press. So you can safely drop the bar and have a full range of motion when you lift.

And the 3×3″ 11 gauge steel make this the best value rack we could find.

How to do a banded hamstring curl:

  • Secure the band to a suitable anchor point, such as a squat rack
  • Wrap the band around the ankles and roll onto your front
  • Curl the heels from an almost-straight position to fully bent
  • Pause, then slowly return the legs to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as required

These are the exercises in the Whole Ham program. Pay attention to the coaching points, the sets, and rep ranges. Done properly these won’t be easy, but they will be effective! Expect the hamstring workout to take around an hour, which will include warm-up time too.

At first, the workouts may take a little longer whilst you figure out your starting weights. Once you’ve got these figured out, you’re away.

The Whole Ham program: FAQs

Here are a few additional bits that I haven’t covered so far, but they’re relevant for helping you get the most out of the program…

How long should I run the Whole Ham program for?

I suggest a minimum of 8 weeks. That’s only 16 workouts, which is enough to see a lot of progress.

There’s theoretically nothing wrong with you running it for much longer, but you might want to mix things up in order to keep it interesting.

It all depends on your results – have you seen significant strength improvements? If not, keep it going!

What are the rest periods?

In strength and power programs I don’t program rest periods, because I want you to rest as long as you need to, without being lazy.

I’d suggest 60-90 seconds between sets. That’s usually plenty long enough for most people to recover most of their capabilities. If your subsequent sets are cut short through fatigue (i.e. you can only manage less than 75% of the expected reps), rest for longer.

Expect your rest periods to get shorter as you run the program for longer. This is because you’ll be getting fitter and your rest requirements will drop as your hamstring specific conditioning gets better.

What can I expect from the Whole Ham program?

In the early days you should expect serious hamstring DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). The kind you’ve never felt in your hamstrings before in your life. I’m serious – expect it to shock you!

That’s totally normal when you start an eccentric based strength program. It’s not an injury and it’ll pass in a few days. You just need to eat plenty of protein, drink lots of water, sleep well and keep moving. If you’ve got access to a sauna, even better.

After that, you’ll see your strength numbers shoot up across all of the exercises. Don’t be surprised to see your numbers go up by 50% or more over the course of the program. When it comes to progressing the curls, use a heavier band on the banded curls and a slower tempo on the Swiss ball curls.

Can I train with DOMS?

Yes, you can. Just make sure you spend longer warming up. Instead of the 5 minute cardio warm up, you might need to stretch it to 10 minutes. You can also lift slightly lighter if you need to.

Don’t not train because you’re feeling a bit stiff – that’s the tax you pay for making yourself stronger!

Do I need to do any specific leg day?

With the program being lower body, you could get away with only adding some squats and/or lunges into your general programming. You certainly don’t need to do any specialist leg day stuff on top of this lot – just a little something for your quads perhaps.

If you’re looking for quad ideas, why not try our alternatives to lunges or our quad exercises article?

Does the order of the exercises matter?

It does… to a point. Obviously the warm up comes first, and I want you to do your kettlebell swings first. Beyond that, you can do your strength (the ones with the lower rep ranges) exercises next, but they can be in any order.

Finish on the curls, but I don’t mind which order there either. They just have to be last.

Can I use this program to lose weight?

No, this isn’t a fat loss program. This is a program designed to help you maximize your hamstring strength. Don’t try to do this on limited calories, you’ll only impact your own progress. Fuel these hamstring workouts, train hard, sleep well and enjoy the results.

If you’re looking for a fat loss program, check out our HIIT workouts for more ideas.

The Whole Ham program: The bottom line

As I said at the start of the article, strong hamstrings are a cheat code for athleticism. They improve your ability to run, jump, and generate force. They also improve power for throwing, lifting, and general strength movements. 

They make you more injury resistant and they help stabilize your knee and hip joints.

Simply put… there’s not a single person on the planet who wouldn’t benefit from strong hamstrings.

Take this article, read through it, save the hamstring workout in your phone/training diary and get to work (I like Rep Count FYI!) 

Your body will thank you. If you’re an athlete, your coach will thank you too!

Check out our back exercises workout if you’re looking for a program to complement this one.

Photo of author
Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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