Across 20 years as a certified personal trainer, I’ve identified three groups of people who really care about hamstring exercises & training…
- Physical therapists
- Strength and conditioning coaches
- 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 this article, 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…
- Equipment needed for these hamstring exercises
- The only hamstring exercises you need
- Why hamstrings matter
- Hamstring exercises: The bottom line
Equipment needed for these hamstring exercises
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 only hamstring exercises you need
You can easily put these hamstring exercises into a full workout program. for example…
Workout time required: 60 mins max
Sets and reps:
|Double Arm Kettlebell Swings*
|Stiff leg deadlifts*
|Nordic Hamstring Curls*
|6 (increase by 1 per week)
|Barbell hip thrust
|Single leg deadlifts*
|8 (per side)
|Swiss ball hamstring curl
|Banded hamstring curl
(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:
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
Note: check out our kettlebell swing alternatives if you want to switch this exercise up with an adequate substitute.
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
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
Note: check out our hyperextension alternatives if you want to focus even more on developing your glutes.
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.
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:
- Bench to lean on
- Pad (optional for comfort)
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.
Notes: Don’t enjoy this exercise? Check out our hip thrust alternatives and find a substitute that suits you better.
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:
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
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.
Why hamstrings matter
Strong hamstrings lead to a better physique for your whole body.
It’s very hard to solely train your hamstrings and there is great crossover to how much your hamstrings can lift to your overall strength.
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.
Warm up carefully
Although these are hamstring exercises, 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…
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.
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…
Hamstring exercises: 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.