Looking to build muscle in your legs? Don’t just train glutes and quads. Adding these five hamstring exercises to your strength training will increase your power, helping you to run faster and evening out any muscle imbalances.
Squats and lunges are popular for a reason. They’re effective exercises for the quads and glutes, helping to make you stronger and build muscle on the legs. But if your lower body workout is focused only on these moves then you’ll be missing out on training an important part of the body: the hamstrings.
These muscles are responsible for leg power, meaning that you’ll be able to jump higher and run faster once they’re strong. In recent studies, improved hamstring strength has been shown to reduce injury risk, too.
“I would always prioritise doing your biggest compound move at the beginning,” says Strong Women ambassador Alice Miller. “That means starting with the moves that work across multiple joints while you still have the energy to do so.”
Then, isolation comes into play. “The key with hamstring isolation is to go slow and controlled so that you feel the muscle really engaging,” Alice adds.
What are the best hamstring exercises?
“As this is a hip hinging movement, it really targets the hamstrings, but will also engage the rest of your posterior chain,” says Alice. You can do conventional deadlifts (where your feet are shoulder width apart, hands gripping the weight either side of your knees) or sumo deadlifts (feet are wider, toes turned out and hands grip the weight inside the knees). If you’re at home, a dumbbell or kettlebell deadlift works great, too.
Target the hamstrings even further with this deadlift variation. Begin with the weight at the hips and lower it down to the floor, keeping your legs straighter than in a traditional deadlift. Fitness trainer Emma Obayuvana likes to do the single leg variation of these: “that way you’re fixing any imbalances, and at the same time recruiting more posterior chain muscles in order to maintain balance.”
Hip thrusts, with the back raised on a bench, are a great glute burner but also engage the hamstrings. You can play around with feet positioning to find where you feel the hamstring most engaged by walking the feet further away from the hips, or pointing the toes in different directions.
Isolate the hamstrings with curls. “I like to use the prone, or lying, curl machine in the gym as I find I’m able to focus on tucking the hips under and concentrating on the hamstrings better than I can on the seated hamstring machine,” says Alice. At home, Emma recommends doing these on a hard floor with a tea towel. “Come into a glute bridge with your feet on gliders or a towel. Push the legs across the floor out, and drag them in slowly towards your bum. You’ll feel that,” she says.
These are a great finisher that just requires one piece of equipment. To make sure you hit the hamstrings, hinge at the hips and push forward using the force of your glutes and legs rather than your arms.
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Images: Getty / Sarah Brick
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).