If you want nice looking legs, you want to build your hamstrings. Period. For the hamstrings, strength and mobility work goes hand in hand. Hamstrings are one of the most common muscle groups to injure, so if your hamstrings feel tight, they most likely need to be strengthened, and with mobility in mind. In this article you’ll learn everything you need to start incorporating hamstring strengthening in your workouts.
The main muscles of the hamstrings are the Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus and Biceps femoris. Hamstrings primarily bend the knee, and also extend the hip and rotate the hip joint as well. Hamstring injuries are the most common sports injury, and they happen when performing at fast speeds or doing powerful sudden movements. They play a role in deceleration, so running at high speeds and stopping suddenly can lead to injury. The key is to train the hamstrings in a way that makes sense according to the actions they are responsible for.
How To Build Hamstrings
Most people think they have tight hamstrings, but that tightness is really a weakness. Strength and mobility go hand in hand, especially for the hamstrings. If you can’t access a big range of motion (for hamstrings: touching your toes with the legs straight) then you won’t build as much muscle in the lengthened state. Mobility movements for the hamstrings will accelerate your hamstring growth and exponentially increase your flexibility.
With all movements to strengthen the hamstrings, focus on the eccentric or the lengthening portion of the movement. Training the lengthened state and focusing on the eccentric can help to reduce risk of injury or reinjury. A recent meta analysis from 2023 concluded that in general, eccentric training does reduce risk of injury in sports.
Hamstring Workouts For Muscle Growth
Squats & Deadlifts
The best moves to train your hamstrings are squats and deadlifts, and are the keystone compound lifts for training this muscle group. The Romanian Deadlift is a great variation because there is more hinging happening to activate more glute and hamstring engagement.
One more main staple in your regime should be the nordic curl. You won’t be able to do a full bodyweight nordic curl at first, but training more regressed variations to build up to it will get your hamstrings strong. For the nordic curl, you want to find a set-up to where your ankles are driving up into a rack or barbell. Sometimes you might need to set-up a barbell on the floor behind the rack so when you lower it, the bar drives into the rack instead of forward so you don’t fall on your face. Wrap a mat around the barbell where your ankles are pushing into it for extra padding. After your set up, try to keep the hips extended and fully lower your chest to the floor. You will need a band for this at first because they’re extremely hard. You can also do a variation where you start with the hips extended and once you feel like you can’t hold that position anymore, flex the hips so there’s less load.
Single-Leg Good Mornings
A single-leg good morning is a foundational movement for improving hamstring mobility. Stagger one foot and keep the other foot flat on the ground. The side where the foot is flat is the hamstring you’re going to be working. Make sure this leg stays locked out throughout – don’t hyperextend the knee, but think about flexing the quad as you lower into the movement. Pelvic position is very important to determine how intense the hamstring stretch is. Maintain an anterior pelvic tilt (booty out) throughout. As you keep the working leg locked out, lower your torso down towards the floor and arch the low back so the back stays flat towards the bottom of the movement. Once you feel like your back is going to round in order for you to reach your torso down further, stop the rep. Barbell good mornings and seated good mornings are great variations to work with.
Jefferson curls are also great for spinal mobility as well as hamstring mobility. To initiate this movement from a tall upright standing position, forward fold, curling your spine down one vertebrae at a time. Keep the legs locked out to flex the quads and squeeze the hip flexors as you lower. You probably won’t get down that far at all in the beginning, but that will improve over time. Also, do not hold any weight until your back and hamstrings get stronger, then add light weight.
How To Structure A Hamstring Workout
For compound movements like squats and conventional deadlifts, work in all rep ranges (1-30). You want to phase in and out of different rep ranges over the course of a few weeks at a time. For Romanian deadlifts – work in 5-30 rep ranges. For mobility movements, work in the 8-20 rep range. You can also work with isometric holds for movements like the single leg good mornings. For isometrics, try 10 reps per side with a 10-15 sec isometric hold at the bottom of the last rep. Intent matters in this movement, so think about pulling deeper into the rep as you’re contracting your hamstrings while you’re holding.
Hamstring Building Routine (3 days a week):
Day 1: Barbell back squats, Romanian deadlifts, and single leg good mornings – 4 sets of each
* note: If grip strength is an issue for Romanian deadlifts (and you’re focusing on growing the legs), use straps. However, it is important to improve grip strength in training, so make sure you are working on that improvement in other aspects of your training.
Day 2: Barbell good mornings, lying dumbbell hamstring curl or use a band if necessary, bodyweight jefferson curls
Incorporate static stretching on off days. A passive pancake stretch hold will work your adductors and hamstrings. To set-up, sit on the floor and spread your legs out to the sides and lean forward trying to keep the back flat. You can also just hold the bottom position of the Jefferson curl instead of doing reps + the hold at the bottom on the last rep.
The PNF hamstring stretch is another great stretch to do on off days.
Final Thoughts On How To Build Hamstrings
Always, when building a certain muscle group, take volume away elsewhere. When it comes to lower body training, you have to be careful, because the movements take a lot of energy (bigger muscles use a lot of energy). This is extremely important for strengthening and adding mobility to the hamstrings. It’s easy to overtrain, so pay attention to your body and allow yourself recovery time.
You can checkout our Youtube channel for tutorials on all the movements we mentioned in this blog and check out our library of over 750 videos of movement tutorials, Q&A’s, fitness programing and so much more.
Want to learn more about strengthening your hamstrings? Check out episode 108 of The Stronger Than Your Boyfriend Podcast – How to Build Series: Hamstrings
Poudel B, Pandey S. Hamstring Injury. [Updated 2022 Aug 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK558936/