If you want to build your hamstring muscles, either for strength or in the case of women, to tone the thighs and buttocks, here are the best hamstring exercises. All of these exercises are based around the barbell deadlift; which is, hands down, the number one exercise for hamstring growth.
1. Barbell Deadlifts
Deadlifts are a fundamental exercise that engages nearly all musculature or range of motion among the legs. Deadlifts are also called a core exercise by some folks since they need functional stability from the surrounding muscles. When done with proper form, Deadlifts work efficiently towards making you stronger and exhausting more calories than any other leg-centric exercise.
Doing Your Deadlifts Right
The barbell should be resting on the floor. The barbell shouldn’t be moving due to any depressions on the ground or slope of the surface and it shouldn’t be placed over a material that tends to make the barbell slip from its original position. You should be standing in such a manner that the barbell is just above your toe joints and positioned right in front of the shins. Check your stance by evaluating your shoulders. Your legs should be stretched apart as much as your shoulder width. Now, bend your knees a bit to grab the barbell.
Starting with a lighter load is recommended since Deadlifts can be rather demanding for first-timers. Take care when you are bending your knees. When reaching down, the knees should be within the spread of your elbows. This stance helps to lift more weight without inducing too much pressure on the lower back and avoids risk of causing any injury. Besides the conventional grip, you can use the alternate grip. Here, one hand is facing your chest, i.e. in the pronated position and the other hand is facing downwards, i.e. in the supinated position.
As you try to lift the bar off the floor, use your entire body to do so and not just your arms or your hips. Take care of keeping your arms straight and the knees slightly bent. Deadlifts are perhaps the only exercise besides a weighted squat that tend to engage such a wide group of muscles including that of the hips and legs apart from the glutes, the lower back and the arm. Ensure that your back is not in a curved position. This can cause an injury and is the major reason why many people struggle with heavy Deadlifts. The appropriate stance can be easily achieved if you keep your head up and use your hips to push your body up. Most critically, keep the bar close to your body as you attempt the lift. As you rise further and enter a more straightened position, don’t try to hyper-extend. This means that you shouldn’t jerk as you are lifting as this can induce damage on the lower back. Remember, you need a regulated thrust to complete the Deadlift and not an abrupt push.
Use these variations in your workouts, either on different days if you do a multi-day split or as part of your lower body workout. You can pair these up with the best leg exercises to completely workout the lower body.
2. Stiff Leg Deadlifts
These are a very comprehensive and the most traditional way of executing Deadlifts. This variation is best recommended to those into mass-building regimens, particularly for the hamstrings. The set-up is similar to traditional Deadlifts. However, the feet should be positioned in a slightly narrower stance. Here, the knees should be bent and spread within the width of the shoulder. The reason for this stance is to reduce the load on the lower back. Thus, the driving force comes from the glutes and hips. Ideally, the hips should be the fulcrum of the body movement.
3. Romanian Deadlifts
A rather popular variation of the common Deadlift, this is a completed hamstring exercise. This variation allows bending of the knees a bit more than the usual, to ensure greater comfort when lifting heavily loaded barbells. The Romanian Deadlift does reduce the workout effect on the hamstrings but it raises the safety for the lower back and is particularly recommended to those who are working-out around a history of back problems.
4. Glutes Hamstring Raise
This is perhaps the least known of all Deadlift variations. It is used mainly in traditional power-lifting circles. As the name suggests, this deviation of the conventional Deadlift ensures that the glutes are worked upon extensively. It helps to raise the muscle mass across the entire lower back area. This Deadlift option is reserved for the more experienced lifters and not novices. To attempt this exercise, you need to lock your ankles. This means using an object like an Ab-Bench where you can lock-in your ankles. You have to position yourself face down while doing so and place some shock-absorbent material like wet towels under the knees. With the feet fastened, ensure that the knees are kept bent at around 90 degrees. Ideally, you should be kneeling halfway on the floor. As you lower your upper body on to the floor, you will realize that the load is immense across the glutes and you would need to engage the hamstrings to drag yourself back into the kneeling position.
5. Plate Drags
You should start by holding on to something stable like the lower end of a gym machine as you lie down on a gym mat. Now, start by extending the legs fully and place your heel within a weight plate, i.e. in the hole of the plate. Gradually, try to slide the plate towards yourself. This induces contractions in the hamstrings, creating a great workout for the legs. While doing so, the opposite leg should be kept extended. This is like mimicking a leg curl but the movement is more controlled.
6. Good Morning Deadlifts
This is the more radical variation in the traditional Deadlift since the barbell is rested on the upper back. This means that the traps and deltoids muscles are also engaged. However, ensure that the barbell is not sitting on the spine or the neck. Holding the bar a bit lower, i.e. in the power-lifting style, is the recommended choice here. The head and the back should be as straight as possible. The bend should come at the waist with the knees locked-in and bent minimally. This essentially means that the upper body is just about parallel to the floor. Good Mornings are not recommended to gym beginners due to the workload they induce on the entire posterior region of the body.
7. Stand-up Leg Curls
Essentially a free standing variation of the machine-based leg curl, here you are required to do the lying leg curl albeit when standing up and by using one leg at a time. This exercise might have started as a substitute for lack of leg curl machines in gyms but it is now recommended to all those who want to increase the muscle tone in their legs.