When it comes to lower-body training, targeting your hamstrings is key. From helping you explode on the starting line to aiding you in the declaration when you need to come to a quick stop, the muscles in the back of your legs are essential to optimal performance. They’re key to daily activity, too.
Hamstrings are important for any activity that involves sitting, standing, walking, and running (both for knee flexion and hip extension). Weak hamstrings also put you at risk for injury and can even increase pain or tightness in the lower back and throw off posture and pelvic alignment.
When it comes to experiencing those potential negative repercussions of weak hamstrings, women are the ones largely at risk. Women are two to ten times more likely to have a knee ligament injury than men.
Women generally have an increased risk of weak hamstrings from a lack of training and wearing heeled shoes that put them on their toes, forcing their quads to do most of the work. The solution is to train hamstrings and build posterior strength to overcome muscle imbalances. Fear that focusing on hamstrings will leave you bulky? Don’t be.
1. Stiff-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
- Stand with feet hip-to-shoulder width apart, holding dumbbells at the front of the thighs, palms facing you.
- With your legs mostly straight (maintaining a micro bend in your knees), hinge forward at the waist.
- While keeping your back straight, lower the weights towards your feet until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
- Make sure to keep your arms straight and the weights close to your body (over your toes when lowering).
- Lower until you feel a mild stretch in your hamstrings.
- Slowly bring the weights up by extending the hips until you’re standing upright.
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2. Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding one or two dumbbells (your choice) in front of the thighs, palms facing you.
- With your legs mostly straight (maintaining a micro bend in your knees), hinge forward at the waist while lifting one foot off the ground.
- Keep the lifted leg straight as you lower the weight down towards your standing foot.
- Lower until you feel a stretch in the standing leg.
- Reverse the motion, and repeat for reps.
- Be sure not to bounce or swing the weights.
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3. Air Squat
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms straight out in front of you at shoulder level.
- If you need modifications, keep your arms out in front of you to help maintain an upright torso.
- Lower your body towards the ground by shifting your hips backwards and bending your knees.
- Make sure to keep your head up and back straight.
- Go down as far as your strength and mobility allow, aiming to break parallel.
- Keep your weight balanced between your mid-foot and heel.
- Return to standing by pushing the earth away with your feet, straightening your knees, and extending your hips until you’re standing upright.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.
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4. Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing
Note: Before moving to single arm swings, you must be proficient at double arm swings.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- With the kettlebell in front of you, assume a squat position while reaching forward for the kettlebell.
- Begin the swing by pulling the kettlebell back towards you while simultaneously extending your hips to lift the bell.
- Your hips and knees should be fully extended, your back (and spine) should be neutral, and your glutes should contract.
- Your free arm can either tap the handle, mimic the swinging arm, guard your face, be placed behind your back, or just hang at your side.
- It should not swing excessively, or rest on your thigh.
- During the back swing, the kettlebell handle should pass above the knees.
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5. Hamstring Curl With Resistance Band
- Anchor a thin band around a sturdy post or another stationary object.
- Lying face down, loop the band around your ankles.
- Curl your legs up towards your butt, and squeeze your glutes at the top of the curl.
- Slowly release, and repeat.
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6. Partner Hamstring Curls
- Place a mat or foam pad beneath your knees, and have your partner hold your ankles to keep you stable.
- Place your hands across your chest or hold them up near your shoulders.
- Slowly lower yourself towards the mat while contracting your hamstrings.
- Stay as tall as you can and keep your back straight.
- When you start to lose the ability to resist gravity further, extend your arms so you don’t hit your face.
- Return to the starting position.