5 Best Hamstring Exercises

Strong hamstrings are key to mobility and injury prevention, making the right exercises essential for your fitness routine.

Discover the top five exercises for hamstring development—Romanian Deadlifts, Lying Leg Curls, Kettlebell Swings, Glute-Ham Raises, and Single-Leg Stability Ball Curls—and keep reading to explore each in detail.

Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian Deadlifts are a powerhouse exercise for building strength and mass in the hamstrings by engaging them through a controlled hip hinge movement.

This exercise is not only fundamental for lower body development but also enhances overall posterior chain strength, which includes the back and glutes.

Equipment Needed

To perform Romanian Deadlifts, you'll primarily need a barbell. Depending on your grip strength and the weight used, you might also consider:

  • Lifting Straps: These can help you maintain a secure grip on the barbell as the weight increases.
  • Weight Belt: Useful for supporting your lower back, especially as you work with heavier loads.
  • Flat-soled Shoes: Shoes with minimal cushioning, like weightlifting shoes or even flat trainers, can provide a stable base and better force transfer.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Starting Position: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with the barbell over your shoelaces.
  2. Grip: Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width.
  3. Lift the Bar: Bend at your hips and knees, lift the bar by straightening your hips and knees.
  4. Lowering the Bar: Push your hips back and slightly bend your knees as you lower the bar close to your body. Keep your back straight and head in a neutral position.
  5. Depth: Lower the bar until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, usually just below the knee. Avoid rounding your lower back.
  6. Return: Drive your hips forward to return to the starting position, keeping the bar close to your body throughout the movement.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

  • Rounding the Back: Keep your back straight throughout the lift to prevent strain. Tighten your core and ensure your chest is up.
  • Locking the Knees: Slightly bend your knees during the movement to keep the tension on your hamstrings and off your joints.
  • Improper Bar Path: The bar should move vertically close to your body. If it drifts forward, it can put undue stress on your back.
  • Breathing Incorrectly: Breathe in as you lower the bar and exhale as you lift. This helps maintain intra-abdominal pressure and supports the spine.

Variations for Different Skill Levels

  • Beginner: Start with lighter weights or even a wooden dowel to practice form. You can also perform the movement against a wall to learn the proper hip hinge.
  • Intermediate: Once you are comfortable with the form, gradually increase the weight. You might also try using a trap bar which can be easier on the lower back.
  • Advanced: Add complexity with single-leg Romanian deadlifts or increase resistance with bands wrapped around the barbell and anchored underfoot.

Lying Leg Curls

Lying Leg Curls are a quintessential exercise focused on isolating and strengthening the hamstrings, making them perfect for targeting these muscles specifically.

This exercise is performed on a leg curl machine, which helps in effectively concentrating the effort on the hamstring muscles without involving much of the other lower body musculature.

Equipment Needed

  • Leg Curl Machine: This is a specialized gym equipment designed specifically for this exercise. The machine typically features an adjustable padded lever to place your legs against and a padded bench to lie on.
  • Setting the Machine: Adjust the machine so the lever pad is just below your calf muscles when you are lying face down. The pad should comfortably fit against your legs without causing strain or slipping.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Position Yourself: Lie face down on the bench with your legs extended and the back of your lower legs under the padded lever.
  2. Adjustment: Ensure the pad of the lever is on the lower part of your legs, just above the heels.
  3. Grip: Hold onto the machine’s hand grips or the sides of the bench for stability.
  4. Execution: Exhale as you curl your legs up towards your buttocks as far as possible without lifting your upper legs from the pad. Keep the movement smooth and controlled.
  5. Hold and Return: Hold the contracted position briefly, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position while inhaling.

Muscles Targeted

The primary focus of the Lying Leg Curl is the hamstring group, which includes:

  • Biceps Femoris: Both the long and short head, which run down the back of the thigh.
  • Semitendinosus: Runs down the inner part of the thigh.
  • Semimembranosus: Positioned more medially and slightly deeper than the semitendinosus.

This exercise effectively engages these muscles, promoting growth, strength, and improved joint stability.

Alternatives Without Machine

Not everyone has access to a leg curl machine, but you can still target your hamstrings at home using:

  • Resistance Bands: Attach a resistance band to a low sturdy object and loop it around your ankle. Perform the curl movement by pulling your heel towards your buttocks against the resistance.
  • Dumbbells: Lie face down on a bench and place a dumbbell between your feet. Curl your legs up towards your buttocks by squeezing the dumbbell with your feet. This requires good balance and coordination.
  • Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls: Lie on your back with your feet on a stability ball. Lift your hips and roll the ball towards your body by bending your knees and pulling the ball with your feet.

Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell Swings are a dynamic and potent exercise that effectively blends strength training with cardiovascular fitness, making it a popular choice in both strength and conditioning programs.

This exercise targets the hamstrings, glutes, and core, and provides a high-intensity workout that can enhance athletic performance and everyday functional movements.

Choosing the Right Kettlebell

  • Weight Selection: The right kettlebell weight varies based on your fitness level:
    • Beginners: Generally start with a lighter weight, such as 8 kg (18 lbs) for women and 12 kg (26 lbs) for men, to focus on form and avoid overexertion.
    • Intermediate: As technique improves, move up to 12 kg (26 lbs) for women and 16 kg (35 lbs) for men.
    • Advanced: Experienced lifters might use 16 kg (35 lbs) or more, depending on their strength and conditioning level.
  • Kettlebell Type: Opt for a kettlebell with a comfortable handle that fits both hands and a well-balanced design.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Starting Position: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outwards, and the kettlebell about a foot in front of you on the ground.
  2. The Setup: Hinge at your hips and bend your knees slightly to reach forward and grip the kettlebell with both hands.
  3. The Swing:
    • Initiate the movement by hiking the kettlebell back between your legs while keeping your back flat and core engaged.
    • Explosively drive through your hips to propel the kettlebell forward and upward to about chest height. Ensure your body forms a straight line at the top of the movement—from your hands down to your heels.
    • Allow the kettlebell to swing back down as you hinge at the hips and slightly bend the knees.
  4. Repetition: Continue the motion, using the momentum to maintain a fluid swing. The power should come from the hips and glutes, not the arms.

The Role of Kettlebell Swings in Functional Fitness

  • Strength and Power: Develops the posterior chain muscles crucial for lifting, jumping, and sprinting.
  • Endurance: Regular kettlebell swings can improve cardiovascular endurance and stamina.
  • Flexibility and Range of Motion: Enhances hip flexibility and builds a greater range of motion.
  • Core Stability: Engages the abdominal and back muscles, strengthening the core and improving posture.
  • Coordination: Promotes coordination and body awareness, which are essential for all physical activities.

Safety Tips

  • Warm-Up Properly: Engage in a thorough warm-up focusing on mobility, especially in the hips and shoulders.
  • Maintain a Neutral Spine: Keep your back flat throughout the exercise to avoid straining your lower back.
  • Avoid Overextending: Do not lean back at the top of the swing; keep your body in a straight line.
  • Controlled Movements: Ensure you control the kettlebell throughout the swing; do not let the kettlebell control your motion.
  • Use the Hips, Not the Arms: The kettlebell should be driven by the force of your hip thrust, not by pulling up with your arms.

Glute-Ham Raises

Glute-Ham Raises are an exceptional exercise targeting the posterior chain, specifically the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

They are a staple in many strength and conditioning programs due to their effectiveness in building muscle, strength, and endurance.

This detailed guide will help you perform Glute-Ham Raises correctly and incorporate them into your fitness routine.

How to Use the Glute-Ham Developer Machine

The Glute-Ham Developer (GHD) machine is a specialized piece of equipment designed to facilitate Glute-Ham Raises:

  • Adjustment: Start by adjusting the footplate of the GHD so that your hips are just off the edge of the pad when you are in position. This allows for full hip extension and flexion during the exercise.
  • Positioning: The thigh pad should be comfortably snug against your thighs, just above the knees, to provide support throughout the movement.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Starting Position: Lie face down on the GHD with your ankles secured under the footplate. Your knees should be slightly bent just off the pad.
  2. Lowering Phase: Slowly lower your body by straightening your knees and allowing your upper body to descend towards the ground. Keep your back straight and arms crossed over your chest.
  3. Lifting Phase: Use your hamstrings and glutes to pull your torso back up to the starting position by bending your knees. Ensure your movement is controlled and steady.
  4. Repeat: Perform the prescribed number of repetitions, maintaining form and control throughout each rep.

Scaling the Exercise

  • Assisted Glute-Ham Raises: Beginners may find this exercise challenging. To scale down, use an assistance band attached to the GHD and over your chest or use your hands to push off the ground lightly as you lift.
  • Partial Range of Motion: Start with a limited range of motion, going only partway down, then gradually increase as your strength improves.
  • Isometric Holds: Try holding the mid-position for several seconds to build strength and endurance in the hamstrings and glutes before completing the full range of motion.

Benefits for Athletes

  • Strength Development: Strengthens the muscles involved in sprinting, jumping, and lifting, crucial for athletic performance.
  • Injury Prevention: By strengthening the posterior chain, Glute-Ham Raises can help prevent common athletic injuries, especially to the lower back and knees.
  • Enhanced Muscle Coordination: Improves the functional coordination between the hamstrings and glutes, which is vital for many sports movements.
  • Versatility: Can be modified to increase or decrease intensity, making it suitable for athletes of various fitness levels.

Single-Leg Stability Ball Curl

Single-Leg Stability Ball Curls are an advanced, challenging exercise that target the hamstrings with an added focus on core stability and balance.

Utilizing a stability ball, this exercise increases the difficulty by requiring unilateral strength and coordination, making it a fantastic choice for those looking to elevate their fitness routine.

Equipment Overview

  • Stability Ball: Essential for this exercise, the ball should be appropriately sized so your knees make a 90-degree angle when seated on it. A larger ball increases instability and difficulty, enhancing the workout.
  • Exercise Mat: Optional but recommended for comfort and to prevent the ball from slipping during your workout.

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Setup: Begin by lying flat on your back with one foot placed firmly on the stability ball and the other leg raised straight up towards the ceiling.
  2. Starting Position: Push down into the ball with your foot, lifting your hips off the ground to create a straight line from your shoulders to your toes.
  3. Execution: While keeping your hips elevated, pull the ball towards your buttocks by bending your knee. Your free leg should remain elevated and straight throughout the movement.
  4. Return: Slowly extend your leg to roll the ball back to the starting position while maintaining hip elevation and balance.
  5. Switch Sides: Repeat the exercise with the opposite leg to ensure balanced strength and muscle development.

Challenges and Solutions

  • Maintaining Balance: Single-leg stability ball curls can be unstable. To help, focus on a fixed point on the ceiling, engage your core throughout the exercise, and move slowly and deliberately.
  • Muscle Engagement: Ensure maximum hamstring engagement by keeping your hips elevated. If your hips drop, the effectiveness of the exercise diminishes.
  • Slipping: If the ball slips, try placing it on a yoga mat or using a rougher surface to increase friction.

Progression Strategies

  • Increase Reps: Start with a low number of repetitions, gradually increasing as your strength and stability improve.
  • Add Weights: Once you can perform the exercise with ease, add a light dumbbell or ankle weight to the elevated leg to increase resistance.
  • Extend the Hold: For an added challenge, hold the curled position for a few seconds before extending your leg.
  • Decrease Stability: Use a smaller ball to increase the difficulty of maintaining balance during the exercise.

Integrating Hamstring Exercises into Your Workout Routine

Integrating hamstring exercises into your workout routine is crucial for developing strong, balanced leg muscles and preventing injuries.

Hamstrings often get overlooked in favor of more visually prominent muscles, but they play a key role in activities such as running, jumping, and even standing.

Creating a Balanced Workout

  • Combine with Quadriceps and Calf Exercises: Since the hamstrings are posterior muscles, balance your routine with exercises targeting the anterior (front) leg muscles like the quadriceps, and the lower leg muscles like the calves. This can prevent muscle imbalances and ensure overall leg development.
  • Incorporate Compound Movements: Exercises like squats and deadlifts work multiple muscle groups including the hamstrings. These should be a staple in your leg days for comprehensive strength and muscle gains.
  • Add Isolation Movements: After compound exercises, include hamstring-specific movements like leg curls and glute-ham raises to further isolate and target the hamstrings.
  • Vary Exercise Order: Alternate starting your workout with hamstring-focused exercises in some sessions to prioritize them when you're freshest.

Sample Weekly Hamstring Workout Plan

  • Day 1: Heavy Lifting
    • Squats: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
    • Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
    • Lying Leg Curls: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
    • Calf Raises: 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Day 3: Volume Training
    • Leg Press: 4 sets of 10 reps
    • Glute-Ham Raises: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
    • Single-Leg Stability Ball Curl: 3 sets per leg of 10 reps
    • Seated Leg Curls: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Day 5: Functional Fitness
    • Kettlebell Swings: 4 sets of 30 seconds
    • Box Jumps: 3 sets of 8 reps
    • Sprint Drills: 5×100 meters
    • Dynamic Stretches and Cool Down

Recovery and Care

  • Importance of Stretching: Regular stretching of the hamstrings can improve flexibility, reduce stiffness, and decrease the risk of injuries. Incorporate both static and dynamic stretches before and after workouts.
  • Adequate Rest and Recovery: Hamstrings are highly susceptible to strain, especially with high-load exercises. Ensure you have at least 48 hours of recovery between intense hamstring workouts to allow for muscle repair and growth.
  • Hydration and Nutrition: Proper hydration and a diet rich in protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates support muscle recovery and growth. Consider supplements like omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce muscle soreness.
  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to signs of strain or discomfort in the hamstrings. Implementing deload weeks or reducing intensity when necessary can prevent overtraining and injuries.


Strengthening your hamstrings is essential for both athletic performance and everyday activities, helping to balance your muscular development and prevent injuries.

By integrating a variety of exercises, like those detailed here, into your routine, you can build stronger, more resilient hamstrings.

Remember, consistency, proper form, and recovery are key to making significant and sustainable gains in hamstring strength.