Hamstrings are arguably the most important muscle group for athletes to focus on if they want to dramatically improve performance. Unfortunately, they’re often the most neglected. This is mainly because athletes, crossfitters and weightlifters don't understand the important role they play in athletic performance. Most think that the hamstrings serve one purpose: to facilitate knee flexion (think of kicking up to your butt when you run). The hamstrings, however, serve a much more important function: hip extension. Powerful hip extension is paramount for sprinting, jumping, Olympic weightlifting, and overall explosiveness during athletic movements and activities.
In this post, we'll show you the 10 exercises to include in your training routine to help improve your hamstring strength quickly!
USING MUSCLE ACTIVATION TO DEFINE THE "BEST."
A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that RDLs and glute ham raises produced more significant muscle activation than any other hamstring exercise.
CHEAT SHEET: WHAT ARE YOU TRAINING FOR?
Before we jump into the 10 best hamstring exercises, it's important to train with appropriate loads and rep ranges to achieve your goals. If your goal is to improve power, for example, training with light loads and a high number of reps isn't ideal. To increase power, you need to train heavily and incorporate long rest periods to ensure that your explosive energy stores (ATP) have time to replenish between sets.
Use the cheat sheet below to assist you with reps, rest between sets, and the percentage of your one rep max based on your training goals.
THE 10 BEST HAMSTRING EXERCISES:
#1: HYBRID GLUTE HAM RAISE (GHR)
The hybrid GHR combines an elevated GHR with a floor GHR. The hybrid GHR uses the athlete's knee as a pivot instead of the thigh, which isolates the hamstring more effectively. As a result, a more intense contraction is required from the athlete in order to complete the movement.
#2: ECCENTRIC GHR + REPS
Eccentric training (also known as negatives) is a great way to build strength quickly.
Research has shown that peak power is maximized with loads ranging from 30-60% of an athlete’s one rep max. For speed work, complete the eccentric phase of the movement with a heavy load, drop the weight at the bottom, and complete explosive and controlled reps with little to no weight. Focus on making the reps as explosive as possible.
- Beginners Routine: (Weighted) 10 Second Eccentric/Negative Lowering + (Drop Weight and complete Reps) 4-6 Reps *× Repeat 1
When training for speed, specifically starting speed, the glutes and hamstrings are primarily used to generate force and power. Using the training protocol above will help you dramatically improve starting speed.
MORE ON SPEED ROUTINES (SPEEDBOT IN BREAKING MUSCLE:)
For more on speed specific glute ham routines, check out our post in Breaking Muscle.
Take your performance to the next level:
Supplementing with creatine, beta-alanine and caffeine will help your body replenish ATP more quickly and help facilitate more effective myosin and actin crossbridges. Proper supplementation will ensure that your reps are explosive and powerful so that you get the most out of every training session.
#3: ISO GHR + REPS
Isometrics exercises are joint angle-specific. Unlike dynamic weight training, isometrics do not work the muscle through a full range of motion. Establishing multiple joint angles when using the knee as a pivot can be difficult, and it may be better to establish strength at different joint angles using a glute ham developer that uses the thigh as a pivot.
Research has shown that, by training the weakest range of motion (near full extension or contraction), athletes can develop enough strength to work through strength plateaus.
An isometric GHR is done by flexing the hamstrings against an immovable object, e.g., a heavy weight or a person pressing down on the athlete's back.
#4: REACTION "GO" GHR
Reaction GHRs combine an isometric GHR with a standard GHR movement. The athlete positions him or herself in full extension, and when a coach or training partner yells "go," the athlete contracts his or her hamstrings as quickly and violently as possible to complete the concentric portion of the rep. The athlete then lowers, in controlled manner, back into full extension and awaits the next auditory signal. Unevenly spacing the auditory commands will keep the athlete honest. Reaction GHRs add variation to the movement, which keeps athletes on their toes, prepares them for more realistic and sports-specific applications, and makes training more fun.
#5: ECCENTRIC GHR:
As we mentioned above, muscles are approximately 40% stronger during eccentric contractions, but did you also know that eccentric training can help you increase hamstring flexibility? That's a little shocking, right? Don't take our word for it; take a look for yourself. The research study wanted to determine how eccentric training compared to static stretching. Researchers found that flexibility gains from eccentric hamstring training were equal to those of static stretching. The benefit of swapping eccentric training for static stretching is that you improve flexibility and strength. It's like killing two birds with one stone.
- For more on improving hamstring flexibility with eccentric training, click HERE.
#6 REBOUND GHR:
Rebound GHR is a plyometric-like GHR variation designed to produce a more powerful hamstring contraction by taking advantage of the stretch shortening cycle. Within a muscle are organs called muscle spindles. When muscle spindles detect a quick stretch, the hamstring muscle react by producing a more violent muscle contraction than they would during a standard GHR.
#7 ALTITUDE DROP GHR:
Start the movement by relaxing your hamstrings and letting your body fall toward the ground. Let gravity do the work here and pull your uppoer torso towards the ground. As soon as your knees lift off the ground, you'll violently contract your glutes and hamstrings to catch yourself at the bottom of the movement.
#8 ROMANIAN DEAD LIFTS (RDLs):
Like glute ham raises, RDLs produce significantly more muscle activation than other exercises that target the hamstrings. RDLs are relatively straightforward. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward with a slight bend in your knees. Much like those creepy fake drinking birds, you'll bend forward, hinging at the waist. The key is to stick your butt back and keep your back flat as a board. Depending on how flexible you are, you may or may not be able to touch the ground initially. If you're not able to touch the ground right away, don't worry; you'll get there. Be cautious with the amount that you start with, because RDLs will make you incredibly sore if you're too aggressive to start.
SINGLE LEG RDLs
All the technical aspects of single leg RDLs are the same as for RDLs except for the fact that you're performing the movement on one leg. Single leg RDLs do demand more balance and coordination to properly and effectively execute the movement. Include single leg RDLs into your routine once you feel comfortable with RDLs and when you're looking to mix things up a bit.
#9 THREE-POSITION REVERSE BALL BRIDGE:
Reverse ball bridges were not tested in the study we referenced earlier, but that doesn't mean they don't belong on the list. The three-position reverse ball bridge is a grueling hamstring exercise that requires balance, coordination and hamstring strength.
THE THREE POSITIONS
POSITION 1 - TOES UP: Place your heels in the center of a Bosu Ballast Ball (the full sphere) and point your toes straight up towards the ceiling. Make sure you have a slight bend in your knees. Contract your glutes and hamstrings to raise your pelvis towards the ceiling.
POSITION 2 - TOES OUT: Follow the same steps as for the toes up position, but this time, point your toes down and away from your body (Plantar Flexion).
POSITION 3 - BALL ROLLS: Following the same technical steps as you did in position 1, start with your toes up. With this movement, you're going to roll the ball towards your butt, lifting your pelvis in the air as you contract your hamstrings. This exercise will definitely give you a run for your money. This is a great hamstring exercise if you want to improve muscle endurance.
- The Ten Best Hamstring Exercises
- Glute Ham Raise: The #1 Exercise for Improving Speed
- Breaking Muscle: Simple Hamstring Exercise To Develop Super Human Speed
- Testosterone Nation: Single Best Hamstring Exercise
MORE ON SPEED DEVELOPMENT:
Developing durable, strong and powerful hamstrings is probably the most overlooked aspect of speed development in athletic training today. Team SpeedBot has written an amazing eBook on hamstring training that's guaranteed to bring your sprint training to the next level - and by the way ... it's probably the best hamstring training eBook every written. ;)
GET THE EBOOK NOW (PSSST - IT'S FREE)!