Hamstring Helper

Score bigger hamstrings — and better overall lower-body development — with this intensive five-move routine.
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Hamstrings? More like third string. By the time they usually get into the game, you’ve already blitzed your legs with quadriceps-centric movements like squats, leg presses, hack squats and leg extensions. You’re likely just doing a few sets of leg curls or Romanian deadlifts with one eye on the exit door, ready for a postworkout meal and some rest.

Those are the long odds facing hamstrings on leg day: Being part of a synergistic muscle group with the quads, the latter often get outsized attention, thanks to the fact that so many fundamental thigh exercises focus on them. If you do your legs as one cohesive workout, your hams will wait on the bench, getting some reps only after the main compound exercises have sapped your energy.

The solution, then, is to divide your quads and hams into separate sessions, preferably at least a day apart in your training split. The following hamstring workout is designed as a stand-alone, giving you ample time to give them their own moment of glory. Not only that, it strikes a balance between both ends of the muscle, working it from the pelvis with the glute-ham raise and dumbbell Romanian deadlift, while also stressing it from its insertion point at the knee with single-leg and dual-leg curls. 

You’ll begin with the aforementioned glute-ham raise. If you’re unfamiliar with it, you’ll soon find it to be the most challenging ham exercise you’ve ever attempted. (That’s a good thing.) To start, secure your ankles under the pads on a traditional glute-ham raise bench, with your thighs in contact with the rounded padding. From there, contract your hamstrings and glutes and bend at the knees to lift your torso upward in an arc. Return to a horizontal position under the control of your hams and glutes. Throughout, your core should be tight and your upper body aligned with your thighs, with all action occurring at the knee joint. 

Admittedly, you may not have this specialized piece of equipment at your gym. If that’s the case, there are two alternate variations at your disposal: You can do the glute-ham raise at a pulldown station, putting your knees on the seat and ankles under the kneepads. (To help with balance, you may want to hold a long stick or bar with one or both hands, with one end on the floor in front of you.) Or have a strong partner secure your ankles on the floor, keeping your hands at your chest to catch yourself in the down position (to save face — literally).

Next up are single-leg curls to focus on eliminating any imbalances in strength between your two legs, and then follows a superset that attacks your hams from both ends of the muscle: Romanian deadlifts with seated curls, followed by a lying leg curl finisher that focuses on the meaty middle of the muscle thanks to an added twist — you’ll pause for two to three seconds at the midpoint of each repetition for a hard isometric squeeze. 

Still got some energy left after that? You can pair calves with this workout, finishing off with a regimen of standing and seated raises, or you can segue into a core-focused battery of exercises. Whatever you choose, the final result is the same: a winning strategy that gives your hamstrings the priority they need to thrive.