Moon Over Your Hammies


In bodybuilding, they win shows. In sports, they win races. At the very least, a well-trained set of hamstrings can help you avoid injuries brought about by bad posture or (ouch) a sudden, catastrophic blowout. But most people tend to think of hamstrings as having limited training options. There’s the leg curl and the, uhhh … hmmm. What was the question again? The truth is that regardless of the type of equipment you have access to, there are multiple options for exercising these long leg muscles.

The leg-curl machine is not without merit. Just don’t get into the habit of only doing the lying version. The seated version has been shown to target the inner portion of the hamstrings, while the lying leg curl emphasizes the biceps femoris, toward the outside of your leg. A good routine will include a mix of both. On your next hammie workout, instead of four sets of lying leg curls, try doing two — then add two sets of the seated leg curls for total development.

If your hammies get bored of the one-dimensional nature of the leg curl, roll up a Swiss ball. Lie on your back on the floor and place your heels on top of the ball, then raise your hips and glutes off the floor. Your shoulders and head should be the only points of contact with the floor. Then, keeping your body rigid and palms flat on the floor at your sides for balance, curl your legs toward your glutes by rolling your heels in. Release slowly back to the start position and repeat for reps.

Don’t perform another hamstring workout in the gym without including the Romanian deadlift. What many people fail to grasp is that the hamstring controls two joints: the hip and the knee. Knee-flexion moves (like leg curls) tend to emphasize the area of the hamstring nearest the knee. The RDL, as it’s known, engages the hammies from top to bottom, origin to insertion. To get it right, keep a slight bend in your knees and a slight arch in your lower back and lower the weight close to your body until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.

No barbell? No sweat. You can still get all the hammie-building benefits of the RDL by using dumbbells. If you want to better target each individual hamstring, make it unilateral by simply placing one foot six to 12 inches in front of the other.

Can’t make it to the gym? That’s no excuse to skip hamstring day. Lunges, which are thought of as an exercise for quads and glutes, have been shown to improve hamstring strength over the aforementioned groups. Bird pickers are akin to a single-leg Romanian deadlift, using only your bodyweight. Stand tall with your hands at your sides, feet flat on the floor about six inches apart. Keeping only a slight bend in your knees, bend forward at the waist, reaching for the floor with both hands. At the same time, raise one leg behind you — the goal should be to keep this leg in alignment with your back. Touch the floor gently and return to the starting position. Alternate legs for reps.