Well-trained hamstrings can improve athletic performance, boost strength in heavier lifts and round out your rear view.
Form: Romanian (Stiff-Legged) Deadlift
A standard barbell deadlift begins with the weight on the floor with your knees bent, putting the hamstrings at a mechanical disadvantage, reducing their role and deferring much of the work to your glutes and back. But a Romanian deadlift begins standing and the knee joints remain straight and stationary, placing more emphasis on the hamstrings, especially at their weakest point where they are stretched over two joints (the knees and hips). To create mass and develop strength, it’s important to build those muscular end ranges. For this, the Romanian deadlift is perfect.
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, toes forward. Your knees should be soft to protect the connective tissues while still placing the emphasis on the hamstrings.
- Hold the barbell with an overhand or alternating grip, pinch your shoulder blades down and back, and imagine crushing the barbell in your grip. This trains your back and arms to engage and better stabilize the weight.
- Center the bar over the middle of your foot. If it is too far forward, it can stress your lower back. If it’s grazing your shins, you’ll sit back, pulling on your sacroiliac (SI) joint and stressing the low back/hip area.
- Hinge only at the hips by pushing your glutes backward, lowering the weight straight down while keeping your knees straight but soft. If you bend your knees too much, you’ll engage more of the glutes.
- As you fold forward, keep your head and spine aligned just as it is when you stand straight and tall. Looking up or rounding over changes the curve of your spine and will shift the tension from the hamstrings to the back and glute muscles.
- Pause at your bottommost point (about midshin) and feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Then mindfully engage the backs of your legs and rise to standing, aiming for pristine alignment at the top: ears over shoulders over hips over knees over ankles.
- Don’t tuck the pelvis or push the hips forward at the top; just squeeze your glutes to maintain that mind-to-muscle link.
- If your hamstrings are tight, your knees and hips may tend to collapse and rotate inward, or you might round over to eke out a little more depth. Avoid injury and improve results by decreasing the weight and working in a shorter range of motion to ensure proper form.
Simple Form Hamstring Workout
|Bulgarian Split Squat||3||8-12||moderate-heavy||1-2 minutes|
|Romanian Deadlift||3-4||8-12||moderate-heavy||1-2 minutes|
|Glute-Ham Developer||3||10-15||moderate-light||1-2 minutes|
|Prone Hamstring Curl Machine||2-3||8-12||moderate-light||1-2 minutes|
Function: Eccentric Single-Legged TRX Hamstring Curl
Because the hamstrings cross over two joints (hip and knee), they are more prone to injury and are especially vulnerable during an eccentric contraction such as lowering a heavy weight to the floor or decelerating your leg swing after a kick. The leg-curl machine is a great tool for activating a portion of the hamstrings, but a TRX curl engages the entire muscle group and activates the whole posterior chain, training your muscles to work in concert and preventing injury. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that a home workout composed of single-legged eccentric-focused exercises such as this one was effective at increasing hamstring strength in just four weeks.
- Loop the TRX foot straps through one another twice, and set the height so the lowest loop is about a foot off the ground.
- Sit on the floor, secure one heel in the loop and extend your leg so it’s straight; your foot should be directly underneath the anchor point with the TRX perpendicular to the floor. Extend your other leg straight up over your hip.
- Press your hips up until they align with your shoulders and heel and make sure your hips are level. If they tilt up or down, your hamstrings could disengage while other core and glute muscles take over.
- Bend your knee and pull your heel toward your glutes as far as you can, simultaneously pressing your hips up into a bridge. Pause briefly, then take at least five counts to extend your leg back to the start. This eccentric action is crucial for building control and developing strength for injury prevention.
- You can either keep your hips elevated and go right into the next rep or lower your glutes to kiss the floor briefly between reps.
- If this single-legged version is too tough, place your non-working heel on the floor and use that leg to assist you with the move. Gradually decrease the help, especially during the eccentric phase, and work toward flying solo.
Sample Function Hamstring Workout
|Single-Legged Deadlift||3||8-12 (each leg)||light-moderate||1-3 minutes|
|Single-Legged TRX Hamstring Curl (eccentric focus)||3-4||6-8 (each leg)||bodyweight||1-3 minutes|
|Nordic Hamstring Curl (eccentric focus)||1-2||6-8||bodyweight||1-3 minutes|