Developing Your Hamstrings
You know what they say: never skip leg day. There’s a good reason for that too even if you admittedly prefer to work on building upper body strength and muscle mass. Many pro builders consider the legs and core strength integral to their overall lifting capability. Think of it like a tree: the more solid the trunk, the bigger and stronger it grows.
Your hamstring muscles run from the base of your glutes to the knee joint. They are linked to the lower back and glutes, which is why so many lower back and knee injuries can be traced to weak or injured hamstring muscles. The primary movements they control include curling your leg and posterior stability, which is why deadlifts and leg curls are fundamental favourites when it comes to exercising your hamstrings. For anyone who thinks that hamstrings simply control knee flexion, when you think in terms of a hip extension, your hamstrings are in fact vital in explosive power for the likes of jumping and sprints.
This, if any, is your go-to exercise for building hamstrings. A correctly executed deadlift, after all, should bear the weight in your hamstrings. There are many popular variations that could work your hamstrings that little bit more – not least the ‘clean deadlift’, which involves a wider grip and footing so that you lift from lower on the ground, thus putting your glutes and hamstrings to greater use.
Stiff Leg Deadlifts
Standing with a straight torso and your legs at shoulder width, make sure your knees are slightly bent so that they’re not locked. Now, when you bend to lift, don’t move your knees. Bend at the hips with your back straight. As you lift, the brunt of the weight will be felt up the backs of your legs, calf muscles, hamstrings, glutes and lower back. Avoid going heavy with these. Standard deadlifts call on more muscle groups and joints at once, meaning that you can lift more and better control the movements. Remember how they say lift with your knees? One false move with stiff leg lifts and your back could be in a world of trouble.
Pick a moderate to light weight and begin with three sets of ten.
A lying leg curl machine can be found in the average gym, but in case it’s not, this is to be performed while lying flat on your stomach and curling your leg from a straight starting position to your glute in an arcing range of movement. The full range of motion is important to ensure you work your whole hamstring up to the glute. Because of the single joint movement, you will not be able to go anywhere near the weight you could muster in a compound lift (like the aforementioned deadlift) so think of these in terms of isolating the muscle after the likes of a deadlift.
Think of these in two ways. You can go 5 sets of 5 reps at a heavy weight and also end a session with higher reps and a lower weight (4 sets of 15 at half the amount).
Box squats come with a certain level of trepidation, but by starting your squat from a seated position you will perform a lift with the same explosive energy as you would from the deepest point of a deadlift, relying heavily on your hamstrings.
Because there is room for error and imbalance. Start light and go for high reps. When you’re confident, stack a moderate weight, get someone to spot you and go for 3 sets of 8. If a Smith machine is available to you, consider using that for the extra stability.
Barbell Hip Thrusts
With a barbell at the top of your thighs and shoulders elevated while lying flat, thrust your hips. This is often used to tone and strengthen your glutes, but it’s the explosive power of your hamstrings that assists in raising the bar. Try 4 sets of 10.