Hamstring Exercises for Great Looking Legs

bodybuilder hamstrings

It’s shorts season, and soon you will be hanging out by the water with fewer clothes on, too. Make sure your legs are ready for sun. Hamstring exercises will do the trick.

Too often, people overlook the hamstrings because they hide under jeans and pants all day. These muscles should, however, be worked just as much as your chest, your back, and your arms. Also, a good quad exercise isn’t as great as it could be if you aren’t working your hamstrings.

Come on. Get with it. Don’t define only the muscles you can see. These hamstring exercises for great looking legs will get you noticed.

What are the Hamstrings?


The hamstrings are the group of muscles on the back of the thigh. The quads are in the front, and the hamstrings are in the back. The three large muscles in the back of the legs that make up the hamstrings go from the pelvis to the tops of the bones in the lower part of your leg [1].

The three hamstring muscles are:

  • Biceps femoris: A double-headed muscles that attaches to the lower and posterior part of the pelvis and the femur. This muscle is responsible for knee flexion, extending the hip, and rotating the leg in and out.
  • Semimembranosus: This muscle runs from the bottom of the pelvis to the back of the tibia. This muscle is responsible for leg flexion, leg rotation, and thigh extension.
  • Semitendinosus: This is the long muscle in the back of the leg. It is superficial to the semimembranosus muscle and lies between the biceps femoris and the semimembranosus. The muscle attaches at the inner surface at the base of the pelvis and the medial tibial condyle.

What is the Function of the Hamstrings

As you can see from the attachment and insertion features of the hamstring muscles, they attach at the pelvis and the knee. As a result, the hamstrings are responsible for flexion of the knee and extending the thigh. They also aid in posture of the back by attaching at the pelvis, knee rotation, and supporting you as you bend and stand.

How to Feel the Hamstrings

If you want to feel the hamstrings. There are a couple moves to help you do that.

  • Bend one knee as you extend the opposite leg in front of you, digging your heel into the group. As you sit further back, you will feel the stretch in the hamstring.
  • Bend over and touch your toes. You can feel pulling at the back of your thigh. That is your hamstrings.

Common Mistakes When Training Hamstrings

I don’t know if I have all day for this one! The hamstrings are often misunderstood. As a result, training them is often misguided and riddled with mistakes. Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the attention.

Mistakes lifters and athletes make when training the hamstrings are easy errors for anyone to make.

Mistake 1: Thinking running solves everything

I am always amazed by the people who think running will solve everything. Sure, it is a great exercise for cardio and building stronger legs, but it can also cause a lot of injuries if you don’t tackle the muscles individually with mobility training and strength training. Running will solve a lot of problems, but exercising and bulking up your hamstrings isn’t one of them.

Mistake 2: Too much quad love

Because lifters see the sleek definition of their quads when they look down at their legs or look in the mirror, they tend to focus only on the quads. Sure, quad exercises build strong legs and definition, but they aren’t the only solution. For even stronger quads, target the hamstrings, too.

Mistake 3: Wanting flexibility when you really want mobility

Think of flexibility as the ability to bend, stretch, and rotate. As for mobility, it is more about healthy and functional range of motion (ROM). Healthy mobility comes from a solid core, natural and efficient muscle movement, coordination, and balance. Flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean that a flexible person has any of these functions. Mobility help protect your body and its muscles from injuries.

Mistake 4: Going soft on the hamstrings

I don’t think people really consider the importance of the hamstrings and training the hamstrings. As a result, they do wimpy hamstring workouts that are too simple and don’t challenge the hamstrings enough. I am not saying you have to work them until you wince in pain, but a little discomfort is okay too. Stay safe, but don’t keep the hamstrings workouts too simple if you want real gain.

Mistake 5: Too much weight

This is a problem most of us have. We like to push it to the max with heavier weights, longer workout, and more gym time. When you use too much weight too often, you put your hamstrings at risk for injury. NEVER, NEVER lift more than you can handle, and definitely don’t do it all at once. Lifting must be gradual, never sudden. Progress to more weight for stronger hamstrings.

Mistake 6: Muscle too tight from no SMR or muscle conditioning

You are more likely to suffer an injury of you don’t keep the muscle loose and functional, or if you skip the hamstrings altogether. Poor conditioning and mobility can make the muscles tight and weak, which makes them prone to injury.

Mistake 7: Pushing through the pain

I am going to stop you right there. I know what you are thinking: no pain, no gain. Not true! Not even close. Pain is pain and it rarely leads to gain. Sure, pain leads to stabbing sensations, pins and needles, muscle and exhaustion, and injury, but it doesn’t lead to gain. Do you know the difference? When you exercise your hamstrings, you should feel discomfort as you push yourself. You should feel your heart race and your muscles shake, but you SHOULD NOT feel pain. Okay!

Mistake 8: No pre-workout regimen

You must have a system for warming up. Don’t just hit the machines to build your hamstrings. Do a little cardio, try an active warm-up, and take care of your nutritional needs so you get the most energy for your hamstrings workout. The pre-workout supplement Fulcrum can help prepare your body for an intense leg day at the gym so that you can get the energy you need to push yourself and the nutrients you need to recover once you are finished.

Mistakes Lead to Injury

When exercising your hamstrings, mistakes can lead to injury. Injury can and will stunt your progress, cause frustration, damage other parts of your body, and may even lead to surgery. Don’t risk it.  A Hamstring injury will likely occur in one of two places: middle part of the muscle where it is the thickest or where muscle and tendons join [2].

Common hamstring injuries from poor training:

  • The “pulled” hamstring

You have either heard about someone pulling a hamstring, or you have been on the painful end of this injury. A pulled hamstring is common among athletes who do a lot of sudden sprinting. In most cases, the pulled hamstring is hamstring strain. This is usually a grade 1 injury that requires rest, elevation, and ice [2] [3].

  • Hamstring tear: partial or complete

I more serious injury is a grade 2 strain, or a partial tear. The most painful, however, and the one that requires months to heal is a grade 3, which is when a hamstring muscle tears completely [3].

Is your hamstring injured?

Okay, so you are guilty of a few hamstring training mistakes. Now you feel pain and your leg doesn’t quite look right. To be honest, it’s bulging a little, isn’t it? Here are a few signs that you injured your hamstrings [4] :

  • Lump in the back of the leg when the muscle has balled up under the skin from a complete muscle tear. Yes, it balls up!
  • Swelling
  • Pain in the area when you walk or bend over
  • Bruising or discoloration in the area that lasts more than 48 hours
  • Inability to lift leg or rotate knee for an extended period of time
  • General weakness in the hamstrings
  • Swelling that won’t go down after rest and ice

Things to Consider For Bigger Hamstrings

When you are exercising hamstrings, always keep the mistakes in mind so that you can avoid injury. If it helps, think about that balled up muscle on the back of your leg. That’s enough to make anyone do the exercises properly. I shudder just thinking about that.

When you are exercising, these tips will help you get bigger hamstrings:

  • Move the hamstrings to the beginning of leg day. Then hamstrings are going to need the most work, and they are going to require a great deal of energy. Don’t wait until the end of your workout when you are ready to go home and your body is tired. Shift your hamstrings exercises to the beginning of the routine so you benefit from max energy and mobility.
  • Maybe you don’t work your hamstrings on quads on the same day. Yeah, I know it’s leg day, but you can switch it up. Work your hamstrings when you do glute and back work.
  • When you split up your quad and hamstring workouts over a couple days, work upper body in between.
  • Compound, compound, compound. This is going to become your new favorite word if you want to get bigger muscles. Compound exercises are ones that don’t work only one muscle. Compound exercises hit more muscle groups for more mass [5].
  • Curls, curls, and more curls. Do a variation of leg curl exercises to work all three muscles [5]
  • Make sure hamstring exercises move at the knee and the hips [5].
  • Get a partner. When you have a partner for your hamstring exercises you can lift more, be safer, and do exercises that give you more resistance on your hamstrings. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have that encouraging voice beside you to push you and assist you to kick out a few more reps.
  • More SMR (self-myofascial release). It’s way better than stretching, and it offers your body and your performance more benefits. As a bodybuilder or a gym-goer, you are going to have days when you are in pain and when you feel exhausted. Instead of bending over to stretch your hamstrings, which can actually cause problems in your back, hit the floor with a baseball or foam roller.

SMR Techniques for Hamstrings

As I said before, SMR offers many more benefits that stretching ever thought it could [6]. SMR benefits include shorter recovery time, fewer hamstring injuries, reduced soreness, improved range of motion, correction for muscle imbalances, fewer trigger points, and massage for areas of pain.

How to use a foam roller

I prefer the harder foam rollers with the nodules on them, or, as I said before, you can use a baseball. The baseball may be more painful, but it works. When you feel areas of pain during SMR, it means you need to put a little more weight into it. The area needs it.

To use a foam roller or a baseball, sit on the floor and put both legs out in front of you. Place the foam roller or baseball on the hamstrings, starting just below your glutes. Use your body weight to roll across the roller. The ball or foam roller should go from your glutes all the way down to the back of your knee. If you feel tension or pain in an area, hang out in that spot for up to 30 seconds to relieve the pain and care for the muscle. Doing this will relieve pressure, ease tension, and increase blood flow to the area.

Best Hamstring Exercises for Bulk

You want the best exercises for bigger hamstrings, and you have come to the right place. There are a lot of hamstring exercises that prepare you for a run or simply tone your legs, but the reasons why are here are slightly different. You want a little more, okay a lot more from your hamstrings workout. Here are the best hamstring exercises I have found for bulk and bigger legs.

1.   Romanian Deadlift

I think many of us in the industry would agree that this is one of the best workouts ever, and it is especially good for the hamstrings. The Romanian deadlift is good for the back, the core, and the hamstrings. With this exercise, the goal is pure strength and size.  To do it, you will need a barbell and correct weight.

Stand with your feet not quite shoulder-width apart. Grab the barbell and hold it at your waist. Your pals should be facing down. This is your starting position. Gently bend at the waist to lower the bar. Keep your back flat and lower the barbell to just below your knee. Make sure you are looking forward and that your back is flat. When you reach the bottom of the exercise, push your hips forward as you return to the starting position.

2. Squat

There are a few variations you can use, but the barbell back squat is one of the best and most effective exercises for the hamstrings. To do the barbell back squat, Place the bar on the upper part of your back, not on your neck! Your heels should be under your shoulders, and you are always looking forward. When you squat, make sure you sit back instead of sitting on the feet. Picture yourself sitting back into a chair. As you squat down and return to the starting position, you must push out through your knees.

3. Leg Curl

hamstrings leg curlI said earlier that you should do a few variations of leg curls to target each muscle in the hamstrings. I recommend the lying leg curl and the seated leg curl. These exercises isolate the hamstrings, and it gives the legs the resistance necessary to gain size and strength.

4. Clean-Grip Deadlift

If you want to increase the tension on the hamstrings, the traditional deadlift is not the way to go. Try the clean version. Grip the bar with a hook grip that is shoulder-width apart. When you squat down to the bar at your shins, your spine will be in full extension so that your shoulders are slightly in front of the bar.

5. Kettlebell

We want more kettlebell! The one-legged deadlift with the kettlebell isolates the hamstrings, but it also works on balance. Make sure you bend at the hips and keep your back straight for the best results.

Don’t put the kettlebell away just yet. The kettlebell swing is also a good workout for cardio and hamstrings. Make sure you bend the knees slightly and hinge at your hips when you swing. Hold the kettlebell in both hands and keep your back straight when you swing. Drive your hips forward when you swing. Don’t swing the kettlebell up past your shoulders.

Recovery Tip

You are going to be exhausted after your hamstring day. Don’t forget to give your legs a little love so that you can kill it again at the gym. Boost hamstring recovery with SMR, get a good night’s sleep, do active recovery, and increase your protein intake. The best way to boost protein after a workout is with a protein-rich recovery shake. Add bananas to your favorite Vaxxen recovery protein powder for the added boost of potassium, too.

That just about covers your hamstrings. What more do you want to know? Tell me about your hamstrings workout: the good and the bad. What are your best exercises for bigger hamstrings?



  1. The Origins of the Hamstring Muscles.
    B F Martin J Anat. 1968 Jan; 102(Pt 2): 345–352
  2. Hamstring Injuries: Prevention and Treatment—an Update
    Peter Brukner Br J Sports Med. 2015 Oct; 49(19): 1241–1244.
    Published online 2015 Jun 23. doi: [10.1136/bjsports-2014-094427]
  3. Hamstring Strain Injuries: Recommendations for Diagnosis, Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention
    Bryan C. Heiderscheit, P.T., Ph.D., Associate Professor,1 Marc A. Sherry, P.T., L.A.T., C.S.C.S, Director,2 Amy Silder, Ph.D., Research Associate,3 Elizabeth S. Chumanov, Ph.D., Research Associate,4 and Darryl G. Thelen, Ph.D., Associate Professor5 J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 May 11.
    Published in final edited form as: J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010 Feb; 40(2): 67–81.
    doi: [10.2519/jospt.2010.3047]
  4. Hamstring Injuries: Update Article
    Lucio Ernlund⁎ and Lucas de Almeida Vieira Rev Bras Ortop. 2017 Jun-Jul; 52(4): 373–382. Published online 2017 Aug 1. doi: [10.1016/j.rboe.2017.05.005]
  5. Muscle and Intensity Based Hamstring Exercise Classification in Elite Female Track and Field Athletes: Implications for Exercise Selection During Rehabilitation
    Panagiotis Tsaklis,1,2 Nikos Malliaropoulos,3,4,5,10 Jurdan Mendiguchia,6 Vasileios Korakakis,7,8,9 Kyriakos Tsapralis,11 Debasish Pyne,5 and Peter Malliaras10 Open Access J Sports Med. 2015; 6: 209–217. Published online 2015 Jun 26. doi: [10.2147/OAJSM.S79189]
  6. Comparing the Effects of Self‐Myofascial Release with Static Stretching on Ankle Range‐of‐Motion in Adolescent Athletes
    Jakob Škarabot, BSc,corresponding author1 Chris Beardsley, MA (Hons),2 and Igor Štirn, PhD1 Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Apr; 10(2): 203–212.



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