The best hamstring exercises for muscle growth and strength

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Muscle Building

Estimated reading time: 5mins

The best hamstring exercises for muscle growth and strength | Bulk Nutrients blog

Why hamstring training is so important

It's critical to remember that without a good set of hamstrings, your legs will look a bit silly!

A good physique is about balance; there's no point focusing only on your quads and finishing up with small hamstrings to boot.

So, from an aesthetic point of view, this is critical!

Moreover, given squats are so important for leg development, training hamstrings means you can perform squat reps to the proper level of depth. The hamstrings are recruited during squats significantly, so having a trained and developed pair is important.

Furthermore, not training your hamstrings means you're at risk of injuring not just them, but your knees, too.

So, let's look at what exercises we should be doing:

The best hamstring exercises for muscle growth

The barbell squat is so often spoken about as the bee knees of exercises, and whilst there's probably no "number one" exercise, it certainly is a strong contender!

As well as working your glutes, calves, and quadriceps, squats work your hamstrings, too.

But you must make sure when you're squatting, you go as deep as you can for more hamstring recruitment. I'm talking about something close to this or even lower:

Deep squats are great for developing the strength and size of your hamstrings

Don't stress if you can't go that deep but aim for something close for a better hamstring contribution.

Next up, one of the best exercises for your hamstrings, if not the best, is the Romanian deadlift.

In this study, it was shown to work the hamstrings the most. Here's what a Romanian deadlift looks like:

Romanian deadlifts are great for developing the strength and size of your hamstrings

The other exercise to work in is the Bulgarian split squat.

Bulgarian split squat are great for developing the strength and size of your hamstrings

This is a personal favourite of mine. Research shows it's great for building your hamstrings, whilst minimising pressure on your lower back.

As someone who has slipped disks in their lower back, this was an exercise prescribed to me to continue to improve quadricep and hamstring growth whilst minimising strain on the risk area. And it's worked a treat!

And over time you can really go heavy feel your hamstrings working! Be sure to perform slow eccentric movements (on the way down for the rep) and explode on the way up.

Also important with this exercise (along with your squats) is ensuring you're driving up with your heel(s).

If you're standing on your toes, or not quite on your heels, you're putting yourself at risk of injury.

Another favourite is the Russian curls or nordic curls. Check out this quick YouTube video to see how it's done - Russian curls YouTube.

You can try this without the weight if you're more advanced or hold a weight plate to your chest once you're familiar with it.

And when you do this exercise, you'll know why research suggests it's one of the best activators of your hamstrings! The same thing was found in this previously cited study too, in the context of the glute-ham raise, which is a very similar movement to the Russian curl.

Just be sure to come down slowly, as being reckless could lead to injury.

The next exercise is the seated hamstring curls.

Seated hamstring curls are great for developing the strength and size of your hamstrings

The more a muscle is stretched and asked to lift the weight, the better it is for muscle growth.

This is called stretch-mediated hypertrophy.

Range of motion isn't defined by exercise, but rather by joint.

So, whilst you might perform an exercise to its "full range of motion", it doesn't mean you're working a particular muscle to its full range of motion. 

And this brings us to seated hamstring curls; when compared to lying hamstring curls, they were better because a deeper stretch in the hamstring occurs when we bend at the hips (ie, when we sit down for the exercise).

Such is why I recommend seated hamstring curls!

Of course, lying hamstring curls can still be included in your program too, but remember that seated curls will likely yield better results.

The bottom line is don’t forget about your hammies!

Too many gym-goers neglect their hamstrings, which is a big mistake. Training your hamstrings is important not only for aesthetic purposes but for your ability to achieve greater depth with your squats.

Furthermore, not training your hamstrings means you're at risk of injuring them, along with your knees. Some of the best exercises for hamstring growth and strength are the barbell squat, Romanian deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, Russian curls or nordic curls, and seated hamstring curls, for the fact you get a bigger stretch when seated as the range of motion, is larger.

References:

  1. Arendt E, Dick R. Knee injury patterns among men and women in collegiate basketball and soccer. NCAA data and review of literature. Am J Sports Med. 1995 Nov-Dec;23(6):694-701. doi: 10.1177/036354659502300611. PMID: 8600737.
  2. Holcomb WR, Rubley MD, Lee HJ, Guadagnoli MA. Effect of hamstring-emphasized resistance training on hamstring:quadriceps strength ratios. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Feb;21(1):41-7. doi: 10.1519/R-18795.1. PMID: 17313266.
  3. Maeo S, Huang M, Wu Y, Sakurai H, Kusagawa Y, Sugiyama T, Kanehisa H, Isaka T. Greater Hamstrings Muscle Hypertrophy but Similar Damage Protection after Training at Long versus Short Muscle Lengths. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2021 Apr 1;53(4):825-837. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002523. PMID: 33009197; PMCID: PMC7969179.
  4. Martín-Fuentes I, Oliva-Lozano JM, Muyor JM. Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review. PLoS One. 2020;15(2):e0229507. Published 2020 Feb 27. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0229507
  5. Myer GD, Kushner AM, Brent JL, et al. The back squat: A proposed assessment of functional deficits and technical factors that limit performance. Strength Cond J. 2014;36(6):4-27. doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000103
  6. Robertson DG, Wilson JM, St Pierre TA. Lower extremity muscle functions during full squats. J Appl Biomech. 2008 Nov;24(4):333-9. doi: 10.1123/jab.24.4.333. PMID: 19075302.
  7. Speirs DE, Bennett MA, Finn CV, Turner AP. Unilateral vs. Bilateral Squat Training for Strength, Sprints, and Agility in Academy Rugby Players. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Feb;30(2):386-92. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001096. PMID: 26200193.
  8. Yanagisawa O, Fukutani A. Muscle Recruitment Pattern of the Hamstring Muscles in Hip Extension and Knee Flexion Exercises. J Hum Kinet. 2020 Mar 31;72:51-59. doi: 10.2478/hukin-2019-0124. PMID: 32269647; PMCID: PMC7126262.
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