To get the most out of your lower body workout, adding in a number of hamstring exercises are a great way to make sure you’re training efficiently—and keeping your routine balanced.
Strong hamstrings (the muscles that run along the back of your thighs) are important, since they help you extend your hips and flex your knees—movements which allow you to do everything from standing upright or bending forward to walking and running, Dane Miklaus, C.S.C.S., CEO and owner of Work training studio in Irvine, California, tells SELF.
But many people tend to be quad-dominant, he explains, meaning that their quad muscles, which run along the front of the thighs, tend to be way more developed than their hamstring muscles. While it’s normal for your quads to be a bit stronger than your hamstrings, a large imbalance between the muscles can set the stage for knee injuries down the line, especially if movements like sprinting, jumping, lunging, or squatting are regular parts of your routine.
“If you are not stabilizing at the knee appropriately—and that’s a big part of what your hamstring does, it helps keep the knee joint in place—you risk a greater incidence of injury when your quads are way overdeveloped and the hamstrings are too weak,” he explains.
Plus, thanks to too much inactivity throughout the day—think long days sitting at your desk or in your car for your commute—your hamstring muscles tend to tighten up, Miklaus says. This tightness can contribute to lower back pain. So moving them regularly, like with dedicated hamstring exercises, help keep those muscles stretched and elastic, which can help ward off the back pain, he says.
So what are the best hamstring exercises to work those muscles? It all comes down to those that incorporate the movement patterns of extending your hip (think with a hip hinge, like if you were deadlifting) or flexing your knee (like with a glute bridge, where your hamstrings fire as your heel applies force to the floor), says Miklaus.
Even exercises that you’d traditionally consider quad-dominant moves, like squats or lunges, can also work your hamstrings, too. That’s because when you lunge or squat, your hamstring muscles have to turn on to keep your leg stable and to help you stand back up, he says. Variations like the reverse lunge (which require more activations of your glutes and hamstrings than a forward lunge) and a sumo squat—the wider stance forces your inner hamstring muscles to fire more—would be your best bets for hamstring training.
If you want to create a well-balanced leg workout, add 2-3 of the following hamstring exercises to each routine. Before you get started with a hamstring workout, make sure you warm up properly, Miklaus says. That can mean a few minutes of walking on a treadmill incline, climbing stairs, or riding a bike to get your blood flowing—movements which warm up your hamstrings specifically—before doing a few warm-up sets of the exercises you choose, but with lighter weight than your working sets (or with just bodyweight). Here are some easy hamstring exercises to include.
Demoing the moves are Cookie Janee, a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve, Rachel Denis, a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York State powerlifting records, Mia Kang, a model and martial artist, Nikki Pebbles, a New York City–based fitness instructor for over nine years and an AFAA- and NCCPT-certified personal trainer and group fitness trainer who regularly teaches cycling and dance cardio, Grace Pulliam is an aerial yoga and Vinyasa yoga teacher in New York City, Model Harlan Kellaway is a trans bodybuilder based in Queens, New York City, Amanda Wheeler, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ community and allies, April Nicole Henry, a strength athlete, mother, and wife who was born and raised in New York.
All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.