When it comes to lower-body training, targeting your hamstrings is key. The hamstring is a two-muscle joint, starting at the bottom of the hip bone, crossing the knee, and attaching at the tibia and fibula in the lower leg. From helping you explode on the starting line to aiding you in declaration when you need to come to a quick stop, the muscles in the back of your legs are essential to optimal performance. They’re key to daily activity, too. “Hamstrings are important for any activity that involves sitting, standing, walking, and running (both for knee flexion and hip extension),” says Adrian Richardson, Fitbit Coach and certified personal trainer. Weak hamstrings also put you at risk for injury and can even increase pain or tightness in the lower back and throw off posture and pelvic alignment.
When it comes to experiencing those potential negative repercussions of weak hamstrings, women are the ones largely at risk. “Women are two to ten times more likely to have a knee ligament injury than men,” Richardson says. “Women generally have an increased risk of weak hamstrings from a lack of training and wearing heeled shoes that put them on their toes, forcing their quads to do most of the work.” The solution, Richardson says, is to train hamstrings and build posterior strength to overcome muscle imbalances. Fear that focusing on hamstrings will leave you bulky? Don’t be.
“Women tend to have a higher concentration of ‘slow twitch’ or type 1 msuscles fibers,” Richardson says. “These slow twitch fibers make women more resistant to muscle fatigue, meaning it takes longer to reach failure. Combine this with estrogen’s anabolic, regenerative, and antioxidant properties, and a woman’s ability to build lean muscle mass and recover from weight training is generally superior to men.” Ladies, this means you won’t get bulky, so train hard and often.
1. Stiff-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
1. Stand with feet hip-to-shoulder width apart, holding dumbbells at the front of the thighs, palms facing you.
2. With your legs mostly straight (maintaining a microbend in your knees), hinge forward at the waist.
3. While keeping your back straight, lower the weights towards your feet until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Make sure to keep your arms straight and the weights close to your body (over your toes when lowering). Lower until you feel a mild stretch in your hamstrings.
3. Slowly bring the weights up by extending the hips until you’re standing upright.
2. Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding one or two dumbbells (your choice) in front of the thighs, palms facing you.
2. With your legs mostly straight (maintaining a microbend in your knees), hinge forward at the waist while lifting one foot off the ground.
3. Keep the lifted leg straight as you lower the weight down towards your standing foot. Lower until you feel a stretch in the standing leg.
4. Reverse the motion, and repeat for reps. Be sure not to bounce or swing the weights.
3. Air Squat
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms straight out in front of you at shoulder level. If you need a modifications, keep your arms out in front of you to help maintain an upright torso.
2. Lower your body towards the ground by shifting your hips backwards and bending your knees. Make sure to keep your head up and back straight. Go down as far as your strength and mobility allow, aiming to break parallel. Keep your weight balanced between your midfoot and heel.
3. Return to standing by pushing the earth away with your feet, straightening your knees, and extending your hips until you’re standing upright. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.
4. Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing
Note: Before moving to single arm swings, you must be proficient at double arm swings.
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart (or slightly wider). Make sure your heels, toes, and the balls of your feet are planted and that your knees track over your toes. Your shoulder should feel stable or “packed.”
2. With the kettlebell in front of you (handle horizontal and perpendicular to the body), assume a squat position (hips back, knees bent, spine long, core engaged) while reaching forward for the kettlebell.
3. Begin the swing by pulling the kettlebell back towards you while simultaneously extending your hips to lift the bell. Your body should form a straight line at the top of the wing. Your hips and knees should be fully extended, your back (and spine) should be neutral, and your glutes should contract. The kettlebell should momentarily “float.”
4. At the top of the swing, the kettlebell should act as an extension of your arms. A slight elbow bend is acceptable.
5. Your free arm can either tap the handle, mimic the swinging arm, guard your face, be placed behind your back, or just hang at your side. It should not swing excessively, or rest on your thigh.
6. During the backswing, the kettlebell handle should pass above the knees Your knees shouldn’t move forward on the upswing and there should be no twisting in your shoulders. Keep your breathing rhythmic to help power the swing.
5. Hamstring Curl with Resistance Band
1. Anchor a thin band around a sturdy post or another stationary object.
2. Lying face down, loop the band around your ankles.
3. Curl your legs up towards your butt, and squeeze your glutes at the top of the curl. Slowly release, and repeat.
6. Partner Hamstring Curls
1. Place a mat or foam pad beneath your knees, and have your partner hold your ankles to keep you stable. Place your hands across your chest or hold them up near your shoulders.
2. Slowly lower yourself towards the mat while contracting your hamstrings. Stay as tall as you can and keep your back straight.
3. When you start to lose the ability to resist gravity further, extend your arms so you don’t hit your face. Return to the starting position.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.