5 Best Exercises For Thick Hamstrings (2015 Throwback)
In all of my years of training, I have NEVER seen a muscle group that got ignored as much as the hamstrings. The hamstrings are the muscles located in back of the quads and they are also known as the leg biceps. Most lifters will go to the gym for their “leg day” and maybe do some squats, leg presses, lunges, calf raises and then maybe throw in a set or two of lying hamstring curls and that’s if they feel like it, the hamstrings get no love!
It’s very sad because I rarely ever see anybody with good hamstring development and it isn’t on the priority list because you can’t really see them. Unlike everybody else, I love training my hamstrings, I personally like a thick meaty upper back on my upper body and I apply the same principle to my lower body. The quads look good but the hamstrings (when developed enough) really have a way of adding that dense thickness to your legs and it looks great (especially from the side and back view). Not only does it look good, but many athletes know that most of the power actually comes from the hamstrings which is why they take their posterior chain work very seriously to maximize performance and minimize injuries.
The hamstrings may not be the most exciting to train because the movements are done heavy and the soreness the next day is almost unbearable, but I want what most people don’t have, don’t you? So why would you want strong and muscular hamstrings you ask?
- Strong hamstrings can dramatically reduce your knee pain and keeps the knees stable and healthy.
- They improve your athletic ability which could lead to jump higher and running faster.
- The hamstrings are extremely important for deadlifting, squatting and even barbell rowing big weights.
- From an aesthetic perspective, the hamstrings look powerful and add that thick look to your lower body (especially from the side view).
Of course, there are many other reasons for why you should strengthen your hamstrings but these are some of the most popular ones. The important thing however is that you start prioritizing those hamstrings!
What are the functions of the hamstrings?
The hamstrings have 2 functions:
- Hip extension
- Knee flexion
Both functions are important but hip extension has a bigger carryover to sports and everyday life but we can’t make the mistake of only doing hip extension (or the opposite like most people do for that matter)!
Below I will give you my 5 favorite hamstring exercises that I use in my programs to really bring up my hamstrings.
THE KING OF HAMSTRING EXERCISES:
1) ROMANIAN DEADLIFT.
This exercise is amazing for the hamstrings hip extension needs and it is good because you can use a lot of weight and really overload those hammies! Some people seem to get great results when doing 3-6 reps while other get great results doing 8-12 reps, I say do both. At the beginning of the week you can do something like 5×5 and at the end of the week you can try something like 4×8-12 to really get the most of out of Romanian deadlifts. These are really a full body movement because they will also hit your whole back to a great degree along with your glutes, core, and forearms. On your quest to building big hamstrings, this exercise is the most important and at the top of the list.
For very big and strong hamstrings you want to eventually be able to do 5×5 with 2x your bodyweight. This means that if you weigh 202.5lb then you should eventually try to work up to 405lb in the future if you really want to see some hamstring growth, it won’t be easy, but the results will definitely be worth it!
2) GLUTE HAM RAISE.
RDL’s are amazing, but we can’t only do RDL’s or else our lower back will most likely give out so we need to be smart and program exercises that don’t stress the lower back too much so we can focus on really working on those hamstrings. The glute ham raise is a perfect exercise for this and most people might not even need any weight when performing this exercise. If you have this apparatus at your gym then consider yourself a lucky person but if you don’t then there are alternatives below.
As you can see there are many options to choose from, I personally use the lat pulldown to get the job done and it works fine. On this exercise it’s good to do higher reps like 8-20 for the most part but of course, you want to add weight when you feel like you are ready. This exercise serves as a knee flexion and hip extension exercise so you can kill two birds with one stone.
3) BULGARIAN ROMANIAN DEADLIFT.
Single leg RDL’s are great, but I find that there is an annoying balancing component of the exercise that is annoying if you are trying to get strong in a unilateral fashion, prevent hamstring imbalances and put on some size. This is why I like doing my Single legged RDL’s with my rear foot elevated on a bench because I don’t have to worry as much about the balancing aspect, I am putting less pressure on my lower back and I can focus on frying one hamstring at a time with more weight than if I were to be doing them freestanding. I like to do these for 8-15 reps and some days I will use 2 lighter dumbbells while other days I will hold one heavy dumbbell. You can’t really go that heavy on these but a good goal to eventually work up to in the future would be half of your bodyweight for 10 reps. This means that if you weigh 200lb then your goal should be to do 10 reps with two 100lb dumbbells. The movement may feel a bit awkward at first but you will eventually get used to it.
4) LYING HAMSTRING CURL.
One of the BIGGEST hamstring training mistakes that I have made in the past was underestimating the importance of doing lying leg curls for overall development and hamstring strength. One of the coaches I talk to on a regular basis is a big advocate of these and so is Charles Poliquin. RDL’s are a great hip extension exercise but for overall hamstring development and balance, we need to add in a knee flexion exercise and the lying leg curl does a perfect job at doing this, not to mention that it also takes the glutes out of the equation so focus even more on the hamstrings. Try performing the movement with the toes in plantar flexion (which means that the toes are pointing away from the shins), this will work the hamstrings to an even greater degree and also take the calves out of the equation.
5) HILL SPRINTS
Not everybody has access to a gym and there is nothing wrong with that because the Calisthenics world is always willing to help out those in need. In this case, the best hamstring exercise that you can do without any weights, machines or any equipment is hill sprinting. Hill sprinting is like the RDL of the bodyweight world, it works the fast twitch muscle fibers and it works the hamstrings and glutes to a great degree. Don’t believe me? Take a look at any serious sprinter and tell me if they have lagging hamstrings or glutes, not a chance. Although, for knee health it is a safer option to do sprints on a hill because you can’t run as fast or take strides that are too big so it is harder but it is also significantly safer. As far as the progression goes you just want to get faster and faster. Another reason why hill sprints are easier on the knees is because you are less upright which shifts more of the emphasis to the posterior chain kind of like a low back squat.
If you don’t take your hamstring training seriously and don’t train them with as much intensity as you train your quads then you will run into issues. Most people have very weak hamstrings and glutes from sitting down all day so make it a priority to really hammer your hamstrings hard at least twice per week to really make progress, slowly work up to a 2x bodyweight RDL for 5×5 and you will be on the right track! Also don’t forget to add in some knee flexion exercises like leg curls for overall development! Go ham on those hamstrings!!