11 Hamstring Exercises to Recharge Your Routine

11 Hamstring Exercises to Recharge Your Routine

Warning: If all you do on leg day is hammer away at your quadriceps with endless squats, it’s time to reconsider that approach — and include hamstring exercises on the regular.

If not, you’re literally front-loading your strength, which can have total-body consequences. Those long bands of sinew extending down the back of your thighs from your glutes to your knees are among the most ignored muscles, and that’s a big mistake.

“Most people already have an imbalance of quad-to-hamstring strength, with the latter being weaker,” explains Cody Braun, CPT — assistant manager, fitness at Beachbody. “As squats become more and more popular and hamstring exercises get overlooked, we see that strength discrepancy growing even more pronounced.”

Here’s why: The hamstrings cross two crucial joints — the hip and the knee — and are responsible for two distinct movements:

  • Straightening your hip
  • Bending your knee

When your hamstrings are weak — or weaker than your quads — your injury risk increases and physical performance declines. So, keep your squats, but balance leg day with these 11 hamstring exercises for strength, muscle, and better-balanced legs.

 

1. Dumbbell Swing

  • Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and soft knees.
  • Holding one dumbbell in each hand, press them together in front of your body. Imagine the weights are one unit now.
  • Keeping your knees bent softly, push your hips back and allow the dumbbells to travel back between your legs as you fold your upper body forward.
  • Continue until you feel tension along the back of your legs and your chest is parallel to the ground.
  • Use that tension in your legs to push your body back to a standing position while squeezing the glutes at the top.
  • Your weights should naturally travel no higher than shoulder height before you begin lowering your upper body and pushing your hips back again.

Tip: If the force of the weights knock you off balance during this movement, think about grabbing the ground with your big toe. (Trust us here!) That can help anchor you in place.

2. Romanian Deadlift

man performing dumbbell romanian deadlift | Dumbbell Deadlift

  • Stand upright with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of heavy dumbbells in front of your thighs with an overhand grip (palms facing back).
  • Keeping your back flat, core engaged, and shoulders pulled back and down (as if you were trying to put them in your back pockets), push your hips back and lower the dumbbells to mid-shin level, keeping them close to your body and bending your knees only slightly (this exercise is also called the “straight leg deadlift”).
  • Pause, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

3. Good Morning

  • Stand tall with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart, placing your fingertips gently behind your ears. (Optional: Hold a dumbbell against your upper chest.)
  • Pull your shoulder blades back and down, as if pressing them into your back pockets, and keep them there throughout the movement. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping your back flat and core engaged, push your hips back and hinge forward until your torso is nearly parallel with the floor.
  • Pause, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

4. Swiss Ball Leg Curl

Stability Ball Exercises - Hamstring Rollout

  • Lie face-up on a mat with your arms by your sides (palms down) and your heels and calves elevated on a medium-sized Swiss ball.
  • Contract your glutes and raise your hips so that your body forms a straight line from shoulders to heels. This is the starting position.
  • Keeping your core engaged and your hips in line with your knees and shoulders, bend your knees to roll the Swiss ball toward your butt.
  • Pause, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

5. Glute Bridge

  • Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat.
  • Engaging your core, push through your heels and lift your hips as high as possible, contracting your hamstrings and glutes for a two-count at the top of the move.
  • Reverse the move to return to the starting position.

Make it harder: Perform the same move with an exercise band looped around your knees, and drive your knees outward at the top of the exercise.

6. Step Up

step up demonstration | bodyweight hamstring exercises

  • Place your left foot on a box, bench, or sturdy chair. Your hip, knee, and ankle should all be bent 90 degrees.
  • Keeping your chest up and shoulders back, push your body up with your left leg until it’s straight (keep your right foot elevated).
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement, and then lower your body back slowly to the starting position under control.
  • Perform equal reps on both legs.

7. Reverse Lunge

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides. Option: hold a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing in.
  • Keeping your chest up, back flat, shoulders back, and core engaged, take a large step back with your right foot. For the bodyweight version, simultaneously bend your arms at the elbows, raising your right arm in front of you and your left arm behind you in a runner’s pose.
  • Lower your body until your left thigh is parallel with the floor. Your knees should be bent about 90 degrees, with your right knee hovering a couple of inches above the floor. Your left knee should be stacked right above your ankle.
  • Pause, then push off your back foot to return to the starting position.
  • Perform equal reps on both sides, alternating arm positioning for the bodyweight version accordingly.

8. Single-Leg Deadlift

man performing single-leg dumbbell deadlift | hamstring exercises

  • Stand upright, holding a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell in your left hand.
  • Shift your weight onto your right foot and lift your left foot slightly off the floor behind you.
  • Keeping your back flat and your core engaged, push your hips back and raise your left leg straight behind you as you lower the dumbbell to mid-shin level.
  • Pause, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

Pro Tip: Throughout the movement, keep the toes of your raised leg pointing towards the floor, not backward or outward.

9. Marching Glute Bridge

  • Lie flat on your back with your knees bent, feet flat, lower back pressed into the floor, and arms by your sides, palms down. (Optional: Loop a resistance band around both legs, above the knee.)
  • Keeping your left foot on the floor, engage your core and squeeze your glutes as you simultaneously lift your hips toward the ceiling and pull your right knee toward your chest.
  • Slowly lower your hips, tapping your right foot and butt on the floor, and repeat.
  • Continue for reps, then switch legs and repeat the sequence. Perform equal reps on each side.

10. Pilates Leg Kick

pilates leg kick | hamstring exercises

 

  • Lie in a prone position (on your stomach) on a mat.
  • Lift your torso up and rest on your forearms, with your elbows directly under your shoulders and your fists pressed together.
  • Draw your belly button into your spine, press your pelvis into the mat, and keep your legs and feet parallel.
  • From this position, inhale as you point your toes and bend both knees 90 degrees.
  • Kick your heels toward your glutes two times, forcefully exhaling with both pulses.
  • Inhale as you lower your legs to the mat.
  • Repeat for reps.

11. Dumbbell Skier Swing

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent, holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides, palms in.
  • Keeping your back flat and core engaged, push your hips back and swing the dumbbells in the same direction, hinging forward slightly at your waist.
  • Quickly reverse the movement, thrusting your hips forward and squeezing your glutes as you raise your torso and swing the dumbbells up to chest level.
  • That’s one rep. Continue swinging in a fluid, continuous motion without pausing.