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The hamstrings are some of the most important muscles in the human body. They not only enable hip extension but also knee flexion, which means they're key to walking, running, jumping, and countless other motions.

Not only does strengthening the hammies mean you'll get stronger at all these movements, it's also a great way to avoid injury when these muscles inevitably pick up the slack for the other leg muscles. Stay strong and safe with these exercises to power up your hamstrings.

Deadlift

The deadlift is probably the most famous (or infamous) lower-body exercise. It is also one of the best choices for targeting the hamstrings.

Deadlifts work the hamstrings by extending the hips and bending the knees. If standard deadlifts are a bit too difficult, consider alternatives like the Romanian deadlift, which eliminates all extra knee action.

man at the gym preparing to do a deadlift

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Hip Thrusts

Hip thrusts are a very modifiable exercise that works the glutes and the hamstrings. They're achieved by resting the upper back on a bench or box and placing the feet on the ground with the knees bent, then pressing into the feet to raise the hips to knee height.

Doing this exercise with body weight only (rather than a dumbbell or kettlebell on the hips) is a great way to start, and the height of the bench can be adjusted for every comfort level.

illustration of a woman doing a hip thrust exercise with a dumbbell

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Cardio Rows

Anyone who has tried to work out their arms and chest knows how important rows are, but, done the right way, they can also produce significant results in the hamstrings.

Cardio rows, with proper form and explosiveness, will light the glutes and hammies on fire. Ultimately, the movement is similar to a barbell row and a deadlift, but on a different axis.

man using the rowing machine at the gym

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Bulgarian Split Squat

Bulgarian split squats are excellent for strengthening the hamstrings because they require a significant amount of hip and knee action.

This is are essentially a standard split squat, but with one foot braced against the top of a box, bench, or step about six to 12 inches tall. Add in kettlebells, dumbbells, or a barbell to increase the challenge and muscle-building potential.

illustration of a woman doing a bulgarian split squat with dumbbells

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Good Mornings

The good morning exercise is extremely similar to a deadlift. However, rather than placing the weight in front of the body, the barbell sits across the back.

For this exercise, it is not necessary to use heavy—or any—weight. Lower the body, keeping the core tight and back straight, until there is tension in the hamstrings.

illustration of a woman doing a good morning exercise with light weights

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Kettlebell Swing

One of the best exercises to add to any routine, the kettlebell swing is a ballistic movement that loads weight onto the hips and hamstrings and requires explosive force from the pelvis and hips.

This exercise has the benefit of strengthening the shoulder, upper back, and mid-back muscles, as well. Avoid the "American" variation of this exercise, because it adds extra motions that lessen the effectiveness of the exercise and make it far more dangerous.

people in a fitness class doing kettlebell swings

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Reverse Sled Pulls

Though reverse sled pulls require some specialized equipment, they will work the hamstrings like no other exercise.

Though many versions involve pulling the sled cable with the hands, the best way to activate the hamstrings is to attach the cable to the waist. Remember to drive toes and heels into the ground and maintain an upright posture to maximize effectiveness and minimize the risk of injuries.

woman doing sled pulls at the gym

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Single Leg RDL

The single leg reverse deadlift has a similar movement pattern to the classic deadlift, but it adds a balance challenge and the benefits of unilateral exercise (working just one side of the body at a time).

Balancing on one foot, a single leg RDL requires you to bend forward at the hip, keeping the back in one straight line with the non-standing leg. Bend forward, with the arm hanging down from the shoulder, until there's tension in the hamstring, then return to standing.

illustration of woman doing single leg reverse deadlift

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Lying L Sit or Lying Leg Raises

While this exercise might be new to many people, it is one of the most accessible hamstring exercises.

Lie with the back on the floor and arms out to the side, flat on the ground. Then, lift and extend the legs overhead, creating an “L” shape. At no point should the lower back leave the floor --- this might mean the legs don't go all the way to the ground on each rep, but that's ok. At the apex of the exercise, there should be a strong stretch in the hamstrings.

illustration of a woman doing lying leg lifts

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Machine Leg Curls

One of the hamstring’s main jobs is to flex the knee. Machines help limit motion and better target the hamstrings, so they are a great option to add to your routine for quick results.

Lying leg curls are the most popular form of the exercise, but there are also seated and standing versions. Regardless of the variation, make sure to use the correct weight and make sure the pads are in the correct position to avoid injury.

woman doing a hamstring curl on a machine

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.