The lower body consists of large muscle groups including the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. These muscle groups work together as one to execute movement through activities of daily living and exercise. If a client has weak hamstrings, they may experience injuries, muscle failure, and lack muscle mass in other muscle groups. Building stronger legs comes through training each leg muscle appropriately.
Stronger hamstrings create a bigger, faster, and stronger leg muscle. Leg day should consist of many different hamstring exercises, such as the seated leg curl, stiff leg deadlift, and kettlebell swing. When clients consistently complete a hamstring exercise, they build strong hamstrings for more compound lifts or movement patterns. These movement patterns are the hip hinge, hip extension, and leg flexion.
Building muscle mass in the hamstrings is critical to overall leg development, strength and performance. Posterior chain development is important for every client. Let’s dive into the best ways to build strong hamstrings.
Hamstring Anatomy and Muscle Actions
The hamstring muscle group is located on the backside of the upper leg. It consists of three muscles that run from the thigh to the knee. These are the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. The main muscle action for the entire hamstring muscle group is flexion at the knee and extension at the hip.
The hamstring muscle group contributes to walking, running, jumping, and supporting the surrounding muscles like the glutes. It is the antagonist muscle to the quadriceps and assists in slowing knee extension. The semitendinosus and semimembranosus are two muscles mainly responsible for extending the hip. They are most active when the trunk is in a fixed position and also support knee flexion.
While the long head of the biceps femoris promotes hip extension. Both the short head and long head assist in flexing the knee. This muscle also controls lateral rotation when the leg is in a bent position. Hamstring injuries are very common in sports and require long recovery times. Hamstring muscles surround the knee joint and help alleviate stress on ligaments. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is protected by strong hamstrings. If clients experience knee pain, you can try these exercises.
Clients must focus on effectively training the hamstring muscle throughout their workout program. An effective approach to training the hamstrings consists of slow eccentric contractions.
Exercises to Build Bigger Hamstrings
The hamstring plays a part in all daily activities such as walking, bending, and mobility tasks. These can be bending down to pick something up or simply walking up stairs. Before prescribing a leg workout to your clients, start with identifying major movements that the hamstring muscle is most activated during.
The hamstring activates during hip extension and hip hinge. Ensuring clients know how to properly perform a hip hinge first is critical to preventing injury. Exercises like lying leg curls promote knee flexion, which isolates the muscle group.
Once clients understand these movement patterns, you can create a leg workout that focuses on building stronger hamstrings. Weak hamstrings are common and most of the time a squat, lunge, leg press, or hack squat is not enough to recruit the necessary muscle fibers. The following exercises can help prevent injury and promote muscle growth.
The deadlift helps prevent injury and stimulates the hamstrings. Additionally, there are many variations to a conventional deadlift. Deadlift variations for stimulating the hamstring muscle group are the Romanian deadlift, stiff leg deadlift, and single-leg deadlift. The deadlift exercise targets the posterior chain, which includes many other muscle groups: erector spinae, back and glutes, and hamstring muscles. The posterior chain is often neglected in training programs.
A good way to isolate the hamstring muscle group is through leg curls. Clients can perform a hamstring curl in different ways. This includes a seated leg curl and lying leg curl. If a leg curl machine is unavailable clients can use a resistance band or dumbbell to perform this exercise. The goal is to isolate the hamstrings through flexion. Leg curls are a great option for novice clients to help strengthen and build the hamstrings. They are also beneficial to perform before compound lifts like squats and lunges.
Glute Ham Raise
One of the more popular hamstring exercises is the glute-ham raise. This is a great exercise for the entire posterior chain and highly activates the hamstrings. This exercise forces movement at both the hip and knee joints. The glute-ham raises or GHR can be performed using the GHR machine. If this machine is unavailable to clients, then they can use other equipment to mimic the exercise motion. Try completing the GHR with a stability pad underneath your knees and heels locked in under a barbell or bench. Positioned in front of a rack with a resistance band attached to a secure rack behind you, hold on to the resistance band and lower your body down slowly to the ground. Return to the starting position by curling yourself up with the hamstrings.
The glutes and hamstrings are highly active during the kettlebell swings. These are the primary muscles used to execute the movement. The hamstrings are placed under a lot of tension during the hip hinge movement, leading to greater hypertrophy. When clients learn the form and can safely and effectively hinge at the hips, they should increase the weight. Going heavier will have a greater effect on muscle growth and stimulation.
Swiss Ball Curl
The swiss ball curl gives clients more to focus on. This is why it should be used with clients who have a foundation with hamstring or posterior chain training. As it adds instability to the exercise and engages other muscles like the core. The instability creates and forces more tension in the hamstring, which is necessary to prevent your client from falling over to the side. You can even move clients into a single-leg swiss ball curl as a progression.
There are many more hamstring exercises essential to overall muscle growth and development. Learn more exercises for not just the hamstring muscle but all the muscle groups in the body with the ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer course. Expand your training knowledge to help clients achieve all their fitness goals!