Think of the hamstring muscles as the biceps of the legs. Many women seek to tone and shape this area because they naturally store more fat in the thighs due to female-pattern fat storage. For a hamstring workout, you can choose two or three exercises and do one to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions each. Add these hamstring exercises to your program to get a better leg workout.
A variation on full deadlifts, the stiff-leg version allows you to focus on the hamstring muscles. To do these correctly, bend the knees slightly and stick your butt out. Keeping your lower back arched and your head up, let the barbell or dumbbells descend until they reach a point about mid-shin level. Then reverse the movement by straightening the legs, just short of knee lockout, where the weight finishes at about mid-thigh level.
Barbell, dumbbell or machine squats target the entire leg, including the hamstrings. Women should not worry about developing bulk as their natural testosterone levels do not allow this. With the weight across your shoulders or held in each hand, squat down as if sitting, to the point where your upper legs are parallel to the ground, then press the hells to return the weight back upward without locking out your knees at the top. Keep your back arched throughout the movement, your head up and your knees behind the toes; turn your feet outward slightly if needed. Variations of this exercise include hack squats, front squats and back squats.
Leg presses allow you to use more weight than squats because you do not need to stabilize the load of a free weight. This makes leg presses an effective exercise for women, who may have less upper body and core strength. When lowering the weight, bring the knees as close to your chest as you comfortably can. Press through the heels, upward in a controlled motion without locking your knees at the top. To put more emphasis on the hamstrings, you can place your feet higher up on the foot plate of the leg press machine.
You can do lunges with dumbbells, a barbell, on the self-spotting Smith machine or using your own body weight. Lunge forward or backward, keeping the knee of the weight-bearing leg behind the toes. Descend until your other knee touches the ground or to the lowest point possible. Then press the weight back up with the working leg and lunge with the other leg. You can do lunges in place or you can do walking or traveling lunges.
Leg curls are an isolation movement that allows the hamstrings to fully contract at the top of the motion. For best results, do compound movements such as squats, lunges and/or leg presses before doing leg curls. Many gyms have leg curls weight machines, but you can also do them by lying on your stomach on a flat bench and having a partner place a dumbbell securely between your feet. You can do drop sets to fully exhaust the hamstrings. To do a drop set, perform one full set of leg curls, drop or lower the weight, and do another set immediately without resting in between.
- "X-Treme Lean"; Jonathan Lawson and Steve Holman; 2006
- "Combat the Fat"; Jeff Anderson; 2008
- "The Fat-Burning Bible"; Mackie Shilstone; 2005