The biceps femoris, semimembranosus and semitendinosus muscles on the back of your thigh are collectively referred to as the hamstrings. These muscles attach to the pelvis on top and the tibia bone of your lower leg on the bottom, and facilitate both hip extension and knee flexion ranges of motion. A variety of exercises can be performed at home to build and strengthen your hamstrings, which will help you perform activities such as bending over, squatting down and walking without any trouble, and may reduce your risk for injuries.
Isometric Leg Curls
Your hamstring muscles contract isometrically when they develop tension without shortening or lengthening. Use isometric hamstring exercises to rehabilitate from an injury or if you have pain in your hips and/or knees. To perform isometric leg curls, sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and heels against the two front legs of the chair. Wrap your arms behind the chair back to keep your torso from moving forward during the exercise. Press your heels into the legs of the chair and hold for 10 seconds. Perform up to five sets of this exercise as many days per week as you want.
For lunges, your hamstrings contract to repeatedly extend your hip joints. This movement is important if you are an avid walker, or an athlete who has to jump, run and sprint often. Stand upright with your feet even and about shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your right foot 2 to 3 feet, allowing your left heel to come up. Squat down until your left knee nearly touches the floor, and then powerfully stand up and step back to the starting position. Alternate legs for 12 to 20 total repetitions. You can add resistance by holding a barbell across the back of your shoulders or dumbbells at your sides if desired, but decrease the number of repetitions.
Lying Leg Curls
Lying leg curls strengthen your hamstrings through knee flexion, which is their primary function. This is important for preventing injuries during high-intensity leg extension exercises, including jumping and sprinting. To perform the exercise, lie face down on the floor and alternately flex your knees so your feet move as far as possible toward the back of your thighs. Wear ankle weights to increase the intensity of the exercise. Perform lying leg curls several times per week for two to three sets of 10 of more repetitions each.
Standing Leg Curls
For standing leg curls you perform the same movement as lying leg curls, but from a standing position. You can use your body weight only, ankle weights, or a resistance band for the exercise. To use a resistance band, attach one end of the band to a sturdy object, close to the floor, and the other end to either ankle. Stand facing the object and flex your knee, stretching the band toward your buttocks. Slowly lower your foot back down and repeat. Perform 10 or more repetitions with each leg. If necessary, hold onto a chair, partner or other stable object to keep from losing your balance. Move farther away from the object to increase the intensity of the exercise.
- "Basic Biomechanics (Fifth Edition)"; Susan J. Hall; 2007
- American Council on Exercise: Forward Lunge
- Center for Orthopedic and Sports Excellence: Knee Exercises
- American Council on Exercise: Standing Hamstrings Curl