You may be focusing on building your booty or strengthening your quads, but your favorite leg exercises (think deadlift and squat) also help build your hamstrings. If you're stopping at these two exercises, though, you may not be giving these muscles the focus they deserve.
People often fail to target their hamstrings, especially those that mostly participate in quad-dominant activities, like running. In order to keep your leg muscles balanced, it's important to give the hamstrings some much needed TLC. And as a bonus, many hamstring exercises will target your core, too!
Read more: 6 Deadlift Variations to Add to Leg Day
Why You Should Care About Strong Hamstrings
The hamstrings may not get as much hype as the glutes or quads, but they're an important muscle group that helps control motion at both your knees and hips, helping these joints bend and extend, says Kristianna Fata, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York City.
They also help control sudden or jerking motions, which ultimately helps prevent injury, Fata says. "Without a strong foundation of strength in the hamstring, it is easy to exhibit abnormal movements that can therefore result in dysfunction or pain."
Read more: Top 9 Hamstring Exercises With No Weights
The Top 5 Hamstring Exercises — That Also Fire Up Your Core
Mix up your next leg day and give it a hamstring focus with these five exercises. As you perform these moves, focus on tilting your pelvis under in order to activate your core during the movement, Fata says. Perform each of these exercises for three rounds total.
1. Kettlebell Deadlift
- Place a heavier kettlebell on the ground between your feet.
- Hinge your hips back and down and reach down to grip the handle of the bell firmly.
- Squeeze your lats as if you were holding a $100 bill between your armpits (you'll want to hold on to that).
- Push your hips forward and raise the kettlebell as you stand up, keeping the weight close to your body and squeezing the hamstrings and glutes, while simultaneously exhaling.
- Pause for a moment at the top of the motion before repeating.
Reps: 6 to 8
The deadlift is a foundational movement pattern that all people should learn to perform, Fata says. This exercise will also activate the midsection and posterior chain to function as both a core and hamstring exercise.
2. Hamstring Bridges
- Lie on your back and place an exercise band around your legs, right above your knees.
- Raise your legs onto a bench or chair, placing the feet flat on the elevated surface.
- Squeezing from your hamstrings and glutes, raise your butt off the floor up toward the ceiling, avoiding arching your lower back.
- Pause at the top for a moment before lowering back to the ground.
"In order to do this, you must engage the abdominal muscles to provide a stable surface to lift off the ground," Fata says. "Breathing out with each breath can also help to further engage the abs."
3. Single-Leg Kettlebell Deadlift
- Start with your feet hip-width apart, rooting your right foot into the ground, holding a lighter kettlebell in your left hand.
- Hinge at your hips and bend your right knee while simultaneously raising your left leg and lowering the kettlebell toward the ground. Keep your back flat.
- Once your left leg is parallel to the ground, activate your right hamstring to push your hips forward and lower your left leg, returning to standing.
Reps: 10 to 12 on each leg
Single-leg exercises are not only a great balance test but will also fire up your core, since it works to balance your raising leg and the kettlebell.
4. Hamstring Sliders
- Lie flat on the ground with a pair of gliding disks under both feet (you can also use socks or a towel on hardwood floor).
- With your feet flat, raise your hips to the ceiling into a bridge position.
- Keeping your pelvis stable and hips raised off the ground, slowly slide the legs away from the body until they're nearly straight.
- Then, pull your legs back toward your butt.
Reps: 8 to 10
Only extend your legs as far as you can while keeping your glutes off the ground. "This one is going to burn and feel like a cramp in the hammy, but that's what we want," Fata says.
5. Nordic Hamstring Curls
- Kneel down with your body straight and stiff as a board, engaging the core.
- Have a partner hold your feet onto the ground (or hook your feet under a stable piece of furniture).
- Lean your entire body toward the ground, keeping your arms at your sides and knees rooted.
- Continue leaning until you feel pressure in your hamstrings and, relying solely on those muscles, return to an upright position.
Reps: 4 to 5 (do 4 sets)
Lower your body as low as you can go, relying solely on your hamstrings to bring you back up. Keep your body completely straight as you lean forward and back.