Like your calves, your hamstrings can be a tricky muscle to target, especially without the help of gym machines. But elaborate equipment definitely isn't a necessity if you're looking to strengthen the back of your legs.
While machines can be convenient, all you really need is a single dumbbell to strengthen your hamstrings at home. New York-based certified personal trainer Carolina Araujo, CPT, recommends grabbing a moderately heavy weight and give these six grueling exercises a try.
1. B-Stance Romanian Deadlift
- Start standing, holding a dumbbell in your right hand, feet hip-width apart.
- Keeping your left foot rooted, bring your right heel a few inches to the right and about a foot back.
- Keeping a flat back, hinge your hips back and bend forward, keeping a tiny bend in your left leg.
- Bend your right knee a little more than the left until the dumbbell hovers a foot above the ground.
- Press your hips forward and reverse the motion to return to standing.
- When you finish all your reps on this side, switch which foot is in front.
2. Dumbbell Sumo Squat
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and your feet turned out at 45 degrees.
- Hold one end of your dumbbell at chest height, tucking your elbows into your ribs.
- Bend your knees to lower yourself down into a squat. Keep your chest up, back flat and knees in line with your toes. The weight should almost touch the floor.
- Press through your heels to return to standing.
To make this move a little tougher, you can hold for a few extra moments at the bottom of the squat, Araujo says.
3. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Start standing with a dumbbell in your right hand, feet planted about hip-width apart.
- Engage your core as you begin to raise your left leg straight behind you, hip hinging with your right leg, and bend the right knee slightly.
- At the same time, lower the dumbbell toward the ground, keeping the weight relatively close to your body and your back flat.
- Once your torso is parallel to the ground, push your hips forward and reverse the movement to return to standing.
- Perform all your reps on one leg, then switch legs.
Only lower as far as you can with good form, Araujo says. "It's okay if you only raise your rear leg a foot or two off the ground. Just focus on feeling the exercise in the hamstring of your standing leg."
4. Dumbbell Glute Bridge
- Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, feet flat on the floor and knees bent.
- Hold the dumbbell across your hips.
- On an exhale, squeeze your glutes, press into your heels and drive your hips up toward the sky.
- Raise your hips until you form a diagonal line from knees to hips to shoulders.
- Pause here for a moment.
- Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.
5. Dumbbell Hamstring Curl
- Place the dumbbell on the floor, standing on one end.
- Lie down on the floor on your stomach, legs straight, feet on either side of the dumbbell.
- Squeeze the weight and bend your knees to lift it off the floor.
- Bend your knees slowly up toward your butt, the bottom of your feet facing the sky.
- Slowly lower the weight back down.
Focus on keeping your hips and thighs glued to the floor. If you feel your hips rising off the ground as you curl the weight, it's probably best to go down in weight.
6. Dumbbell Hip Thrust
- Start seated with the bottom of your shoulder blades on the edge of an exercise bench or box.
- Extend your legs out in front of you and place the dumbbell across your hips.
- Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground.
- Keeping your neck long, press into your heels and raise your hips off the ground, lifting the weight up. As you press up, your neck and shoulders should be lifted.
- Pause for a moment at the top, then lower back down.