Hamstrings are an often-injured muscle group that deserves some special attention in your warm-up. It only takes a few specifically targeted exercises to prep your hamstrings for a workout.
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The key is to use exercises that isolate them because your hamstrings can be overshadowed by your glutes in many movements, like the deadlift.
What the Hamstrings Do
Four muscles make up the hamstrings that run from the back of your hip bone, past your knee and into the top of your shin. They help you flex or bend your knee. They also help the glutes out by extending your legs back.
Knee curling motions, like the leg curl machine, are one of the best ways to warm up your hamstrings because they isolate the muscle so well. Other moves, such as the Romanian deadlift, work the hamstrings by extending the hips.
Read more: Location of the Hamstring Muscle
Warm-Up, Not Work Out
Whatever hamstring exercises you choose to put in your warm-up, be sure to take it easy. Don't use too much resistance or do too many reps, because you might tire out your hamstrings before you even get to the workout. Spend only about five minutes warming up your hamstrings.
1. Butt Kick
Runners often use this exercise as a track warm-up to stretch the front of the thigh and promote proper running technique. It also serves as a hamstring warm-up because the main muscles that are active when you kick are the hamstrings.
HOW TO DO IT: Either in place or jogging forwards, lightly hop up and swing one foot back as you bend your knee. Try to kick your butt with the heel of the same side, then plant your foot before you land on the ground. Alternate legs every hop. Do 20 to 30 butt kicks with each leg.
2. Machine Leg Curl
The leg curl machine lets you isolate the hamstrings and choose how much weight you're pushing. Set it at a light weight for the warm-up, something that would tire you out in 30 reps, but keep it between 15 and 20 reps so that you don't tire them out.
HOW TO DO IT: Sit on the leg curl machine with your back flat against the chair. Your legs should be out straight at the top with the pad against the back of your ankles. Curl both legs in as far as you can towards your butt, then slowly let them back out.
3. Eccentric Sliding Leg Curl
Sliding hamstring curls are one of the best alternatives to the machine leg curl because they isolate your hamstrings and require only a towel or sliders. This variation only uses the eccentric portion to keep things easy for the warm-up. The eccentric portion of an exercise is the part where you lower the weight.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back on the ground with your legs straight out. Put sliders or towels under your heels to decrease friction. Bend your knees and slide your feet in until you're close to your butt. Plant your feet flat and do a glute bridge so that your hips and back are in the air.
Slowly slide your feet out and keep your toes up. Hold the glute bridge until your legs are straight and your whole body is back on the ground. That counts as one repetition.
Read more: Causes of Hamstring Cramps
4. Resistance Band Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is one of the best exercises to target your hamstrings. Use this resistance band variation to avoid exhausting them before your workout.
HOW TO DO IT: Take a long resistance band and stand on one side with both feet shoulder-width apart. Lean forward and duck under the top of the band. Let it rest on the back of your neck.
Flatten out your back and stick your butt out, slightly bending your knees. You can grip the sides of the band but don't use your arms to help. Slowly stand up straight, keeping your weight in your heels. Then, stick your butt back and lean forward with your upper body to lower back down to the start position.
5. Back Extension Machine
Use this machine to warm up your hamstrings and glutes.
HOW TO DO IT: Set up in the machine with the pads against the tops of your thighs and your feet planted on the platform at the bottom. Cross your arms over your chest and bend your upper body forward and fold over the machine. Go as low as you can, then pull your upper body back up by digging your heels back into the platform.