Training with free weights, such as with a barbell, dumbbell or a kettlebell, works your glutes and hamstrings together rather than individually. This can help you gain full-body strength and burn more calories in less time. The best exercises for your glutes and hamstrings would depend on your goals, fitness status and the sport or activity that you play.
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Your glutes and hamstrings do not function independently in daily activities and sports. Because they are connected together by nerves and connective tissues, they are part of a network of muscles called the superficial back line, which includes your calves, back muscles and the back of your neck. Thus, how you move your glutes and hamstrings can affect movement in your back and lower legs. While your glutes produce force when you accelerate at the beginning of a sprint or jump straight up, your hamstrings function like brakes that control the rate of your deceleration when you slow down from a run or walk or land on your feet after you jump.
Physical therapist Gray Cook suggests that you start with the squat, step-up and lunge exercises because they involve common movement patterns found in many field, ring and court sports, such as soccer, boxing and tennis. Athletes in such sports can benefit from doing these exercises to work on full-body coordination and balance. The squat simply involves lowering your hips toward the floor from a standing position while keeping your spine straight. Try the one-arm kettlebell squat or barbell back squat. The step-up involves stepping on top of a platform, such as a bench or plyometric box, while carrying free weight in one or both hands. The basic lunge involves taking a step in front or behind you and bending both legs to lower your body down until your back knee almost touches the floor. Start with your body weight only. Add free weights only after you're familiar with these exercises.
Kettlebell deadlifts and swings can help reduce the risk of hamstring injuries and improve lower-body flexibility by emphasizing eccentric strength, which is the lengthening of muscle fibers under tension. The kettlebell deadlift strengthens your glutes and improves stability and eccentric strength of your hamstrings. Hold a kettlebell with one hand hanging in front of your hips in a standing position with your feet about hip-distance apart. Inhale as you hinge your torso forward at your hips to lower the weight to the floor without hunching your back or shoulders. Bend your knees slightly as you move. Exhale as you push your feet against the floor and push your hips forward together to lift the kettlebell off the floor and to bring your torso upright. Once you master the kettlebell deadlift, progress to the kettlebell swing, which uses the same hip-hinge maneuver to swing the weight between your legs and in front of you.
Choose exercises that mimic the way you move in the activity or sport that you play. A review published in the June 2006 issue of "International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance" states that exercises that train closer to the actual sports skill have a greater carryover of strength and power than those that are not sports specific. This is based on the SAID principle, which stands for "specific adaptation to imposed demand." For example, sprinters and soccer players benefit more from doing lunges than hamstrings curls on a machine because lunges mimic the sprinting movement pattern more closely.