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Squats for Working the Hamstrings

author image Aubrey Bailey
Aubrey Bailey has been writing health-related articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in ADVANCE for Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine. She holds a Bachelor of Science in physical therapy and Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University at Buffalo, as well as a post-professional Doctor of Physical Therapy from Utica College. Dr. Bailey is also a certified hand therapist.
Squats for Working the Hamstrings
Squats for Working the Hamstrings Photo Credit: g-stockstudio/iStock/GettyImages

Squats are often thought of as booty-building exercises. Although your glutes are the workhorse muscles during a squat, these exercises also tone and strengthen other leg muscles, including the hamstrings along the back of your thighs. Certain types of squats target your hamstrings more than others.

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Read more: How to Do Air Squats

Air Squat

Performing an air squat with proper form emphasizes the muscles in the back of your hips and thighs, including your hamstrings. These muscles are active regardless of how deep you squat, so only lower down as far as you can comfortably go. Perform squats in sets of 10 repetitions.

How-To: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Push your butt back as if you are going to sit in a chair. Bend your knees and push them apart as you lower down into a squat. Keep your chest up throughout the movement. At the bottom of your squat, squeeze your buttock and thigh muscles and stand back up.

Vary your squats to target different parts of your hamstrings.
Vary your squats to target different parts of your hamstrings. Photo Credit: Bojan656/iStock/GettyImages

Barbell Back Squats

Barbells are a popular way to add weight to your squat. The position of your barbell can impact which leg muscles have to work harder during this movement. Hold your barbell across your upper back to help target your hamstring muscles. Focus on a spot in front of you throughout this movement to help keep you upright. Bending forward during a back squat can damage your low back.

How-To: Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart and the barbell positioned across your upper back. Grab the bar next to your shoulders with your palms facing forward. Push your butt back and sit down into the squat. Lower down as far as you can without bending forward, then stand back up.

Split squats work one leg at a time.
Split squats work one leg at a time. Photo Credit: Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

Split Squats

At first glance, split squats look a lot like a lunge. While lunges work both legs equally, the hamstring muscles are most active in the front leg during split squats. The back leg is used for balance. Practice this exercise without weights to make sure you can maintain your balance while using proper form. If needed, start with your back foot resting on the ground rather than an elevated surface. As with barbell squats, focus on a spot in front of you to prevent yourself from bending forward as you squat. Do not allow your knee to move in front of your toes during this movement. If it continues to occur, move your front leg further forward.

How-To: Stand with your feet staggered and the toes of your back foot resting on an elevated surface. Hold dumbbells by your sides with your elbows straight. Bend your front knee and slowly lower your body straight down until your thigh is parallel to the ground, then stand back up.

Read more: What is the Difference Between a Lunge and a Split Squat?

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