The hamstring is a group of three muscles that extends across the back of the thigh and moves the leg forward and backward. It's important for everyday movement like walking, but also key for athletes whose sports require sprinting, like soccer, football, basketball or track and field.
Whether recovering from an injury or traveling away from your gym, here's how to work out your hamstrings without any weights.
1. Glute-Hamstring Walkout
Working two muscle groups with a single move makes for a more efficient workout, including hamstring exercises without weights. And this lower-body move targets the big muscle groups in your legs (hamstrings) and rear-end (glutes).
HOW TO DO IT: Start on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor near your glutes. Elevate your hips while contracting your glutes and abs. Walk out your feet one at a time until your legs fully extend — but without letting your butt touch the floor. Hold for a breath and then reverse back to the starting position.
2. Stability Ball Lunge
The lunge also targets and strengthens multiple muscles at once — hamstrings, core, glutes and quads — and is a great example of using a stability ball for your hamstrings.
HOW TO DO IT: Place the stability ball behind you and place your left ankle on top. Keep your right foot flat on the floor. Bend your right knee until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Simultaneously, the ball should roll from your ankle to the shin. Your torso should remains upright and your left leg straight. Hold this position for several seconds before returning to start position.
3. Seated Resistance Band Leg Curl
With stronger hamstrings, you'll perform better squats, deadlifts and other lifts that require a lot of power from the lower body.
HOW TO DO IT: Anchor a resistance band in front of you and assume a seated position. Wrap the band around the back of your ankles and then pump the legs at the knees to extend and contract the legs.
4. Seated Forward Bend
Yoga is an effective non-weighted workout that you can do pretty much anywhere you have space to stretch out. This relatively basic seated position really emphasizes the hamstrings.
HOW TO DO IT: Seated on a folded blanket or towel, extend your legs in front of you and press through your heels. Lift your arms above your head to lengthen your spine and then bend at the hips as far as is comfortable. Grab your calves or feet. Continue steady breathing, extending further with each exhale. Hold for a few breaths and then gently move back to the starting position.
5. Standing Forward Bend
Here's another yoga move for your anywhere-anytime repertoire. This will rock your hamstrings' world while giving your mind a deep release.
HOW TO DO IT: From standing, bend at the hips and lower your head toward the floor. Place your fingertips or palms outside of your feet. Press your heels down while lifting your tailbone. With each exhale move deeper into the pose. Let your neck remain loose.
6. Warrior III Pose
Keep working through that deep standing stretch by flowing into Warrior III, an empowering position that activates and engages your entire backside, including hamstrings, shoulders, calves and ankles.
HOW TO DO IT: From standing, move into standing forward bend. Raise your left foot off the floor and extend the leg behind you and parallel to the floor. Stretch your arms out parallel with floor and each other, palms facing down.
Cycling offers a lot of strengthening and toning benefits for the hamstrings. With every revolution, the hamstrings produce momentum for the front of the stroke and help stabilize the knee on the back of the stroke. Drawing more on your hamstrings than quads while cycling — stationary or road — will make a more powerful ride.
HOW TO DO IT: Practice single-leg pedaling drills. Keep your core stable and actively engage the hamstrings on the recovery, or back side, of the pedal stroke.
8. Lying Leg Curl
Hamstrings are the primary beneficiary of this simple move. Just be sure to activate the core and don't arch your back.
HOW TO DO IT: Lying on your stomach, raise your foot and draw it back to your rear-end, hold for a second; then return to the floor. After a set of reps, switch sides. Add a resistance band for more of a challenge.
9. Reverse Leg Raise
Another simple move that offers a lot to the hamstrings. Again, keep the core activated and don't arch the back.
HOW TO DO IT: Start by lying on your stomach with arms extended in front, legs fully extended, toes pointing up. Lift one or both legs off the floor, hips remain steady. Hold for a few seconds and then lower your legs back to the floor and repeat.