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Best Hamstring Exercises | Stretches & Weights

When it comes to building the biggest legs you can achieve, training your hamstrings both thoroughly and effectively is what’s going to have one of the largest impacts on your leg development. Your hamstrings are located on the backside of your upper leg underneath your glutes. This muscle group is made up of four major muscles: lateral (outer) and medial (inner) hamstrings. The lateral hamstrings (bicep femoris) also are made up of a long and a short head.

The long head of the bicep femoris is what extends and flexes the knee joint, while the short head simply flexes the knee only. Depending on what training methods you perform, you are able to target each of the four major hamstrings muscles directly depending on the exercises you are performing. Although the most basic exercise you can perform for your hamstrings is squats and leg curls, varying the methods used in performing a squat or a leg curl can help target each part of the hamstring over one another.


Reps Or Sets?

Since the hamstrings are about 50% fast twitch and 50% slow twitch muscle fibers, this means that about half of your exercises should be light to moderate weight loads with higher rep ranges, upwards of around 10-20 reps or so. With this increase in rep ranges, it’s important to also decrease your total rest time between sets or to superset with multiple exercises in order to maximize muscle stimulation. For the other half of the workout, you will want to perform the harder exercises with heavier weights for about 6-8 reps with rest periods ranging upwards of 2-4 minutes or so. The heavier exercises would be exercises such as squats, leg press and stiff legged deadlifts.

squat variations

The Squat

One of the most effective exercises when it comes to hamstring development isn’t the squat as many people make it out to be, instead, it’s going to be the lying leg curl. The reason for this is that the lying leg curl is the only exercise we can perform in which the same amount of tension remains constant throughout the exercise. What this means is that on the concentric and the eccentric movement of a lying leg curl, the same amount of weight load is being applied, whereas in a squat or leg press, the heaviest part of the movement is at the bottom part of the rep and when we begin to push upwards. When performing a lying leg curl, it’s important to keep your feet flat and not having your toes pointed upwards. Keeping the toes pointed straight actually forces the hamstring muscles to contract differently and work much harder.


Another exercise that most people commonly overlook when training hamstrings is sprinting. Although it’s not seen as a major exercise to increase hamstring growth, studies show that performing sprints for your cardio sessions instead of steady state can actually have the same amount of muscle activation or stimulation as if you were performing a leg curl. During a sprint the outer and inner hamstring muscles are activated as much as 100% during an all-out sprint. The only other exercise we can perform for hamstrings that cause a 100% muscle activation is the leg curl. So performing sprints at a high intensity for your cardio will not only help you lean out and lose weight, but it will also help with the increase in your overall hamstring development.
Make sure to perform slow and steady reps with each exercise you perform. You also want to achieve a full range of motion as to make sure you engage the hamstrings fully. Do not worry about overloading the weight to go super heavy if it’s going to cause you to decrease your overall range of motion. Performing leg press and leg curls at a lighter weight while obtaining the full ROM is what’s going to have a much larger muscle stimulation when compared to partial reps (0-80% range of motion) vs the full 100% ROM.

fix your sprint

Take Home Message

There you have it, the best methods of approach to take in regards to hamstring training. Make sure to remember that it’s never about how heavy you can lift in training but rather it’s about how well you can target the muscle groups. Increasing overall range of motion and muscle stimulation with higher rep ranges is going to have a much more drastic impact on your hamstring development in both size and definition when compared to squatting and performing leg press with as much weight as you can for 4-6 reps. Focus on the tension and squeeze and you’ll begin to have much greater muscle activation in your hamstrings.

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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye Reid has a Master of Science in Sport Physiology and Nutrition. She puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding. Find out more about Faye's experience here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/faye-reid-8b619b122/.

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