Is The Back Squat Enough To Develop Big Hamstrings? The back squat targets the hamstrings but is it enough to develop them?

My post “front vs. back squats” caused some controversy and I was summoned to explain my belief that the back squat works the hamstrings sufficiently, even though I didn’t say so in the article.

It would be naive to think that the back squat does not work your hamstrings. You want evidence? Go to the track and do some sprints. Sprinting is an extremely hamstring dependent exercise, and this why many sprinters experience tears in the area.

Rest a day and try some back squats. Chances are you will not be able to squat nearly as much because your hamstrings will be shut down H-A-R-D by the sprints. Big surprise! It turns out you need all your leg muscles to squat.

I can’t deny that the quadriceps and glutes do most of the work during back squats, but that’s to be expected because they are bigger muscles and in more mechanically advantageous position to do so.

If you squat below parallel your hamstrings also have their fair share of fun, albeit to a lesser degree. Why? Ask the Creator, not me. I am just a little human with access to the Internet.

Are back squats enough to develop big hamstrings? Not really. If your lifetime goal is to build the best hamstrings you can have other exercises such as Romanian deadlifts, Good Morning and sprints are in order. However, back squats are still much better than chaining yourself to the leg curl machine, and they certainly provide a decent amount of work for your hamstrings.

Another evidence that the back squat works the posterior chain, which includes the hamstrings, is that it has a very good carryover to the deadlift.

Imagine the following situation: an individual decides to only do squats as a lower body exercise and after a while gets his squat to 350 lbs for a few deep reps. There is no doubt that this person will have easy time deadlifting at least 300 lbs or even more without having done the exercise previously. How would that be possible, if the squat does not work the posterior chain which is one of the main movers during deadlifts?

Calm down, cowboy!

In the end of the day you will never really have to do only once exercise for your legs. If you can do barbell squats, you have the equipment needed to also perform Romanian deadlifts, regular deadlifts and Good Mornings. I am not standing next to you, holding a gun, and ordering you to only do squats. Don’t worry! I don’t want to be the destroyer of anyones’s hamstring ambitions.

Related articles:

Hamstring Training For Natural Bodybuilders

Mark Rippetoe’s Hip Drive Explained

Lower body: Bodyweight Pistols Vs. Barbell Squats

To summarize:

– The barbell back squat works the hamstrings but not as much as Romanian deadlifts, Good Mornings, sprinting…etc. However, it still provides some work and the back squat has decent carryover to hamstring dominant exercise such as the deadlift.

– I am not forcing anyone to do only one exercise for their hamstrings. In fact, if you follow my posts, you will see that I am not even the biggest squat lover. However, the facts are the facts.

– People need to wake up and get out of those artificially created exercise camps where lifters spend large amount of time obsessing over different movements. Just use whatever tool you currently need.


  1. muahaha

    Personally, I find that any direct hamstring work is unnecessary. I do narrow stance squats with heels elevated, but if I go 6 months without rom deads and then test my rom dead strength, I find that it increased the same number of pounds as my squat after 6 months, despite not doing any deads. The same is true with my strength on calf raises.

    I find the same to be true with arm exercises. I do nothing but compounds with a reverse grip, but any time I test my biceps and triceps strength, it is always proportional to my chest, back and shoulder strength. Everything grows at the same rate.

    So literally, if you do compounds in a way that is most mechanically advantageous (with reverse grip for OH presses, bent rows and bench presses, and squats with heels elevated), you will work every muscle in your body evenly, making supplementary work completely unnecessary. It’s a huge time saver when you only need to do 4 exercises. You also make faster progress because you’re expending less energy to trigger a growth response, which means you cut into your reserves less for recovery, which means you have more left over for repair and growth.

    It’s why lots of trainers tell noobs to stick with compounds in the beginning: you get the most bang for your buck, and reduce your chances of overtraining. It works the same way for advanced lifters, but people get carried away with the “more is better” mindset.

  2. ThreeMoves

    Agreed. Olympic-style back squat, flat bench, and dumbbell rows make have the greatest bang for the buck. Everything related lift goes up when these three lifts go up.

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