Unlike the arm biceps, the leg biceps (hamstrings) are not very popular among muscle worshipers. The bros just don’t care that much about the lower body. On top of everything, the hamstrings’ location at the back of the leg assigns them a stealthy role for the most part. This diminishes the incentive to work the hamstrings as much as other muscles. However, the hamstrings are of utmost importance for compound exercises like squats and deadlifts.
The hamstring has two main functions – hip extension and knee flexion. During the deadlift and the squat, it acts as a hip extensor whereas the leg curl forces the hamstring to work as a knee flexor.
A complete leg workout trains both functions, although the role as a hip extensor is more important since it carries over to many athletic activities (e.g., sprinting, jumping, running…etc.)
Nevertheless, leg curling is also beneficial because it works the tendons at the back of the knee and improves the stability of the joint.
There are many hamstring exercises that will help in your quest for posterior leg strength. If you have access to a gym, the most straight forward movement would be the Romanian deadlift.
The Romanian deadlift is a fairly simple exercise. The most important part of its execution is keeping the back in a neutral position even if that equals a reduced range of motion. This technique will protect your spine and keep the tension on the hamstrings.
The hamstring has two ends – one at the hip and one at the knee. When you’re performing Romanian deadlifts, you’re mostly using the one at the hip. However, when you lose the proper back position, all hamstring tension is instantly released. You can find more information on this topic here.
Another popular hamstring exercise would be the good morning. In general, it’s a safe drill but not as safe as the Romanian deadlift. If something happens during Romanian deadlifts, you can simply let go of the bar to free yourself. The good morning does not provide this option. To do this exercise safely, you need a power rack with safety pins set at the right height or at least very good spotters.
If you don’t have access to a gym, you can do T-handle or kettlebell swings. Obviously, swings are not a strength exercise since they are done with a lighter weight for a high number of reps, but the hamstrings are still working incredibly hard because the movement requires explosiveness.
If you want to train only with bodyweight exercises, sprints are a good choice. When you sprint, the posterior chain drives you forward. The hamstring and the glutes get a really good workout.
People who are not used to sprints may experience an unbearable soreness after their first session. Sometimes the soreness is so severe that you can feel every fiber of your hamstrings from top to bottom.
Note: The hamstrings have a very high concentration of fast twitch fibers. This means that the primary function of the muscle are fast and explosive movements such as sprints. That’s why experts recommend training the hamstrings in the 6-8 rep range. High reps are endurance work targeting the less dominant slow twitch fibers.
FAQ: Are squats a good hamstring exercise?
The barbell back squat works the hamstrings but not nearly as much as the deadlift. If you want to focus specifically on hamstring strength, the squat is not the best option since it’s more of a glute & quad dominant exercise.
Note: The front squat works the hamstring very little and is a poor choice as a posterior leg exercise.