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17 Powerful Hamstring Exercises For Women

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17 Powerful Hamstring Exercises For Women
Hamstring Exercises

The lower half of your body contains some of your biggest muscles including your glutes, hamstrings and quads. This is why it can be really important to strengthen your lower body for your overall physical health, performance and balance. All good reasons never to skip a leg day!

While glute strength and glute activation may be a popular focus area for many women, hamstring strength is equally as important and can sometimes be overlooked.

Continue reading to learn how to perform some of the most valuable hamstring exercises you can use to develop lower body strength at home and the gym.

Hamstring exercises you can do at home

As one of the larger muscle groups in your body, your hamstrings will respond well to working out with heavier weights. But that doesn't mean you can't give your hamstrings a tough workout at home using minimal equipment or just your bodyweight.

Try these leg exercises to strengthen your hamstring muscles at home.

Good Mornings

Good Mornings

This hip-hinging exercise primarily targets the hamstrings, but benefits the glutes and lower back muscles as well.

What you need: a wooden dowel.

  1. With a wooden dowel resting across both shoulders, plant both feet on the floor hip-width apart. Draw your shoulder blades down and back to push your chest out slightly. This is your starting position.
  2. Inhale. Bend your knees slightly and set this as a fixed angle. Without changing the angle of your knees, hinge forward from your hips. Ensure that you maintain a proud chest and that your head is an extension of your spine. You should feel tension in your hamstrings (back of your legs).
  3. Exhale. Push through your heels and, using your glutes and hamstrings, extend your hips to return to the starting position. 

Aim to complete 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Glute Bridge

Glute Bridge

This bridge exercise may more commonly be used for glute activation, but it's also really useful for strenghtening your hamstrings. Because this exercise doesn't require any equipment at all, it can be done anywhere.

How to do a glute bridge:

  1. Start by lying flat on your back on a yoga mat. Bend your knees and position your feet firmly on the mat, ensuring that they are hip-width apart and your spine is in a neutral position. Allow your arms to rest by your sides on the mat. This is your starting position.

  2. Inhale. Set your T-zone. Exhale. Press your heels into the mat, activate your glutes and raise your pelvis off the floor until your body forms one straight line from chin to knee, resting on your shoulders.
  3. Inhale. Lower your pelvis to return to the starting position. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.
Learn more: Bridge Exercises: Benefits, How To Do It & Variations
Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell Swing

Performing a kettlebell swing correctly is all about the hips, and the hamstring muscles will see most of the benefits from a well-performed kettlebell swing.

What you need: a kettlebell.

  1. Holding a kettlebell directly in front of your body, plant both feet on the floor slightly further than shoulder-width apart. Inhale. While maintaining a slight bend in your knees, tilt forwards from your hips and allow the kettlebell to gently swing backwards between your legs. This is your starting position.

  2. Exhale. Using your glutes and hamstrings, extend your legs and hips to swing the kettlebell forwards and upwards to shoulder height.

  3. Inhale. Bend your knees and tilt forward from your hips to lower the kettlebell and return to the starting position. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions, ensuring that your glutes and hamstrings power the movement and you are not lifting the kettlebell with your arms and shoulders.

Stiff-legged deadlift (with dumbbells)

Stiff-legged deadlift (with dumbbells)

While the deadlift is arguably the key exercise to include in any posterior chain workout, this stiff-legged variation allows you to concentrate more on the hamstrings.

What you need: a pair of dumbbells.

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip (palms facing towards your body) in front of your legs, plant both feet on the floor slightly further than shoulder-width apart. Draw your shoulder blades down and back to push your chest out slightly. This is your starting position.

  2. Inhale. Bending from the hips only, allow the dumbbells to run along the length of your thighs and halfway down your shins, ensuring that you maintain a proud chest and that your head is an extension of your spine. You should feel tension in your hamstrings (back of your legs).

  3. As you reach halfway down your shins, exhale. Push through your heels and, using your glutes and hamstrings, extend your knees and hips to return to the starting position. Ensure that the dumbbells remain in contact with your legs. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.

Romanian Kettlebell deadlift

Romanian Kettlebell deadlift

Similar to the stiff-legged deadlift, this variation on the exercise allows you to focus on the hamstrings and hinging of the hips.

What you need: a kettlebell.

  1. Holding a kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip (palms facing towards your body) in front of your legs, plant both feet on the floor slightly further than shoulder-width apart. Draw your shoulder blades down and back to push your chest out slightly. This is your starting position.

  2. Inhale. Bending from the hips only, allow the kettlebell to run along the length of your thighs and halfway down your shins, ensuring that you maintain a proud chest and that your head is an extension of your spine. You should feel tension in your hamstrings (back of your legs).

  3. As you reach halfway down your shins, exhale. Push through your heels and, using your glutes and hamstrings, extend your knees and hips to return to the starting position. Ensure that the kettlebell remains in contact with your legs. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.

Single-leg deadlift

Single-leg deadlift

This deadlift variation is surprisingly difficult for the much lower weight you'd typically perform the exercise with. The extra balance and stability needed for the exercise is what makes it challenging.

What you need: you can perform this exercise with a dumbbell, kettlebell or your own bodyweight.
 

  1. Hold a dumbbell with your left hand in a neutral grip (palm facing inward) and place your right hand on your hip, planting both feet on the floor shoulder-width apart. This is your starting position.

  2. Inhale. Bend your left knee slightly and set this as a fixed angle. Without changing the angle of your left knee, hinge forward from your hips until your torso is parallel to the floor, extending your right leg behind you. At the same time, extend your left arm and the dumbbell towards the floor. Ensure that you keep your hips level, maintain a proud chest and that your head is an extension of your spine. You should feel tension in your left hamstring (back of your leg).

  3. Exhale. Push through your left heel and, using your glute and hamstrings, extend your hips to return to the starting position. Complete half of the specified repetitions on the same side before completing the remaining repetitions on the other side.

Hamstring Curl (fitball)

Hamstring Curl (fitball)

This glute and hamstring exercise is not as easy as it may look, but it's a fantastic addition to any posterior chain workout.

What you need: a fitball.

  1. Start by lying flat on your back on a yoga mat with your feet elevated on a fitball. Allow your arms to rest by your sides on the mat.

  2. Inhale. Using your glutes and hamstrings, gently raise your hips off the floor so that you are resting on your upper back and your body forms one straight line from head to toe. This is your starting position.

  3. Exhale. While keeping your feet together and hips elevated, bend your knees to bring your feet in towards your glutes. This movement will cause the fitball to roll in towards you.

  4. Inhale. Extend your knees to return to the starting position, ensuring that your hips remain elevated. This movement will cause the fitball to roll away from you.

Aim to complete 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Bulgarian Split Squat

Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is a compound exercise that requires balance and also works your quads. It can take a little while to find the right foot placement, but this is an effective lower body exercise once you do.

What you need: dumbbells and a bench or chair.

  1. With a bench placed horizontally behind you and holding a dumbbell in each hand, plant both feet on the floor shoulder-width apart. Carefully step your right foot backwards, allowing the ball of your foot to rest on top of the bench. Carefully shuffle your left foot forward, if needed.

  2. Extend your arms by your sides to hold the dumbbells in a neutral grip (palms facing inwards). This is your starting position.

  3. Inhale. Bend both knees to approximately 90 degrees, ensuring that your weight is evenly distributed between both legs. When done correctly, your front knee will be aligned with your ankle.

  4. Exhale. Push through the heel of your left foot and toe of your right foot to extend both legs and return to the starting position.

Aim to complete 10-12 repetitions on one side, before completing the remaining repetitions on the other side. 

Repeat this for a total of 3 sets.

Single leg glute bridge

Single leg glute bridge

This variation of the glute bridge doubles the work done by each leg during the exercise - without adding any weights.

How to do a single leg glute bridge:

  1. Lie flat on your back on a yoga mat. Bend your left knee and position your foot firmly on the mat, extending your right leg directly in front of you or to the ceiling, ensuring your spine is in a neutral position. Allow your arms to rest by your sides on the mat. This is your starting position.

  2. Inhale. Exhale. Press your left heel into the mat, activate your glutes and raise your pelvis off the floor until your body forms one straight line from chin to knee, resting on your shoulders.

  3. Inhale. Lower your pelvis to return to the starting position. Complete half of the specified repetitions on the same side before completing the remaining repetitions on the other side.

Single leg box squat

Single leg box squat

Try this single leg squat using your own bodyweight or increase the amount of weight by holding a plate, dumbbell or kettlebell throughout the movement.

What you need: a bench or chair. Weights optional.

  1. Place a bench horizontally behind you. Holding a weight plate with both hands against your chest, plant both feet on the floor hip-width apart before releasing your left foot so that you are balancing on your right leg. This is your starting position.

  2. Inhale. Keeping your left leg extended, bend at your hips and right knee, ensuring that your knee remains in line with your toes. Continue bending your knee until you are able to lightly sit on the bench behind you, ensuring that your back remains between a 45- to 90-degree angle to your hips.

  3. Exhale. Push through the heel of your right foot and extend your leg to return to the starting position. Complete half of the specified number of repetitions on the same side, before completing the remaining repetitions on the other side.

Hamstring exercises to do at the gym

The following gym-based exercises are some of the most powerful hamstring strengthening exercises that you can do. Try to incorporate these into your lower body or full body days with a focus on good form. Remember, it’s highly recommended that you perform a warm-up before any weights session!

These exercises will require a good range of gym equipment, but the extra resistance they provide will help you see more progress. Just remember, in order to see and feel results you need to consistently and regularly work this area, with the correct form.

Learn more: How To Use Gym Equipment For Beginners
Conventional Deadlift

Conventional Deadlift

The conventional deadlift is the OG posterior chain exercises. As a powerful compound exercise, your whole body will benefit from performing deadlifts.

What you need: a barbell.

  1. Holding a barbell with both hands in an overhand grip (palms facing towards your body) in front of your legs, plant both feet on the floor shoulder-width apart. Draw your shoulder blades down and back to push your chest out slightly. This is your starting position.
  2. Inhale. Bend your knees slightly and set this as a fixed angle. Without changing the angle of your knees, hinge forwards from your hips and allow the barbell to run along the length of your thighs and halfway down your shins. Ensure that you maintain a proud chest and that your head is an extension of your spine. You should feel tension in your hamstrings.
  3. As you reach halfway down your shins, exhale. Push through your heels and, using your glutes and hamstrings, extend your knees and hips to return to the starting position. Ensure that the barbell remains in contact with your legs.

Aim to complete 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Hamstring Curl (leg curl machine)

Hamstring Curl (leg curl machine)

No leg day at the gym is complete without a couple of sets on the prone leg curl machine! Make sure you have the machine set up well and comfortably before you begin.

What you need: a leg curl machine.

  1. Begin lying in a prone position (face down) on the leg curl machine. Place your legs under the circular leg pad so that your legs are straight and the pad is resting between your calf and your ankle. Place both hands on the handles. This is your starting position.
  2. Inhale.
  3. Exhale. While keeping your torso as still as possible, bend your knees and push the circular pad up to bring your heels towards your glutes. You should feel tension in your hamstrings.
  4. Inhale. Slowly extend your knees to return to the starting position.

Aim to complete 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Seated Leg Curl

Seated leg curl

If lying in a prone position in a busy gym isn't how you like to spend your leg day, the seated leg curl is another great machine for exercising your hamstrings.

What you need: a seated leg curl machine.

  1. Begin in a seated position on the leg curl machine, ensuring that your back is firmly pressed into the back pad. Place your legs on the circular leg pad so that your legs are straight and the pad is resting between your calf and your ankle. Adjust the position of the lap pad so that it is resting on top of your thighs, but above your knees. Place both hands on the handles. This is your starting position.

  2. Inhale. Exhale. While keeping your torso as still as possible, bend your knees and push the circular pad down to bring your heels towards your glutes. You should feel tension in your hamstrings (on the underside of your legs).

  3. Inhale. Slowly extend your knees to return to the starting position. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.

Cable Pull Through

Cable pull through

Upper body exercises like face-pulls, tricep pushdowns and cable flies are usually among the most popular cable machine exercises, but the cable pull through shows just how useful it is for working your hamstrings too.

What you need: a cable machine.

  1. Connect the rope attachment and set the cable pulley at the bottom of the pole. Turn to face away from the cable pulley. Standing one step away, plant both feet on the floor slightly further than shoulder-width apart, ensuring that you have one foot on either side of the cable pulley. Place both hands on the rope with a neutral grip (palms facing inwards) and find a neutral standing position, holding the rope directly in front of your body with arms extended. This is your starting position.

  2. Inhale. While maintaining a slight bend in your knees, hinge forward from your hips until your torso is parallel to the floor.

  3. Once your torso is parallel with the floor, exhale. Push through your heels and, using your glutes and hamstrings, extend your hips to return to the starting position, ensuring that your arms remain extended and relaxed. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.

Sumo Deadlift

Sumo deadlift

A small change in your stance can make a big difference to your deadlift. Try this variation instead of a conventional deadlift on your next leg day.

What you need: a barbell.

  1. Holding a barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing towards your body) in front of your legs, plant both feet on the floor further than hip-width apart. Point both feet slightly outward. This is your starting position.

  2. Inhale. Bending from the hips only, allow the barbell to run along the length of your thighs. Once the barbell reaches your knees, bend your knees and allow it to run halfway down the length of your shins. Ensure that you maintain a proud chest and that your head is an extension of your spine.

  3. As you reach halfway down your shins, exhale. Push through your heels and, using your glutes and hamstrings, extend your knees and hips to return to the starting position. Ensure that the barbell remains in contact with your legs.

Aim to complete 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Barbell Glute Bridge

Barbell glute bridge

What's the simplest way to take your glute bridge to the next level? Adding extra weight with a barbell.

What you need: a barbell.

  1. Start by lying flat on your back on a yoga mat. Bend your knees and position your feet firmly on the mat, ensuring that they are hip-width apart and your spine is in a neutral position. Lay a barbell across your hip bones, holding it with an overhand grip (palms facing towards your body). This is your starting position.

  2. Inhale. Exhale. Press your heels into the mat, activate your glutes and raise your pelvis off the floor until your body forms one straight line from chin to knee, resting on your shoulders.

  3. Inhale. Lower your pelvis to return to the starting position. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.

Barbell Hip Thrust

Barbell hip thrust

This glute and hamstring exercise may look similar to a glute bridge, but both have a place in a good lower body program. Like deadlifts, this is one exercise where you'll enjoy seeing the weight you can lift increase over time.

What you need: a barbell and a bench.

  1. Begin seated on the ground, with a bench placed horizontally behind you, and your knees bent. Lay a barbell across your hips, holding it with both hands on either side of your hips. You may wish to place a pad or towel around the bar to increase comfort. With knees bent and feet firmly planted on the floor, lean back onto the bench so that it is gently pressing into your upper back. This is your starting position.

  2. Inhale. Exhale. Holding onto the barbell, press your heels into the mat and raise your hips off the floor until your body forms one straight line from chin to knee, resting your shoulders on the bench and ensuring that your head is an extension of your spine.

  3. Inhale. Lower your hips to return to the starting position, but without resting your glutes on the mat. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.

What are my hamstring muscles?

Your hamstrings are a posterior muscle group, located at the back of your thigh. They are made up of three muscles: the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris. These muscle groups work together in important movements including extending your hips, tilting your pelvis and bending your knees. 

Why should I exercise my hamstrings?

Healthy hamstrings should be strong but also flexible — if your muscle fibres can easily lengthen and contract, there is less risk of muscle tears. That's why doing hamstring exercises is important; by strengthening this muscle area, you may help reduce the risk of physical injury.

In particular, if you are a runner, performing hamstring strengthening exercises can help to improve your speed and running stride. 

Developing strong hamstrings is really important for your overall fitness — strong hamstrings can help improve your functional movement which means that you are less likely to be over-reliant on other muscle areas when you move. This over-reliance may contribute to injuries or muscle tightness in those areas and may make it hard to progress through your workouts.

Don’t worry — developing hamstring strength doesn’t necessarily mean you will appear ‘bulky’ or ‘big’. In fact, it may help create more balance and can help your lower body to appear leaner.

How do I strengthen my hamstrings?

As with any muscle development, the key to getting stronger and more defined hamstrings is through progressive overloading. 

In order to progress, your body needs to be forced to adapt to a pressure above what it has previously experienced. This means gradually increasing the physical workout demands on your body over time — in order to gain strength, size and endurance, you will need to gradually lift heavier weights, or lift the same weights but for more reps. 

The goal is to constantly challenge your body with extra pressure so that it is forced to adapt and doesn’t become too ‘comfortable’.

Strengthen your legs with hamstring exercises

Whether you prefer to workout at home or enjoy a challenging leg day at the gym, including a range of hamstring exercises in your workouts is important to developing strength and stability.

Now you know some of the best hamstring exercises, you can put them into practice! Remember, the best way to achieve results with your fitness is a regular routine so be patient and stay focused on your journey.

Many hamstring exercises also involve the glute muscles, so be sure to include some glute stretches  as well as stretching your hamstrings before or after your workouts for the best results and recovery!

* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.

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