I’d say hamstrings (and glutes) are my favourite muscles to train. Having shaped hamstrings kicks ass over bulky quads in my opinion, for both aesthetics and athletics.
The three muscles of the posterior thigh (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris long & short head) flex the knee, while all but the short head of biceps femurs extend the hip. The three ‘true’ hamstrings cross both the hip and the knee joint and are therefore involved in knee flexion and hip extension. The short head of the biceps femoris crosses only one joint (the knee) and is therefore not involved in hip extension. The hamstrings are made up of a high percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers and therefore respond best when trained with heavy loads.
FUNCTIONS OF GOOD HAMSTRINGS
– They’re key decelerators. In other words, the stronger your hamstrings are, the faster you can stop and change direction.
– Forward propulsion during maximum speed running. The glutes and hamstrings are really the two main sprinting muscles.
– Stabilize the knee joint and help to prevent ACL injuries.
– Transfer power from the knee to the hip joint
– Can rotate the lower leg medially or laterally (when the knee is bent).
– Strong hamstrings, glutes, and lower back are key to both being fast and lifting heavy weights in the deadlift and the squat
– They look awesome.
HAMSTRING STRENGTH & CONDITIONING
- GLUTE-HAM RAISES (eg. 6-12rep x 3-5set) Push with the calves, then hams then glutes and reverse order on the way up. Keep your hips extended. Add weight, bands, chains for more resistance. Because of the high amount of fast twitch fibers, the hamstrings respond well to eccentric work.
- Glute-ham raise / harrop curl with bands: If you don’t have a G-H raise machine, there are ways you can improvise. Grab a strong power band and attach it to a harness, hook the power band to the top of a chin-up bar and secure your feet under something solid. You can also just do this exercise with a partner holding your shins/ankles down as you eccentrically lower yourself to the ground and use your hands to help push you up (just enough) to the point where your hamstrings can take over and return you to the torso upright position.
- SLED PULLING
- With hands behind back or below knees while holding onto strap.
- Upright Sled Walking – this is best achieved by wearing a harness. When you begin pulling, keep your body as upright as possible and “pull” the ground toward you as you walk as a dog would on a leash.
- BAND LEG CURLS – repetition method.
- ROMANIAN DEADLIFT
The Romanian deadlift is controlled from the hips, the butt is “punched” backwards causing the torso to lower and then pulled back in to return to upright. This is not a straight-legged deadlift, where the movement is initiated by lowering the upper body in an attempt to maintain the hips’ position in space; the butt is not punched backwards. In either movement, you want to minimize knee bend so that the posterior chain can take the grunt of the load; however, in a Romanian deadlift, the knees are allowed to bend further if necessary, especially when flexibility is inadequate.
- OVERHEAD 45 DEGREE INVERSE HAMSTRING CURL
Keep the hips in line with the shoulders at the top of the movement and prevent the lower back from going into hyperextension. The knees should be slightly bent and the hips should come off the pad slightly at the top, with this extra motion being initiated from the hamstrings and glutes and not from the lumbar erectors. Holding the weight overhead increases the difficulty by increasing the lever length, effectively making lighter weights feel heavier. This also engages the posterior shoulder complex, lower traps, and erector spinae.
- HEAVY REVERSE HYPEREXTENSIONs (eg. 6-10reps x 2-6set) These work your lower back as well as your glutes and hamstrings and traction out the spine between each eccentric-concentric action. These machines are also used in rehabilitation for back injuries since they have this traction effect.
- PULL THROUGHS WITH LEGS STRAIGHT
Having bent legs with work more the glutes (less hamstrings since they are already shortened), having straight legs will work more the lower back and hamstrings. Face away from the cable machine (or band attached to something secure) with the cable (or band) held between your legs. Bend over so that your back rounds out, straighten your back so that you have a neutral spine and hip extension. Here is a video of the Pull-Through with straight legs and a video of the Pull-Through with bent legs below.
Keep training that posterior chain and don’t abandon it ever again. Rotate your exercises and don’t just stick to your favourites. If your body is not changing or your strength is not going up, you need to change your training. Strong hamstrings, glutes, and lower back are key to both being fast and lifting heavy. -MD