(This article was featured at Muscle and Strength.)
The hamstrings are a completely forgotten muscle when it comes to the average person and training. Most folks do not even know the name of this important muscle.
Most men ignore them completely (which is why washed-up weekend warriors playing flag football almost always pull the muscle) and why most women who are so worried about the adductor/abductor machines that they ignore the rest of their legs especially the hammies.
Hamstrings make up an important part of the posterior chain and therefore should not be ignored. Weak hammies will result in a higher injury rate and pathetic performances. Those with bad hamstrings do not excel.
The hamstrings along with the glutes are involved heavily in sprinting. They propel the engine forward.
You will never see an elite sprinter or sprint based athlete who does not have a well-developed posterior chain. You will never see a woman or man who will not do a double take to look at that chain.
Fellas, why do you think YOUR girlfriend enjoys watching the Olympics or the NFL on Sunday? Ladies why do you think your man is salivating over watching the women’s 100-meter finals?
It is the posterior chain! And a great one will attract attention. So now the question is how can we build those stunning hamstrings? The following movements will get you the hams you want!
The 6 Moves needed to Save your Hamstrings
Your hamstrings will receive a lot of indirect work from full squats, deadlifts, and even stretch lunges. But to hit them harder to force them to grow and develop you need to incorporate the following movements:
1. Sprints: Sprints are the ultimate hamstring developer. As I stated earlier, look at the legs of sprinters. Even the sprinter in last place has pretty developed hamstrings. And this goes all the way down to the high school level.
Sprints are a tough move so they are avoided by the majority. But it is my main hamstring RX when someone is lagging badly in their hamstring development.
Hamstrings are mainly trained in 3 fashions; sprinting, hip extension, and knee flexion. You will need a combination of all 3 to develop superior hamstrings with sprinting being the main piece to the puzzle.
My number one protocol for clients and people in general when they complain of flat, weak hams is to add sprints into their program 3 days a week for 6 months. They always end up with much-improved hams even if I do not add other specific hamstring movements.
2. Romanian Deadlift: RDL’s are the ultimate developer of the hamstrings in the gym. This is a hip extension movement. They are very similar to a standard Deadlift except that your legs remain only slightly bent the entire time.
Your goal is to truly get a deep stretch in the hamstrings on every rep. The rep should be powerful and you should feel the hamstrings working during the eccentric and concentric portion of the rep. You can load up pretty heavy on this move too. I have worked up to 405lbs for reps.
3. Glute Ham Raise: Now, I do not ever feel this in my glutes. But oh my hammies! I feel it should be renamed to just the Ham Raise. I did not do this move consistently until 2008 and I wish I would have known about it during my track and field years.
Ham Raises are the knee flexion part of the puzzle. This is a great hamstring isolator and will tell you how strong your hamstrings really are.
The standard gym will not have a separate glute ham developer to perform the move. I typically perform them on the lat pulldown machine. The part of the machine that holds your legs down on a lat pull will hold your ankles down in a glute ham raise.
Initially, you may even need to start on the floor with someone holding your ankles until you develop the proper strength. The rep should be smooth with a minimal push at the bottom of the exercise. Those with great strength will be able to come up without a push.
4. Good Morning: Good Mornings are another excellent hamstrings developer. The good morning is very popular in powerlifting due to the strength it builds in the chain. You rarely see it in the standard gym and if you do it probably looks atrocious.
Doing this movement with bad form will result in a major injury. Controlling the weight, maintaining a flat, tight back, stretching the hamstrings, and exploding up with force are the keys to a proper good morning.
5. Single Leg Dumbbell RDL: SLRDLs (a lot of letters) allow you truly work the hamstrings. While holding a dumbbell in each hand you will have your foot elevated on a bench. The movement is very similar to the RDL except that now you have dumbbells and your foot is elevated. The reps should be controlled and not all herky-jerky.
On the way up, concentrate on not standing all the way up to keep tension on the hamstrings. That continuous tension will make the muscles work overtime and lead to stronger, and better-looking hamstrings. And you will also have involvement from the glutes too.
Movements are like the food chain in the jungle. Sprints, RDLs, and GHRs are at the top of the chain when it comes to hamstring movements. Leg curls are a decent move for hamstring isolation, but they will not be dethroning the kings anytime soon.
Sample Training method to grow HAMS
You will perform these workouts as additional hamstring based sessions during the week. Your first leg session of the week will be hamstring based. Your second one will be squat based and your third will be the sprint session.
Ideally, perform your hamstring based session on a Tuesday, your squat based session on a Friday, and your sprint session on Sunday to allow for good recovery. I recommend you run this scheme for 6-9 weeks and I will provide the workouts for the hamstring and sprinting days. For the hamstring specialization day:
A) Perform Conventional Deadlifts using RP-21 main scheme (7×3). Load a barbell with a weight that will allow you possibly 6-10 reps max. You will perform one set to failure. Rest 20-30 seconds and then perform another set to failure. You will rest once more 20-30 seconds and repeat one more set to failure. Game over. Your rep count should be something like 7, 4, 3.
B) Perform a superset of RDL’s and Glute Ham Raises using the RP-21 accessory scheme (6×5.) Perform 6 sets and rest only 30 seconds in between movements and 60-90 seconds between sets.
When you can complete all 30 reps, you can add more weight or use longer eccentrics to truly stress the hammies tremendously. You do not want to reach failure early on but you may reach it on the later sets. Really focus on the negative portion of this movement.
Day 2: Perform one of these sprint based sessions on the sprint day.
A) Perform flying 30-meter sprints. Flying 30-meter sprint x 6-8 reps. You will run these on the turn leading into the straightaway. Accelerate into the turn, and you should be full speed by the time you reach the 100-meter start line. Rest is the walk back.
B) Perform hill sprints x 6-10 reps. There a great hill around my area at Upper Moreland High School. The “U.” The “U” has no friends and has repeatedly made me scream for years. It is about 250 meters long.
I have done intervals from 25-250 meters. For you, find an incline hill and alternate the distance each week. I recommend 30-100 yards. Rest is the walk back.
C) Perform 100-meter sprints for 10 reps. Your speed here should be about 70-80 percent of your max sprinting speed. The rest is the walk back.
You do not have to have flat, weak hamstrings forever. The right mix of hard work, consistency, and patience will have you to where you need to be!
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