The hamstrings, at the back of your upper legs, are muscles that can easily be neglected in favor of the flasher muscles at the front of the body. Because we can’t see them, there may be an inclination to throw in a few token sets at the end of our legs workouts. If you’re a serious bodybuilder, however, you will give the hamstrings, to get strong hamstrings, just as much attention as any other muscle group.
In this article, we analyze some common hamstring training exercises to sort out the best to strengthen your hamstring so you can incorporate in your legs routine.
What You Need to Know About the Hamstrings
The hamstrings are a group of four muscles on the back of the upper leg. The scientific names of these muscles are:
The biceps femoris long head originates on the pelvis, while the short head originates on the femur bone. They both insert at the head of the fibula, which is one of the two lower leg bones. The other two muscles both originate on the pelvis and insert on the tiba, which is the larger of the two lower leg bones.
All four of the hamstring muscles work together to cause knee flexion. This brings the heel of the foot back and up toward the butt. The hamstrings also lay a minor role in hip flexion and extension.
In order to work the hamstrings, you must simulate its natural biomechanical movement, which is to have a bend in your knees. Yet, the positioning of the hips is also important. Because the hamstrings cross over the hip joint, its position affects the length of the hammies. When the hip angle is straight (such as when you are lying down) the hammies start the action from an overly shortened position.
Ok, let’s rate some leg training exercises so you know which ones you should incorporate in your leg day workouts
Stiff Legged Deadlift – Rating: 4
The stiff legged deadlift has been regarded as a top notch hamstring exercise for decades. It isn’t. As I just mentioned, the hamstrings only play a minor role in hip extension. When you lift the weight on this exercise, the hamstrings are not involved. It is the glutes and adductors that are doing the lifting on this exercise – your hammies are getting a free ride.
There is some hamstring shortening when you perform the stiff legged deadlift. But this is nowhere near enough to stimulate any sort of muscle growth. For that to happen the exercise would have to follow the natural anatomical motion of the hamstrings and that, as we have already identified, is knee flexion.
For the same reason, the kettlebell swing and the Romanian deadlift are not effective hamstring movements. Neither are glute bridges, which involve no knee flexion at all.
Lying Leg Curl – Rating:7
For many years this exercise was the go to hamstring exercise. A couple of decades ago, however, the seated leg curl machine was developed. Yet, you can still find the lying leg curl machine in most gyms. When you get into the start position of this exercise, you are lying on the bench in a prone position. This puts your hamstrings in an over shortened position. As you progress through the exercise, the hamstring over shortening gets more pronounced. At the same time, the quads over stretch.
These factors make it not a very good exercise for the hamstrings.
How to do the Lying Leg Curl
Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl – Rating: 4
The Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl may seem like a good alternative to the seated leg curl. However, there are a couple of problems with this version of the exercise. In the start position of this exercise, your knees are straight. The hamstrings can now only pull on the lower leg insertion. The force requirement on the hamstrings is at least six times greater than if your knees were bent. In this position, too, your lower leg is nearly perpendicular to gravity.
The combination of these two factors places an inordinate amount of pressure on the hamstrings and the ligaments of the knee. This could quite easily cause a nasty injury such as a hamstring tear.
Even more dangerous would be to do the Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl with one leg at a time. The truth, however, is that you should never do this exercise. The same thing applies to doing this exercise with equipment like the TRX suspension strap – don’t do it!
Seated Leg Curl – Rating: 10
This exercise overcomes the problems associated with other hamstring exercises. Unlike the stiff legged deadlift, it directly simulates the anatomical movement of the hamstring muscles. The seated position of the exercise also provides for a much better stretch of the hammies than you can get when you perform the lying leg curl exercise.
The seated angle that you are in on the seated leg curl also puts you in a much better angle to fully contract the hamstrings at the bottom of the rep than the lying version of this movement. When you do the lying version, your hips will naturally lift as you curl the hamstrings up, which make it difficult to fully contract. Back in the old days, a training partner would actually sit on the trainer’s butt to push your hips down. This is a terrible idea as it places an inordinate amount of stress on the erector spinae and the spinal vertebrae.
To maximize the hamstring stretch hold onto the handles and pull your torso slightly forward as you perform your reps.
Overall this exercise is the safest, most effective and most comfortable hamstring exercise that exists.
How to do the Seated Leg Curl
The hamstrings are an important muscle group that should not be neglected. Doing so would provide a weak link in the lower body. This can cause such problems as torn hamstrings when the quads are strength dominant in the lower body.
The best exercise to perform in your hamstring workout is the seated leg curl. Be sure to sit forward, with your lower back slightly arched and chest out when you do the exercise to provide for full extension and contraction. You should include both high and low reps, ranging from 30 to 6 reps per set.
SmartFitnessResults provides you with exercises for women and men based on professional qualifications and experience. If you are looking for total body exercises read more of our articles. We have how to articles (for example how to do the Bulgarian split squat, barbell hip thrusts, how to use resistance bands); and best exercises for you to follow (for example best chest workouts, best quad exercises, best leg exercises to strengthen your legs)
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