Learn the 15 Best Hamstring Exercises for Power, Muscle, and Health
If you have weak hamstrings, then there’s a strong chance you’re not maxing out on your strength potential for squats and deadlifts. Plus, lack of hamstring eccentric strength is a known cause of hamstrings strains. Paying attention to them is great for performance, aesthetics, and injury prevention.
Since the hamstrings are extensors at the hip and flexors at the knees, they play an important role in your performance, so it pays to train both ways. With some help from multi-powerlifting world record holder Dr. Stefi Cohen, we break down the best hamstring exercises below for performance, strength, and hypertrophy.
Best Hamstring Exercises
- Lying Leg Curl
- Hamstring Slide
- Toes-Elevated Dumbbell RDL
- Dumbbell Good Morning
- Razor Curl
- Single-Leg Stability Ball Curl
- Nordic Hamstring Curl
- Eccentric Hip Extension Hamstring Curl With Sliders
- Kettlebell Swing
- Glute-Hamstring Raise
- Barbell Good Morning
- Romanian Deadlift
- Single-Leg Deadlift Romanian Deadlift
- Cable Pull-Through
- Banded Hamstring Curl
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.
Hamstring Exercises Video
In the video below, former BarBend Editor Jake Boly demonstrates five of the following moves as Cohen walks you through how and why to do them.
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Lying Leg Curl
The lying leg curl is underappreciated, and it’s often done with poor form. But when performed correctly and with a full range of motion, this exercise strengthens your hamstring and calf muscles. Make sure your upper body and hips are locked in, and the movement only comes from your hamstrings, which is the key to making this exercise more effective.
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Benefits of the Lying Leg Curl
- The lying leg curl isolates and strengthens the hamstrings as knee flexors.
- It helps improve hamstring flexibility when used with a full ROM.
- Trains the calf muscles.
How to Do the Lying Leg Curl
Lie down on the leg curl machine with the back of your ankles underneath the pad and place the hips down onto the pad. Draw the belly button inwards to avoid movement compensations. Curl the weight towards your glutes quickly and then slowly lower on the eccentric, then pause at the bottom and repeat.
The Hamstring slide trains your hamstrings as a knee flexor and a hip extender, strengthening your hamstrings in two ways. This exercise is easier than the razor curl (see below). It is a good exercise to start with when you’re looking to improve your eccentric hamstring strength — which, again, is the type of strength you want to focus on to prevent hamstring strains (since the lengthened position is where your hamstrings are weakest). Another benefit is that it requires no weight to load the muscle, so it’s joint-friendly.
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Benefits of Hamstrings Slides
- Increases eccentric hamstring strength to help prevent hamstring strains and improve squat and deadlift performance.
- Easier exercise to do than the razor and Nordic curl.
How to Do Hamstring Slides
Lie down on your back with your legs bent at 90 degrees and your heels underneath your knees. The heels should be on a pair of workout sliders. (If you’re doing this at home, you can place your heels on a pair of socks on a hardwood floor.) Squeeze your glutes to raise your hips and lower your heels away from your body until your legs are almost fully extended. Then flex your hamstrings to bring your heels back underneath your knees and repeat.
Toes-Elevated Dumbbell Romanian deadlift
RDL’s are a great accessory exercise for deadlifts and add strength and mass to your glutes and hamstrings. The toes-elevated variation takes this to a new level. Elevating the toes shifts the weight back on your heels, further isolating and strengthening your hamstrings. And when performed with a slow eccentric, it’ll help reinforce strength in a lengthened position to ward off unwanted strains.
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Benefits of the Toes-Elevated Dumbbell RDL
- The elevated heels further isolate the glutes and hamstrings for more muscle-building and strength potential.
- Increases hamstring eccentric strength to help prevent hamstring strains.
How to Do the Toes Elevated Dumbbell RDL
Find a 25-pound bumper plate or low platform to elevate the toes and bring the feet close together. As you hinge, reach the dumbbells out so they’re tracking over the toes instead of keeping them close to the body. Control the eccentric tempo to feel the stretch properly, pause for a second in the bottom position, and hinge back up.
Dumbbell Good Morning
The barbell good morning is a great exercise to load the hamstrings, but not everyone has the shoulder mobility to reach behind them to stabilize the barbell. Or, after all the compressive/shear load on the spine from squatting and deadlifting, your spine needs a break. Enter the dumbbell good morning, which engages the anterior core, trains the same muscles as the barbell version but without the load on your spine. Having the weight anteriorly makes you more aware of upper body positioning too.
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Benefits of the Dumbbell Good Morning
- Positioning of the dumbbell engages the anterior core and is easier on the lower back and shoulders than the barbell variation.
- Strengthens the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes at the same time.
How to Do the Dumbbell Good Morning
Hold a heavy dumbbell against your chest, keeping your shoulders down and chest up. Maintaining a soft bend in your knees, hinge at your hips until your torso is almost parallel to the ground, keeping your back in neutral. Pause for a second and return to the starting position, and repeat.
The razor curl is a slight twist on the nordic curl that has you maintain flex hips. Flexing the hip allows for a more intense contraction of the hamstring at the hip and a more forceful contraction of the hamstrings at the knee. Plus, it’s been shown to decrease the susceptibility of anterior cruciate ligament injury. But be warned, this exercise is advanced and should be performed when you have built up your eccentric hamstring strength. (1)