To best train the hamstrings we first have to know what they do. Let’s take a look; in a prone position or even seated non-weight bearing, our hamstrings perform knee flexion or as most people may see it- knee curls at the gym. While this may help load your hamstrings in a non-functional position, these are not beneficial to what the hamstrings actually do as we function.
Muscles (such as the hamstrings) are effective when loaded or pre stretched before they are unloaded or contracted. In weight bearing function the hamstrings actually assist with knee extension, the opposite of the movement mentioned above, and hip extension.
We also know the hamstrings can be loaded in the transverse or rotational plane, which means when we really wind up the hips into a motion called internal rotation the hamstrings get loaded as well.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
This load turns into a powerful unloading contraction that uses the hamstrings in an integrated fashion that assists with everyday activities, athleticism, and restoration of movement or muscular function.
Now that we have a knowledge base, we can properly train the hamstrings with these 5 great exercises:
Lunges, Squats, Leaps, Single Leg Squats, and Deadlift (straight leg Deadlift for more hamstring isolation, but less functional). All these exercises will target the hamstrings among other leg muscles; the key is to determine how to induce greater loading of the hamstrings in order to make them “work more”.
We can perform all the above listed exercises in 3planes of motion and/or with reaches through those three planes of motion.
To perform a lunge and increase hamstring loading use a reach that goes down and across the lunging leg. Staggering your stance in a squat will help include more hamstring activity in the front leg.
A leap is similar to a lunge but with flight included (similar to a run). Leaps are great training the process of deceleration and acceleration of the body with or without load added.
Single leg squats can be performed numerous ways depending on goals of the individual performing them. Switching up how you perform them can benefit us all by targeting different aspects of fitness. We can balance, we can add reaches, we can elevate our rear leg to decrease the instability and allow for more load to be applied (great for targeting the hamstrings as well).
Lastly, we have the deadlift to target our hamstrings. The deadlift is a fairly common exercise, but takes coaching and practice to properly perform and execute without causing pain.
The deadlift can be taxing on the back when done improperly so make sure to maintain a neutral spine during this exercise to prevent unnatural loading of the spine. To increase hamstring activity in a deadlift perform the straight leg deadlift, which requires an even more conscious effort to protect the spine.
To see videos of some of the moves performed here visit The PRiME360 Youtube Channel.
Also check out these Top 10 hamstring stretching exercises