When you think about training your lower body, you probably immediately think about your glutes or quads. But another muscle group that’s equally important? Incorporating hamstring exercises to have a well-rounded lower-body workout.
These muscles (yep, your hamstrings are actually made up of three separate muscles), run along the backs of your thighs from your hips to your knees—and they play a role in pretty much every leg exercise and lower-body movement you do.
Your hamstrings drive a major portion of your cycling stroke and help you power up hills or incline treadmill walks or runs. And if you want to squat lower, lunge a little deeper, and just generally be an all-around badass on leg days? Spending time strength training your hamstrings is a must.
To get started on your own hamstring-strengthening mission, check out the following hamstring exercises. They’re appropriate for all fitness levels and can be scaled or leveled up easily so you keep seeing gains as you get stronger. Sprinkle a few of them into leg workouts two or three times per week—or check out the instructions below to do your own mini hammy circuit.
The key to getting the most out of them: Concentrate on squeezing your hamstrings and letting them be the muscles that initiate each movement—don’t let your quads or glutes do all the work!
Time: 15-20 minutes
Equipment: Dumbbells, resistance band, stability ball
Good for: Hamstrings
Instructions: Choose three to four hamstring exercises from the list below. Perform 10 to 12 reps of each, then continue onto the next move, resting only as needed. Once you’ve finished all of the moves, repeat the entire circuit twice more for a total of three rounds.
1. Single Dumbbell Good Morning
How to do: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands behind back, holding a dumbbell. This is your start position. Keeping knees slightly bent and torso straight, slowly hinge forward from hips until upper body is parallel to the floor. Hold for a moment, then return to start. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: To add challenge to this move, rack two dumbbells on your shoulders (scroll to the bottom for a demo!).
2. Banded Glute Bridge
How to do: Wrap a resistance band around thighs and lie on back with knees ben and feet on the floor 12 to 16 inches from butt. Brace core, then press into heels and squeeze glutes to raise hips towards ceiling while pushing upper back into floor. Pause in this position, then press knees apart. Return to start. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Keep the band taut throughout the entire movement.
3. Dumbbell Donkey Kick
How to do: Get on all fours on top of mat. Place a dumbbell at the crease of knee. This is your start position. Keep right knee bent at 90 degrees and lift leg into the air until thigh is parallel to floor. Reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Scale this move by starting without any added weight.
4. Banded Staggered-Stance Deadlift
How to do: Start standing on left leg with center of resistance band looped under left, hold one end of the band in either hand, step right foot back slightly, and lift heel. Push hips back and lower torso forward to 45-degree angle. Drive through left heel to reverse the movement to return to starting position.
Pro tip: You can also perform this exercise by holding weights in hands.
5. Bridge Hip Cook Lift
How to do: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hug your right leg toward your chest and hold onto that knee. Engage your glutes and lift your hips up until your left thigh forms a straight line with your back. Lower down to the mat. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Lift the toes of your foot on the floor to amp up the burn.
6. Stability Ball Hamstring Squeeze
How to do: Start seated on mat with legs extended and hands just behind bum, palms flat on the floor, fingers pointed toward body, and arms straight. Press into hands and lift hips into the air until body forms a straight line from shoulders to heels. Keep hips raised while you bend right knee, and tap right toes on the floor near glutes. Extend right leg back to the starting position, and repeat on the left side. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: No stability ball? No problem! You can do this one without any equipment; just really focus hard on squeezing those hamstrings.
7. Glute Bridge March
How to do: Start lying on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Engage core, then press into heels and squeeze glutes to raise hips until body forms a straight line from knees to shoulders. Lift right knee toward chest. Pause, then lower right foot. Repeat with the other leg. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Keep hips square and engage core to protect lower back.
8. Glute Bridge Tiptoe Walk
How to do: Start lying on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Engage core, then press into heels and squeeze glutes to raise hips until body forms a straight line from knees to shoulders. Keep hips level and take one step back toward glutes with right foot, balancing on toes. Do the same with the left. Reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Move slowly and take the smallest steps possible to increase the amount of time your hamstrings spend under tension.
9. Single-Leg Glute Bridge
How to do: Start lying on back with arms out to the side pressing into mat, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Keeping pelvis level, straighten one leg toward ceiling, foot flexed so that sole point up. Squeeze glutes to lift hips evenly off the floor, then lower. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Engage core to protect lower back.
10. Kettlebell Swing
How to do: Start in a hinge (hips back, knees slightly bent, torso leaned forward at 45 degrees) holding the handle of a kettlebell with both hands, arms extended straight toward floor and bell between knees on the floor. In one motion, squeeze glutes, straighten legs, lift torso, and thrust hips forward, while swinging the weight to chest height, keeping arms straight and core tight. Reverse the movement, bringing the kettlebell between thighs this time when you hinge. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Don’t have a kettlebell? Hold the end of a dumbbell between both hands to perform dumbbell swings instead.
11. Stability Ball Hamstring Curl
How to do: Start lying on back with arms at sides, legs extended, and feet resting on stability ball. Press into upper back and arms to lift hips off mat. Then, engage hamstrings and bend knees to pull heels toward seat. Re-extend legs. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: You can also try this one with towels or sliders beneath your feet.
12. Resistance Band Kickback
How to do: While standing, loop a resistance band around left foot, and hold the other end in both hands. Hinge upper body forward slightly. This is your start position. Press right leg backward until it’s completely extended. Return to start. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Keep core engaged and actively squeeze through glutes and hamstrings as you press back.
13. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
How to do: Start standing with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, holding a pair of weights in front of thighs, palms facing body. Keeping knees slightly bent, press hips back as you hinge at the hips and lower the weights toward the floor. Squeeze glutes to return to standing. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Lower only as far as you can while maintaining tension in your glutes and hamstrings.
14. Banded Single-Leg Deadlift
How to do: Start standing on left leg with foot over the middle of a long resistance band and one end of the band in either hand. Push hips back to hinge at waist while lowering torso toward floor and lifting straight right leg back behind body until both are parallel to floor. Drive through left heel to reverse the movement to return to starting position. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: This move seriously challenges you balance, so feel free to start without the band!
15. Dumbbell Good Morning
How to do: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold two dumbbells in hands, bend arms, and place them behind shoulders on to back. This is your start position. Keeping knees slightly bent and torso straight, slowly hinge forward from hips until upper body is parallel to the floor. Hold for a moment, then return to start. That’s one rep.
Pro tip: Maintain tension in your hips and hamstrings in order to drive the movement instead of leading with torso.