The 10 Best Exercises to Strengthen Your Lower Body

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In bodybuilding, it’s easy to focus on the muscles you can see — you know, the muscles in the front of your body (aka your anterior chain). But your hamstrings, the three muscles along the back of your thigh, help you bend and straighten your knees and extend your legs from your hips (read: they’re very important). Weak Hami makes running and kicking more difficult and can cause lower back and knee pain. To ensure your hamstrings are performing to their full potential, you also want to give the muscles around them—your quads, adductors, and glutes—some love.

So how do you best target the back of your thighs? To stretch and strengthen these underrated athletes, learn more about the benefits of hamstring exercises. Then, try the 10 best hamstring exercises presented by Jill Goodtree , NASM-GFI, NASM-CPT, RRCA RU running trainer and trainer at Rumble Boxing and Swerve Fitness.

Benefits of Strengthening Your Hamstrings

FYI, your hamstrings are a group of muscles in the back of your leg that include the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris, which are essential leg muscles, says Goodtree. “The hamstrings are key to knee and hip function,” she explains. “Anything that involves bending your knees, [such as] walking or running, uses your hamstrings.

Here’s the surprising thing: Most people tend to lean towards the quadriceps, meaning they have stronger anterior chains of leg muscles than posterior chains (i.e. the back of the leg muscles, including the hamstrings). It’s important to strengthen your hamstrings to prevent any muscle imbalances, which is crucial to staying injury-free.

Best Tips for Training Your Hamstrings

When performing these hamstring exercises, remember to keep your back flat and your core engaged, Goodtree advises. “In general, you should have a strong, neutral spine throughout all of these moves,” she says. “Support your core, stabilize your spine, and reduce stress on your back.” This exercise reminder is especially important for weight-bearing hamstring exercises, such as deadlifts and kettlebell swings, to avoid injuring your lower back .

The 10 Best Exercises for Hamstrings

Now that you know why hamstring exercises are so important, it’s time to get moving. Each of these nine best hamstring exercises offers a unique approach to targeting the muscle group, and you’ll also see the variety of equipment used in these demonstrations. That way, you can tailor your hamstring exercises to the gear you have available to you.

How to add hamstring-best exercises to your workout: To get the most out of these hamstring-strengthening moves, add them to your lower-body routine once or twice a week on “pull” days if you’re following a workout split plan Second-rate. Aim for 8 to 12 reps per workout, adding enough weight (when appropriate) or intensity that your last few reps feel difficult — as if you can’t do more than the last few reps if necessary. Activate your muscles with a dynamic warm-up routine before your workout .

Here, watch Goodtree walk through each hamstring exercise in full, and learn more about why each of these exercises for the back of your thighs can help you grow stronger.

1. Bracket deadlift

Why it works:  The rack deadlift mimics a single-leg deadlift by specifically targeting one leg, but you’ll enjoy increased stability with both feet in contact with the ground.

one. Stand with medium-heavy dumbbells in your hands, arms at your sides, and feet hip-width apart. Shift your weight to your right leg. Step your left foot back slightly so that your left toes are aligned with your right heel.

2.  Bend the right knee slightly and hinge forward at the hip, allowing the left leg to bend. At the same time, lower your torso until it’s parallel to the floor or until you feel a stretch in your right hamstring, keeping your arms long.

3.  Engage hips and return to standing. This is a representation.

2. Hamstring Curl with Sliders

Why it works:  This challenging move doesn’t require any weights, but your hamstrings will be engaged all the way as you work to stretch your legs while keeping your hips at max height.

one. Lie faceup on a smooth floor with feet on a pair of sliders and knees bent 90 degrees. Place your arms on the floor, out to the sides. Lift your hips and toes.

2. Keeping the buttocks off the floor and abs tight all the time, straighten the right leg as far as possible, then bring the right leg back to the starting position.

3.  Straighten left leg as far as possible while keeping hips up and core engaged, then return left leg to starting position. This is a representation.

3. Romanian Deadlift

Why it works:  The Romanian deadlift is a double whammy. First, you stretch your hammy as your weight lowers to the ground. Then, you’ll build strength in your hamstrings by contracting the back of your thighs while standing.

one. Stand holding medium to heavy dumbbells with arms hanging in front of thighs, palms facing in, feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Squeeze the shoulder blades down and together and contract the abs to bring the spine into a neutral position.

2. Keep your knees slightly bent, your back and arms straight, and your hips hinged forward until you feel a slight tension in your hamstrings. Contract your glutes and hamstrings, extend to a standing position, and repeat.

4. Hip Thrust

Why it works:  While the hip thrust is a glute-focused exercise, it also works the hamstrings. Want to further isolate your hamstring? Go the extra mile for more hamstring muscle recruitment.

one. Sit on the floor with the center of the shoulder blades resting on a bench or box, knees bent, and feet on the floor, slightly wider than hip-width apart. Place a medium or heavy dumbbell in the crease of your hips and hold it with both hands.

2.  Keeping your lower back flat, chin tucked, gaze forward, engage glutes, push through heels, and raise dumbbells to the ceiling by extending hips to starting position. Your knees should be in line with your heels, bent at a 90-degree angle, and your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.

3.  Keeping your lower back flat and your knees steady, slowly lower your hips until your hips are hovering a few inches off the floor. Then, push off the heels and slowly raise the dumbbells by extending the hips, making sure to use the glutes and hamstrings and not the back to execute the movement.

D.  Continue to lift the hips until the body forms a straight line from the shoulders to the knees, returning to the starting position. This is a representation.

5. Kettlebell Swing

Why it works:  If you’re doing the kettlebell swing correctly, nearly all of the work should come from your lower body and core—including your hamstrings, which contract as you hinge back and forth to push the kettlebell into the air.

one. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, with a kettlebell on the floor at the sides of your hands, about a foot in front of your toes. Bend your knees slightly, hinge your hips , and lower your arms toward the floor. Grab the kettlebell handle with both hands and lean it toward your body.

2.  As you inhale, climb the kettlebell back up between your thighs. Then as you exhale, press your feet into the floor, squeeze your glutes, and quickly stand up through your hips and explosively swing the kettlebell forward and up to chest height. Keep your arms extended and your elbows slightly bent throughout the movement, allowing your eyes to follow the kettlebell.

3.  Hinge at the hips, bend the knees slightly, and push the kettlebell back between the thighs. this is a representation

6. good morning

Why it works:  Without any weights, Good Morning is the perfect dynamic exercise to stretch your hamstrings.

one. Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes forward, and knees slightly bent. The hands should be straight down, crossed over the chest, or placed on the back of the head (as shown).

2. Supporting the midline while hinged at the hips, push the hips straight back, keeping the calves perpendicular to the floor.

3. Keeping your back flat, continue lowering your torso toward the floor until you notice a stretch in your hamstrings or until your back begins to round.

D.  Stand upright with your hamstrings and core, and push your feet through your buttocks in a twisting motion. Squeeze the glutes at the top. This is a representation.

7. Extended Glute Bridge

Why it works:  Similar to hip thrusts, regular glute bridges work, um, your glutes. By extending your foot a little further, your hamstrings are forced to engage more.

one. Lie faceup on the floor with knees bent and feet flat hip-width apart, arms at sides, palms facing down. Take another step out with each foot so that the heels dig into the ground and the toes point upward at a 45-degree angle.

2. Keeping your core engaged and tailbone tucked in, exhale and slowly push through your heels, lifting your hips off the floor. Lift your hips as high as you can without arching your lower back.

3.  Inhale and gently lower the hips back to the floor, one vertebra at a time. This is a representation.

8. Sumo squat

Why it works:  Sumo squats are key to strengthening the inner thighs, which are located near the hamstrings (remember, if you want to strengthen a certain muscle group, such as the hamstrings), you need to spend your training time on the muscles around them up to prevent muscle imbalances).

one. Hold two medium dumbbells in front of your torso. Stand with feet a little three to four inches wider than shoulder width, with toes at a 45-degree angle. Arms should be fully extended with dumbbells just below your belly button.

2. On an inhale, sit back at the hips and bend the knees to lower until the thighs are parallel or nearly parallel to the floor, keeping the chest up and preventing the back from rounding.

3. As you exhale, press with your feet to straighten your legs and return to standing. This is a representation.

9. Split squat

Why it works:  With all of these hamstring exercises, you’re still working your quadriceps (i.e., the front of your thigh). Use these split squats as an alternative to other exercises for your hamstrings.

one. Stand in a staggered position with feet hip-width apart, right leg forward, left leg back, and left heel lifted off the floor. The left knee should line up with the right heel as you lower; it may take a few tries to find the correct position with your body. Hold a pair of medium dumbbells at your sides.

2. Lower slowly until the left knee hovers above the floor. Keep the back flat and chest open by peeling back the shoulder blades and engaging the core.

3.  Exhale and press your right foot into the ground to return to a standing position. This is a representation.

10. Prone Mini with Hamstring Curl

Why it works:  You don’t need a full hamstring curl machine to work out your hammam. All you need for a challenging hamstring exercise is a mini band and this hamstring curl alternative.

one. Place a mini strap around the left ankle and under the arch of the right foot. Lie face down on the floor with your legs straight and your arms cushioning your head.

2.  Keeping the left leg pinned down, bring the right heel toward the gluteus maximus, stopping when the right ankle is directly above the right ankle at a 90-degree angle.

3.  After control, lower the right heel to the ground, and tap the ground with the right toe. This is a representation.

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