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Hammering Hamstrings

The negative causes more muscle trauma than the positive, so when you lower, focus on taking three to five seconds on each rep.


Q: My quads are coming along just fine, but my hamstrings are flat as pancakes. I train them just the way I do my thighs, but I get opposite results. I do about three exercises each for quads and hams, for three to four sets per movement. I always train to failure in the range of 12 to 15 reps. Typically, I do lying, seated and standing single-leg curls, but I change the order each time. I do stiff-legged deadlifts about once per month. What’s wrong here?

A: I don’t know how long you’ve been following the same basic hamstring program, but I am often amazed at how much (wasted) time some trainees will spend doing a routine that achieves few to no results. If you’re not seeing any gains after six weeks on a particular regimen, ditch it! In other words, it’s broke, so fix it!

Now, assuming you are using good form and are pushing yourself on hamstrings as much as you are on quads, you can make a few changes that might get your hams more in a mood to grow.

First, I would like to see you lower your repetition range from 12 to 15 to six to 10. While the quads often respond well to higher reps, the hamstrings should be trained a bit more heavily. That’s because the hams have a greater percentage of type 2 muscle fibers, making them more responsive to greater loads.

Next, start using stiff-legged deadlifts at each workout, along with just two curling movements. Alternate between barbell, dumbbell and Smith-machine stiffs from workout to workout, and on the fourth week use hyperextensions instead. With the hyperextensions, mentally leave your lower back out of the movement and focus on pulling with the hamstrings. The burn you get from the exercise can be quite intense once you zero in on it. On occasion try supersetting leg curls with either a stiff-legged-deadlift variation or hyperextensions for a killer pump.

Finally, make sure you’re emphasizing the negative contraction. The negative causes more muscle trauma than the positive, so when you lower, focus on taking three to five seconds on each rep. With muscle trauma comes an intense growth response as the body attempts to repair the damage and make the muscles larger and stronger. If you’re truly hardcore, finish off your leg curls with some X-Rep partials down near the stretch position.

My own hamstrings started making tremendous improvements when I started training them before my quads. I began doing that because my knees were causing me pain, and doing hams first helped to get some blood in there and warm them up. Once I saw how nicely the backs of my legs were rounding out, I never went back to training quads first. You may want to employ the strategy as well. IM

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