Target your hamstring for strong, sexy, and injury-free legs
By Team Iron Man
Hamstrings get little respect in the world of aesthetics. The regulation boardshorts used by Physique competitors combined with the classic folly of neglecting muscles you can’t see in a mirror has created a global pandemic of small, weak, and injury-prone hamstrings. It’s a shame, because the hamstring are not only crucial to strength exercises such as deadlift and squat variations, but are also necessary for basic athletic movements like sprinting and jumping. Not to mention, the hamstrings are an underappreciated vanity muscle. On men or women, a nice glute-hamstring tie-in is a wonderful thing.
A typical leg day docket of squats, leg presses, deadlifts, step-ups, and lunges will hit your hamstrings, but they’ll put more emphasis on your quadriceps, and that’s where problems arise. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy showed that hamstring strains account for 12 to16 percent of all injuries in athletes with a re-injury rate as high as 34 percent. The scientists who conducted the experiment cited muscle imbalances, specifically between the quadriceps (too strong) and hamstrings (too weak) as one of the main factors responsible for injury. Another study, published just last year in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, found that hamstrings that are weak in eccentric movements increased the risk of future injury to that bodypart and that risk of injury, associated with age or previous damage, was decreased when hamstrings were made stronger.
Dedicating part of your weekly training to hamstring-specific exercises will pay off in a stronger, more appealing set of wheels and a decreased chance you’ll have to ask somebody to tie your shoes for you. Here, we have three of the most effective exercises for targeting the backside of your legs. They will not only help to bridge the strength gap between your quads and hamstrings, but they are also a few of the best accessory moves for big lifts like the squat and the deadlift. After six weeks of implementing these into your training program, don’t be surprised if the barbell starts feeling lighter during your heavy back squat sets.
Glute-Ham Raise: If you have never done these, start slowly and carefully. (If you go too hard too early it will feel like your hamstrings are going to come right off the bones.) Begin upright with feet hooked in the glute-ham developer (also called a gute-ham bench), then slowly lower your upper body until it’s parallel with the ground. Make sure as you lower your upper body that you straighten out your lower body and avoid keeping your knees bent, which will prevent you from getting the full stretch in your hamstrings. Then curl your hamstrings as you raise your upper body back to the starting position. Tuck your chin to avoid using too much of your lower back.
Lying Leg Curls: These are preferable to seated leg curls because they fully stretch your hamstrings before they contract. Lie on your stomach and begin the movement by slowly curling the weight up, and then lowering the weight slowly back to the starting point. This is not a power exercise, so do not move the load with any significant speed.
Barbell Romanian Deadlift: This exercise should start and finish with you having a neutral spine. If your hamstrings are too tight for you to keep your back straight at the bottom, perform a conventional deadlift on the first rep. To lower the weight, push your hips back until you feel a full stretch in your hamstrings (the bar should come down to about shin level). As you stand back up, thrust your hips forward until you’re fully locked out, always keeping your knees slightly bent. The load for this exercise should be much lighter than what you use for a conventional deadlift. Do not concern yourself with PRs or 1RMs for a Romanian deadlift. Just like lying leg curls, focus on slow, controlled reps and maximizing time under tension. IM