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6 Best Hamstring Exercises to Bulk Up Those Legs

 Best hamstring exercises

You’ve been hitting it hard on leg day–giving those glutes and quads lots of love. 

But what about your hamstrings?

Most people tend to overlook their hamstrings on leg day, but these muscles come in clutch for building thicker, bulkier legs. 

Not only that–apart from appearance–working out your hamstrings has a ton of benefits for strength and overall health, including pain prevention for your lower back.  

Today, we’ll explore 6 best hamstring exercises that will light up your hamstrings. Check these out, and see which hamstring exercises you’d like to add to your leg day line-up! 

6 Best Hamstring Exercises 

Best Hamstring Exercises #1: Glute Ham Raise 

Best Hamstring Exercises: Glute Ham Raise

For this exercise, you’ll need to find a Glute Ham Developer (GHD) at your local gym. The Glute Ham Raise is a fairly controversial hamstring exercise. Some think it’s the BEST hamstring exercise out there. Others advise to avoid it. 

To learn more about the controversy and whether this hamstring exercise is best for you–and the best form for safety–check out this article: 

“Glute Ham Raise And Glute Ham Raise Alternatives For Increased Strength And Muscle Building” 

How to Perform This Best Hamstring Exercise: 

1) Set the foot plate on the GHD to far back enough, so that your knees can sit on the bottom of the pad. 

2) Straighten out your body, maintaining a neutral spine with a slight arch in your back. 

3) Cross your arms across your chest. 

4) Flex at your hips, lowering your torso down, so it is slightly below parallel to the floor. Check to make sure your lower back is NOT rounding. 

5) Now, engage your glutes and hamstrings to pull your torso back to an upright position. 

6) Repeat. 


Best Hamstring Exercises #2: Nordic Hamstring Curls 

The Nordic hamstring curl results in some of the highest hamstring muscle activation compared to some of the other best hamstring exercises. [1] 

Not only that–but it’s proven to be one of the BEST hamstring exercises to prevent injury. 

This one’s a beast to perform, but once you get it down, you’ll feel like a boss! 

How to Perform This Best Hamstring Exercise: 

1) Kneel down on a yoga mat. You’ll need a person or a secure object–such as a low-set barbell to hold your feet down across your ankles. 

2) Keep a neutral spine. Engaging your glutes, hamstrings, and core, slowly lean your entire body forward. 

3) Once you get low enough, you may need to catch yourself with your hands–this is fine! 

4) Now use your hands to give yourself a slight push back up–quickly shifting the weight and engagement back to your hamstrings and glutes as you return to the starting position. 

5) Repeat. 

Best Hamstring Exercises #3: Good Mornings 

Best Hamstring Exercises: Good Morning

This one’s a great alternative to the Glute Ham Raise if that one’s just not working for you! 

How to Perform This Best Hamstring Exercise: 

1) Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, place a loaded barbell across your shoulders–gripping the barbell with your hands in a pronated (palms facing forward) position. 

2) Keep your knees slightly bent as you hinge at your hips, bringing your butt back. 

3) As you do this, your torso will naturally lower. Keep a neutral spine as you lower your torso until you feel it in your hamstrings. 

4) Now, use your glutes to raise your torso and the barbell back up to the starting position. 

5) Repeat. 

Best Hamstring Exercises #4: Lying Leg Curl

For this exercise, you’ll need a prone leg curl machine. 

How to Perform This Best Hamstring Exercise: 

1) Lie face down on the prone leg curl machine–ensuring your knees are below the bench. 

2) Hook your feet under the foot pad, making sure that the pad hits just above your ankles. 

3) Engaging your hamstrings, tense them slightly to start lifting the weight off the rack. 

4) Now, curl the weight up to your butt, engaging your hamstrings the whole time. 

5) Then, slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position, and repeat. 

Best Hamstring Exercises #5: Kettlebell Swing 

Best Hamstring Exercises: Kettlebell Swing

This full-body exercise is one of the best hamstring exercises as well as core exercises! 

How to Perform This Best Hamstring Exercise: 

1) Standing with your feet just slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, hold one kettlebell with both hands–arms fully extended, allowing the kettlebell to hang between your legs. 

2) Now, hinge back at your hips, and drive your butt back, slightly bending your knees. 

3) Use your glutes and hamstrings to push your hips forward–bringing you back into a standing position. 

4) As you do this, raise the kettlebell up with your arms. 

5) Then, slowly let the kettlebell descend, hinging your hips back again to repeat. 


Best Hamstring Exercises #6: Bulgarian Split Squat 

Best Hamstring Exercises: Bulgarian Split Squat

This exercise works your lower glutes as well as your hamstrings! 

How to Perform This Best Hamstring Exercise: 

1) Kneel down on the ground with dumbbells on either side of you. 

2) Find a sturdy surface behind you to elevate your left foot. It can be a low-set barbell or a box. 

3) Bring your right foot in front of you. Place your right foot flat on the ground, forming a 90-degree angle with your knee. 

4) Pick up the dumbbells with both hands, and raise yourself up to a standing position–keeping your left foot supported behind you. 

5) Now, placing 90% of your weight on your front, right foot and 10% on the back, left foot–lower your torso down to your front knee. 

6) Then, raise yourself back up to the starting position, and repeat. 

7) Switch sides when you’re done with the set. 


Best Hamstring Exercises: Hamstring Anatomy 

Most people working their legs at the gym are chasing that teardrop-shaped quad muscle. BUT…working out just your quads would almost be like just doing curls with ONE bicep. 


Hamstrings are the antagonist muscles to your quads, which means when one works, the other tends to relax. So, working out just one muscle group means you’re getting half the equation. 

So, where can we find our hamstrings? 

Put your hand on the back of your thigh. Then, bend your knee, keeping your toes on the ground and lifting your heels. 

Chances are–you just felt your hamstring muscles flexing. 

If we’re getting into the technical, nerdy side of things–your hamstrings are actually three muscles that almost resemble cords. They all run from your hip joint to your knee joint, but you can find each at a different place on the back of your thigh. 

The Outer Hamstring Muscle: Biceps Femoris 

The Middle Hamstring Muscle: Semitendinosus

The Inner Hamstring Muscle: Semimembranosus


Benefits of Using These Best Hamstring Exercises 

Well-Balanced Leg Muscles

Working out just the quads is NOT a solution to having well-balanced legs.

If you want thicker, bulkier legs, build the front AND the back of your legs. How to accomplish this? Work out your hamstrings–using some of these best hamstring exercises in this article. 

Get Stronger Legs 

Strong hamstrings improve your overall leg strength for activities and sports that involve jogging, sprinting, or jumping! 

Injury Prevention

Speaking of sports, we’ve all heard about when athletes “pull a hammy.” Hamstring injuries are no joke, and they can cause a world of pain. 

Strengthening your hamstrings leads to less chances of injury for this muscle. And as a BONUS: for your knees, too! 

Balance Improvement 

And last but not least, strong hamstrings help improve your overall balance!

Best Hamstring Exercises: Hamstring Function

Getting educated on the function of the hamstring can help you train your hamstrings smart!

The hamstring is responsible for: 

- Knee flexion: Bending the knee. 

- Hip Extension: Moving your leg OUT from your body in some way.

- Thigh Rotation: Moving your thigh IN towards your body. 


A Strong Hamstring = Potentially Less Lower Back Pain 

Believe it or not–some people believe that strong hamstrings can directly connect to lower back pain prevention! 

Think about it: When you bend over to pick something up, you can put the energy of the motion into your hamstrings and glutes–or your lower back. 

And we can all guess which one makes for a healthier back. 

By fortifying your lower back with strong muscles around it–such as your hamstrings–you can prevent strain on your lower back as well as nagging lower back pain


Best Hamstring Stretches 

Looking for a solid hamstring stretch BEFORE your leg day workout? Stretching is proven to increase hamstring muscle performance, so I definitely recommend throwing in a few stretches before you really work your hammies! [2] 

As an added bonus, stretching your hamstrings can also potentially help with lower back pain! 

Here are 2 of the best hamstring stretches: 

Hamstring Stretch #1: Elephant Walk

Best Hamstring Exercises: Elephant Walk

This stretch is easy to perform from the comfort of your own home, and it’ll help your hamstrings lengthen and loosen

How to Perform This Hamstring Stretch 

1) Bend at the waist, keeping your torso parallel to the floor, and your knees slightly bent. 

2) Place a block, free weight, or stack of books on the ground in front of you. Then, reach down, and place your hands on the block. 

3) Bring your right leg back–straightening it out and putting your whole body into this motion. This is called flossing. 

4) Keep your left knee slightly bent while you floss your right leg back. 

5) Floss this leg 10 times. 

6) Switch sides, and repeat. 

7) NOW, you should be able to remove the block and place your palms flat on the floor. 

8) Then alternate flossing between your legs–20-30 reps for each leg. 

You can also check out these extra resources on the Elephant Walk: 

“Elephant Walk Exercise for Extreme Hamstring And Back Flexibility”


Hamstring Stretch #2: Split Stretch 

Best Hamstring Exercises: Split Stretch

1) Kneel down on a yoga mat. 

2) Then, extend your left knee behind you–keeping it on the ground, so your whole leg stretches behind you. 

3) Bring your right knee up and your right foot out as far as it will go while still keeping your knee bent. It should be wider than a 90-degree angle. 

4) Support yourself with your palms or fingers on the ground. 

5) Keeping a neutral spine, lower your chest and torso into your front thigh. 

6) Hold for a moment. Then release back. Repeat for 20 reps. 

7) Then alternate legs. 

For more info on the best hamstring stretches, check out some of our other resources. 

Best Hamstring Exercises: Articles

“Glute And Hamstring Stretches For Lower Back Pressure Relief”

“How To Fix Tight Hamstrings In Minutes”

Best Hamstring Exercises: Videos 

Glute And Hamstring Stretches For Back Pressure Release

Tight Hamstrings SOLVED

Touch Your Toes Today - 2 Exercises You Need

Flexible Back 

If tight hammies are a consistent problem for you, don’t live with the pain. 

And don’t try to muddle through stretching your hamstrings on your own. 

We offer a structured flexibility program with built-in accountability for you–called Flexible Back. This stretching, flexibility, and mobility program is a value-packed online course for lower back pain relief. 

You can expect: 

- 3 weeks of morning and evening stretching routines

- Better posture

- Relief from lower back pain 

- Knowledge to help own your pain! 

This program enables you to build long-lasting relief for muscles that cause lower back pain–including your hamstrings! 

Best Hamstring Exercises FAQs

What exercise works the hamstrings the most?

One of the exercises proven to get the most hamstring muscle activation is the Nordic Hamstring Curl. 

How can I build my hamstrings fast?

To build hamstrings fast, I recommend adding some of these best hamstring exercises into your leg day, balancing these out with quad exercises. 

How can you tell if your hamstrings are weak?

The best test to see if your hamstrings are weak is to bend over and touch your toes. If you can’t touch your toes with your fingers, your hamstrings need a makeover! 

How do you fix weak hamstrings?

You can fix weak hamstrings by stretching and strengthening them. Check out the best hamstring stretches and best hamstring exercises in this article. 

Does walking strengthen your hamstrings?

Walking strengthens your hamstrings because hamstrings are one of the primary muscles used to help you walk. 

Why is it so hard to train hamstrings?

Hamstring training can be hard and hurt like heck–but it’s worth it for overall leg strength and aesthetics. 

How can I strengthen my hamstrings at home?

Some of the best hamstring exercises in this article can easily be completed at home, such as Nordic Hamstring Curls, Bulgarian Split Squats, and Kettlebell Swings! 




[3] McAllister, Matt J.; Hammond, Kelley G.; Schilling, Brian K.; Ferreria, Lucas C.; Reed, Jacob P.; Weiss, Lawrence W.. Muscle Activation During Various Hamstring Exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 28(6):p 1573-1580, June 2014. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000302

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