Hamstrings and forearms – not glamorous muscles by any means. For many these are little more than an afterthought. A few sets at the end of the workout and that's good enough. Yet, well developed hamstrings add so much to balanced leg development. These days, most contests have a mandatory pose for the hamstrings, so if you plan to compete they must be well developed if you want to place well. Functionally, they serve an important purpose by balancing out the leg muscles, adding strength and stability to the knee joint.
In sports, well developed hamstrings add significantly to the “posterior chain” which is the calves, glutes, hamstrings and lower back. If this area is optimally developed it will enhance your speed and limit injury. In sports like powerlifting it's critical to your overall strength and key to lifts like the squat and deadlift. In competition, Rich Gaspari was one of the first to really show off great ham development, but really any discussion of great legs begins with Tom Platz, who took leg training into a whole other realm of possibility and introduced a new level of complete, balanced leg development, raising the standard substantially for all that came after him.
Forearms have not been so near neglected, over the years many top bodybuilders have had stand out forearms, Dave Draper being a prime early example, Casey Viator a little later and guys like Lee Priest being a good current example. Yet, they are not the showpiece that, say, biceps are. Being more of an endurance muscle like calves there has been a lot of contradiction as to training advice, from being told to hit them 3-4 days a week to Mike Mentzer suggesting that indirect stimulation is all they need. I suggest training them after biceps, once a week with enough sets to adequately stress them. Like calves, with forearms you have to get a full range of motion and a good stretch.
In both cases, I do not see anything more than neglect when you talk about these muscles being weak points. As I said earlier, many of us do just a few sets at the end of the workout and that's usually it. Both of these areas do get indirect work: full deadlifts from the floor heavily involve the hamstrings as do deep squats and every time you grip the bar hard you indirectly hit the forearms. Yet to make these areas stand out, you have to make them a priority in your training and train them with the same mental commitment you would any other muscle by giving them enough sets and reps to promote growth.
Forearm And Hamstring Anatomy
Let's look at the anatomy of each before we look at the routines:
The hamstrings are actually comprised of three separate muscles: the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus. These muscles originate just underneath the gluteus maximus on the pelvic bone and attach on the tibia. The primary functions of the hamstrings are knee flexion (bringing the heel back towards the butt) and hip extension (moving the leg to the rear).
One school of thought suggests that in movement, the hamstrings "primary" function is not knee flexion. In walking or running, for example, the primary function of the hamstring is to decelerate the lower leg in the saggital plane. The saggital plane is an imaginary anatomical plane that travels vertically from the top to the bottom of the body, dividing it into left and right portions. Positionally, knee flexion in walking/running occurs as a result of hip flexion and plantar flexion, again positionally. When the body responds to gravity, hamstring function changes. I find this to be an interesting observation and included it in this article but remain unconvinced as to it's accuracy even though I understand the logic.
The forearm is surprisingly a complex group of small muscle groups with several functions. The brachialis and brachioradialis both contribute to elbow flexion and aid the forearm while curling, which are worked during many curl motions. The pronator teres aids the forearm in pronation as well as elbow flexion. The flexors (palmaris longus, flexor carpi radialis, and flexor carpi ulnaris) curl the palm in while the extensors (extensor carpi ulnaris and extensor carpi radialis brevis) flex the palm out.
Forearm And Hamstring Training Routines
Here are the routines:
Hamstring Routine #1
- Lying Leg Curls – 2 warm up sets of 12-15 reps using an easy weight. If you've worked an exercise like squats hard it can be argued that a hamstring warm up is not necessary but my feeling is, why take any chance at all of an injury?
- Lying Leg Curls - 3 working sets of 8-10 reps – get a full range of motion on this exercise, keeping your butt on the bench throughout. Rep performance: continuous tension, slow and controlled up and down. It's easy to let momentum get in the way and it's also easy to only perform a partial rep, these are two common mistakes that lead to poor results.
- Stiff Legged Deadlifts – 2 working sets of 8-10 reps. Use a slight bend in the knee on these. You can never really take the lower back out of this exercise but if you put your toes on a thick 25 or 45 pound plate you will find this little trick hits the hamstrings a bit more. Don't rush to add a lot of weight too quickly and do your reps as above, slow and under complete control.
Hamstring Routine # 2
- Dumbbell Lunge – 2 warm up sets of 10 reps, easy weight. If you are new to these, this is the time to concentrate on your form, only add weight when you feel you can properly do the exercise.
- Dumbbell Lunge - 3 working sets of 8 reps – this exercise, while hitting the hamstrings will also hit the quads, so you'll want to plan accordingly as you setup your workout, use this as a transition exercise from quads to hams. For me, this exercise is all about balance and form, if you focus on that the actual rep performance will take care of itself.
- Standing Leg Curls – 3 sets of 15 reps. Use a weight that will challenge you for this rep level, perform your reps as in routine #1.
Hamstring Routine #3
- Partial Squats in a power rack - You will be working the lower half of the movement with this unique exercise. Set your self up in a power rack and do 3 warm up sets, 15 reps each of full squats. Go as low as you can to completely hit the hamstrings.
- Partial Squats - 3 working sets – 6-8 reps. You will set the pins low enough for you to get into the bottom squat position – just below parallel, and you will come up about 2/3 of the way, or until you feel the focus shift from the hams to the quads. Weight is less important than the actual performance of this movement, it will be awkward and you will not need a lot of weight as your starting point will compromise your strength but this will directly hit the hamstrings. Use a controlled explosive ascent and a controlled descent.
- Lying Leg Curls - 3 sets of 12-15 reps, rest-pause style. Here, pick a weight you can use for about 6 reps and using rest-pause, get as many as you can, lower the weight back to the starting position, count to 8 and again do as many reps as you can, rest-pause for one more 8 count and then rep to failure, which may only be 1-2 reps.
Forearm Routine #1
- Wrist Roller – Remember these? A piece of rope with a cord running through it attached to a plate or plates that you roll up and down. These can be tough, do one set of as many as you can stand. Go after a deep burn on these.
- EZ Bar Reverse Curls – 3 sets of 12 reps. Use a weight that will just allow you to hit 12 reps.
Forearm Routine #2
- Wrist Curls off a Bench – 3 sets of 12 reps. Use a weight that will allow you to just hit 12 reps.
- Preacher Reverse Curls – 3 sets of 12 reps. Use a weight that just allows 12 reps. Get a full range of motion but do not go to low on these. I like to begin the pull back up just before my forearms actually hit the bench.
Forearm Routine #3
- EZ Reverse Curls – 3 sets of 12 reps using rest-pause. Pick a weight that will allow 4 reps, rest pause twice to get to 12 reps as in the hamstring routine #3.
- Wrist Curls Behind the Back – 3 sets of 6-8 reps. No rest-pause here but use a heavy weight.
Performance tips – Since forearms are directly involved in back and biceps exercises, they will be well warmed up if you do them last on back/bicep day. It's important to get a full range of motion on all forearm exercises, no jerking or attempting to allow momentum to do the work. Use a continuous tension style of rep, no pausing, slow and controlled movements. Explosive reps are my favorite and have their place in most routines but I feel in the case of hamstrings and forearms this style of rep will produce better results.
Stretch the forearms in between and after your sets, this will aid recovery, both short term and long term. Two additional tips: use hammer curls as a transition exercise from biceps to forearms, I would do this every 3rd workout . Also, using a “fat” bar will enhance forearm involvement on all exercises. One way to get a “fat” bar, if your gym doesn't have one, is to wrap the bar in a towel. This will force you to grip harder, thereby working the forearms harder.
Use these tips and routines and see if you can develop hams and forearms to remember!