6 Ways To Build Your Hamstrings For Better Size & Performance

Written By: Fitman
December 19th, 2013
Updated: June 13th, 2020
24.2K Reads
Stop ignoring your hamstrings and put some thought and effort into your training. This article presents 6 solid training options to bolster this strong muscle group.

The hamstrings are a completely forgotten muscle when it comes to the average person's training.  Most folk do not even know the name of this important muscle.  Men generally ignore them completely. This is why washed-up weekend warriors playing flag football almost always pull the muscle. Most women are so worried about the adductor/abductor machines that they ignore the rest of their legs, especially the hammies.

They make up an important part of the posterior chain and should not be ignored.  Weak hammies will result in a higher injury rate and also pathetic performance.  Those with bad hamstrings simply do not excel.

The hamstrings, along with the glutes, play a major role in sprinting.  They propel the engine forward.  You will never see an elite sprinter or sprint based athlete who does not have a well-developed posterior chain.  You will also never see a woman or man who won't do a double take, to looking at that posterior chain.

Fellas, why do you think your girlfriend enjoys watching the Olympics or the NFL on Sunday?  Ladies why do you think your man is salivating over watching the women’s 100 meter finals?  It is the POSTERIOR CHAIN!  And a great one will attract attention.  So now the question is how can we build those stunning hamstrings?  The following movements will get you the hams you want!


The 6 moves needed to save your hamstrings

Your hamstrings will receive a lot of indirect work from full squats, deadlifts, and even stretch lunges.  But to hit them harder to force them to grow and develop you need to incorporate the following movements:

Powerful and thick hamstrings are underrated…

1.  Sprints:  Sprints are the ultimate hamstring developer.  Even the sprinter in last place has well developed hamstrings.  And this goes all the way down to the high school level.  Sprints are a tough move so they are avoided by the majority.  But it is my main hamstring RX when someone is lagging badly in their hamstring development.  Hamstrings are mainly trained in 3 fashions; sprinting, hip extension, and knee flexion.

You will need a combination of all 3 to develop superior hamstrings, with sprinting being the main piece to the puzzle.  My number one protocol for clients and people in general when they complain of flat, weak hams is to add sprints into the program 3 days a week for 6 months.  They always end up with much improved hams even if I do not add other specific hamstring movements.

2.  Romanian Deadlift:  Romanian deadlifts are the ultimate hamstring developer in the gym.  The RDL is essentially a hip extension movement.  They are very similar to a standard Deadlift except that your legs remain only slightly bent the entire time.

Your goal is to truly get a deep stretch in the hamstrings on every rep.  The rep should be powerful, and you should feel the hamstrings working during the eccentric and concentric portion of the rep.  You can load up pretty heavy on this move too.  I have worked up to 405lbs for reps.

3.  Glute Ham Raise:  Now, I do not ever feel this movement in my glutes.  But oh my hammies!  I feel it should be renamed to just the Ham Raise.  I did not use this move consistently until 2008 and I wish I had known about it during my track and field years.  This is the knee flexion part of the puzzle.  This is a great hamstring isolator and will tell you how strong your hamstrings really are.  The standard gym will not have a separate glute ham developer to perform the move.

I typically perform them on the lat pulldown machine.  The part of the machine that holds your legs down on a lat pull will hold your ankles down in a glute ham raise.  Initially you may even need to start on the floor with someone holding your ankles until you develop the proper strength.  The rep should be smooth with minimal push at the bottom of the exercise.  Those with great strength will be able to come up without a push.

Romanian Deadlift

4.  Good Morning:  Good mornings are another excellent hamstrings developer.  The good morning is very popular in powerlifting due to the strength it builds in the chain.  You rarely see it in the standard gym, and if you do it probably looks atrocious.

Doing this movement with bad form will result in a major injury.  Controlling the weight, maintaining a flat, tight back, stretching the hamstrings, and exploding up with force are the keys to a proper good morning.

5.  Single Leg Dumbbell RDL:  SLRDLs (a lot of letters) allow you truly work the hamstrings.  While holding a dumbbell in each hand you will have your foot elevated on a bench.  The movement is very similar to the RDL except that now you have dumbbells and your foot is elevated.  The reps should be controlled and not all herky-jerky.

On the way up, concentrate on not standing all the way up to keep tension on the hamstrings.  That continuous tension will make the muscles work overtime and lead to stronger, and better looking hamstrings.  And you will also have involvement from the glutes too.

6.  Prone Leg Curl:  Not that the leg curl is not a decent hamstring move, but without the above movements, you will not reach the level of development that you are looking for.  I use leg curls from time to time as a pre exhaust move or in a rest pause style fashion.

Movements are like the food chain in the jungle.  Sprints, RDLs, and GHRs are at the top of the chain when it comes to hamstring movements.  Leg curls are a decent move for hamstring isolation, but they will not be dethroning the kings any time soon.

Sample training method to grow hamstrings

You will perform these workouts as additional hamstring-based sessions during the week.  Your first leg session of the week will be hamstring-based.  Your second one will be squat based and your third will be the sprint session.

Ideally you will want to perform your hamstring-based session on a Tuesday, your squat based session on a Friday, and your sprint session on Sunday to allow for good recovery.  I recommend you run this scheme for 12 weeks.

For the hamstring specialization day:

Day 1 - Perform A and B for the first 3 weeks.  Perform C an D for the second 3 weeks.  Then repeat it again for 6 more weeks.

  • Perform RDL’s Rest Pause (Doggcrapp Style).  Load a barbell with a weight that will allow you possibly 6-10 reps max.  You will perform one set to failure.  Rest 20-30 seconds and then perform another set to failure.  You will rest once more 20-30 seconds and repeat one more set to failure.  Game over. Your rep count should be something like 7, 4, 3.
  • Perform Glute Ham Raises in sets of 5.  Perform 4-6 sets and rest only 30 seconds in between sets.  This is also a form of rest-pause training.  When you can complete all 30, add another set or keep the same amount of sets begin to do longer eccentrics to truly stress the hammies tremendously.  You do not want to reach failure early on but you may reach it on the later sets.  Really focus on the negative portion of this movement.
  • Perform Good Mornings with 4 sets of 8-12 reps.  The only goal here is too increase the weight slightly each week.
  • Perform SLRDLs and Prone Leg Curls as a Superset for 4 sets at 8-12 reps for the SLRDL and 4-6 reps for the leg curl.  Again the only goal is to add weight each week.

Day 2:  Perform one of these sprint based sessions on the sprint day.

  • Perform flying 30 meter sprints.  Flying 30 meter sprint x 6-8 reps.  You will run these on the turn leading into the straightaway.  Accelerate into the turn, and you should be full speed by the time you reach the 100 meter start line.  Rest is the walk back.
  • Perform hill sprints x 6-10 reps.  There a great hill around my area at Upper Moreland High School. The “U.”  The “U” has no friends and has repeatedly made me scream for years. It is about 350-400 meters long. I have done intervals from 25-400 meters. For you, find an incline hill, and alternate the distance each week.  I recommend 30-100 yards.  Rest is the walk back.
  • Perform 100 meter sprints for 10 reps.  Your speed here should be about 70-80 percent of your max sprinting speed.  The rest is the walk back.

You do not have to have flat, weak hamstrings forever.  The right mix of hard work, consistency and patience will have you to where you need to be!

Giovanna Fried
Posted on: Sun, 05/17/2015 - 19:05

You could have at least put pictures of the exercises you were talking about so we know exactly what they are.

Nicolai Hanmark
Posted on: Sun, 12/29/2013 - 15:52

Hi Eric,

Would you recommend combining this program with a "standard" 3-day split workout routine (chest/biceps, back/triceps, shoulders)? (with no additional leg work of coruse)

Eric Brown
Posted on: Wed, 01/01/2014 - 22:01

Hey Nicolai. I would recommend using a 4 day Lower/Upper split with this scheme. Ideally, 2 days of lower body work and 2 days of upper body work. This will allow one of the lower days to be the hamstring specific day.

Posted on: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 21:22

nice gym that you have

Eric Brown
Posted on: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 09:25

Thanks man. Hey as long as a gym has iron, it will work for me!

Matthew Gaines
Posted on: Thu, 12/19/2013 - 19:13

Rowing machine?

Eric Brown
Posted on: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 09:24

Hey Matt, what is your question about the rowing machine?

Eric Brown
Posted on: Fri, 12/20/2013 - 19:05

Hey Matt, what is your question about the rowing machine?