Quick. Give me the first three thoughts that go through your head when I say the words “leg day”.
Those words likely have something to do with squats, leg presses, and the soreness that lasts for days after leg day.
I’m pretty sure that anything to do with hamstrings wasn’t on that list for many of you reading this.
This is a big problem for several reasons. For bodybuilders, hamstrings have determined many contests over the years. The guys who didn’t win probably didn’t have them.
For heavy lifters, hamstrings are a major player in deadlifts and back up your quads on squats.
Runners and athletes who play sports need strong hamstrings that will work for them over the course of the event or game.
If you make any of the mistakes that follow, let this be the wakeup call that hamstrings need to be a priority in your fitness life starting…now.
Common Hamstring Training Mistakes
If you're guilty of any of the following, it's time to own up to your mistakes and correct them. You're hamstring development isn't going anywhere unless you do.
Luckily for you, it's not too late to change your ways. Realize that if you are making any of these mistakes, you can change. And I will show you how.
Not Focusing on Them
When most lifters, especially beginners, think about leg day they think about leg presses, extensions, squats, and they might throw in some leg curls. They just don’t pay enough attention to the hamstrings area which is a big mistake.
How are you going to get big legs if you don’t train the back of the thighs?
Related: 5 Most Effective Exercises For Building Your Legs
When finding a program or making your own split, you have to devote some specific attention to the hamstrings. This is true whether you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or looking to pursue general fitness.
Keeping It Too Simple
Now that we have made it clear that it needs to be a goal to hit them, we should understand that doing so means more than banging out a bunch of leg curls and calling it a day. Take the time to find or create a workout that will allow you to train the hamstrings effectively, intensely, and safely.
When you train chest, you likely pay attention to inclines, angles, and what machines would work best to target the muscles. This attention to detail is vital if you really want to successfully bring them up. That same theory needs to be applied to your hamstring training.
Not Paying Attention to the Negative
Lifting is likely the only endeavor where looking at the “negatives” is encouraged. In this case, we’re talking about the eccentric portion of the movements.
Coaches in different sports are paying more attention to negative-emphasis training to hamstrings due to several athletes tearing hamstrings in games or even during practices. How often do you watch Sportscenter and hear of some player being out with a “hamstring strain”?
Therapists and trainers are finding that eccentric-emphasized workouts are helping athletes recover from injuries and can help in minimizing the chances of repeating the same injury. When it comes to building muscles, you’re breaking down the muscle most when you’re performing the negative.
This is what you want so they can recover and grow when you leave the gym. So it should make sense that focusing on the eccentric portion of the rep should matter and be a priority.
Going Too Heavy
As awesome as it feels to place that pin at the bottom of the stack or load up the bar with as many 45’s as possible, going heavy for the sake of lifting big weight is a sign that you’re begging to get hurt. No one grows and improves sitting at the house.
Challenge yourself but remember that proper execution of the movements and rep quality is paramount for productive hamstring training. Leave the ego at home and your sacrifice will be well rewarded.
Not Focusing on Each Side Individually
Think about your arm training for a minute. How many exercises do you perform that focus on each arm individually? If you’re smart, at least one or two. Now how many exercises do you utilize that focus on each leg individually? That answer is likely zero for most of you reading.
Related: Unilateral Training - Building Muscle & Strength Without A Barbell
That could be because the movements you perform require both legs to be involved. Believe it or not, there are single leg movements out there that you could implement now and you should. It’s not just enough to train them; you need to make sure they are equally strong and developed on their own.
Fixing the Problems
Ok. I think that’s enough talking about what’s wrong. Now let’s get positive and figure out how to solve these issues and get your hamstrings right.
We have a few strategies here for you to plug in to your program that should help you see new development sooner rather than later.
Training Hamstrings First or On Their Own Day
You’ve neglected them for so long that you need to place extra emphasis on blasting those hammies. You can do this in one of two ways.
You can open up your training schedule and add in a day specifically for hamstrings. This extra day means you’re only focusing on that one bodypart and your energy will be designated on turning this weakness into a strength. You could either split up your leg day and train twice on that day or schedule this workout in on a normal day off.
If that isn’t an option for you due to a hectic schedule and lots of commitments, then plan your one leg day of the week so you train hamstrings first when you are fresh, motivated, and have the most energy to commit.
Yes, you will likely be weaker on quad exercises due to the pre-exhaustion from training the back of the thighs but the reward will be balanced and stronger legs in the long run.
Form and Feel First
You’re going to be psyched, pumped, and ready to go but before you get to loading up heavy weights, remember what we discussed earlier. Lighter weights and proper execution needs to come first. Make sure you do a warm up set to practice your form and establish that mental connection to the muscle.
This is important because unlike the quads, you can’t see your hamstrings unless you have the right mirror positions. Take your time doing this and your workout will be off to a good start.
3-5 Second Negatives
Since we covered the importance of eccentric training for hamstrings, let’s apply that knowledge. Each exercise you have in the workout that accompanies this article will require you to perform the eccentric part of the movement for three seconds.
So your tempo will be one second to lift, one second to hold, three seconds to lower, and one second to hold before performing the next rep. (1-1-3-1). This means each rep will take six seconds.
Once you get comfortable with this cadence up the negative to four seconds, and then five. Once five second negatives get easy for you to perform, you can then up the weight.
Remember, we don’t just want big hamstrings. We want to maintain or improve our flexibility so we can execute other leg movements and function to the best of our ability as athletes. So make sure that before, during, and even after training you stretch for a few minutes.
That doesn’t just mean reaching to touch your toes either. Take stretching as seriously as your training.
Your New Hamstring Program
We’ve discussed the mistakes of neglecting the hamstrings and tips to improve, now let’s get into the workout that can help you make gains on the back of the legs.
Stiff Legged Deadlifts On a Platform
This is a very basic movement but with a twist. To work on that flexibility, we’re going to do these while standing on a platform or a step. The goal should be to lower the weight so you stretch past your feet to the floor. The platform doesn’t need to be more than a few inches high.
If you don’t have access to a platform, stand on a couple of 45’s.
Related: Complete Guide To Romanian Deadlifts For Hamstrings And Glutes
After your warm up set, shoot for three sets of 10-12 reps. Rest for 90 seconds between sets.
Floor Glute-Ham Raise
This is where you will emphasize those negatives that we now know are so important. For this you’ll need a partner or a strong place to lock your feet in. Position yourself on your knees with your thighs and body upright with your feet locked or held.
While keeping your thighs and body straight, lower yourself towards the floor. Your hips will want to engage but keep them locked. Once you feel yourself falling to the floor, catch yourself with your hands and perform an explosive pushup to return to the starting position.
Once you’re back to your starting position, repeat for another rep. Do three sets of 12 reps with 90 seconds rest between sets.
Single Leg Curl
We’re at the third movement for hamstrings and now we will give each leg special attention. This is where you will also get some freedom and ability to put your own twist on the program. There are three different types of leg curls; lying, seated, and standing.
I know that each individual will find that one is better than the other. There is also the possibility that your gym only has one of those machines. So you will decide which version you want to do. Whichever one you choose, do three sets of 15 reps per leg with 90 seconds rest between sets.
|1. Romanian Deadlifts on Platform||3||10-12||90 secs|
|2. Floor Glute-Ham Raises||3||12||90 secs|
|3. Single Leg Curl||3||15 (per leg)||90 secs|
Take this program and give it a run for at least four weeks. Take pictures of your legs from the side and back when you start and again after that four weeks. You should notice some serious gains that will make you glad you decided to take hamstring training more seriously. You might also notice strength gains in other movements like squats and deadlifts.
At the end of the day, you now know that hamstring training is vital to have a complete physique both in development and performance.