7 Trainer-Approved Hamstring Exercises

Hit that posterior chain.

Originally Published: 
Why you should strengthen your hip flexors, not stretch them.

The hamstrings tend to get a lot of love during a stretch routine (who doesn’t have tight hammies?). When it comes to strength training, though, the quads and calves steal most of the spotlight — which is why trainers recommend balancing your lower body workouts with some bodyweight hamstring exercises.

These muscles do a lot for you, after all. “The hamstrings extend from your sit bones to your knees, and are responsible for bending your knees,” says Scarlett Fisher, an ISSA-certified personal trainer and co-owner of the gym Fit 4 Life Services. “Strong hamstrings enable your knees, legs, back, and hips to function smoothly and provide protection from injuries.” Hamstring strength also allows you to jump, run, and accelerate during workouts with more explosive power, adds Ty Fisher, an ISSA-certified personal trainer. “Not to mention, strong hamstrings help you walk with ease while maintaining good posture,” he says.

To find a bodyweight workout that focuses on those all-important muscles within your posterior chain, look for exercises that bend the knee or extend the hip, suggests NASM-certified master trainer Stephanie Braden, MFP-C. Many hamstring exercises will also work your glutes, quads, and core, she says, though many bodyweight moves work to isolate the hamstrings — no equipment required. Here are seven bodyweight hamstring exercises that trainers highly recommend.

1. Sliding Hamstring Curls

Robert Dodds, a certified personal trainer and owner of Nothing Barred Fitness, recommends sliding hamstring curls. Note: For this exercise, it helps to have two sliding exercise discs, but you could also do it on a hard floor using a towel in place of the discs.

- Start by lying on the floor on your back, arms at your sides with your palms facing down.

- Have the heels of your feet on top of the sliding discs or towel.

- Lift your glutes off the floor slightly, just 1 to 2 inches.

- Lift your hips as you slide your heels towards your glutes until your heels are under your glutes.

- Make sure your movements are slow and controlled.

- Slowly reverse direction and slide the discs away from you.

- Lower your hips back down to just above the floor.

- Go straight into the next rep. You should feel a good contraction in your hamstrings.

Do both legs at once or one leg at a time for a challenge.

2. Glute Kicks

Braden recommends butt kicks to activate the hamstrings.

- Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.

- Bend your right knee and squeeze the back of your thigh as you kick your right heel up to your butt.

- Return to the starting position and alternate sides.

- Begin with 1 set of 10 kicks on each side, and work up to 3 sets of 15 to 20 kicks.

- For a challenge, run in place and pump your arms as you kick your butt for 45 seconds.

3. Romanian Deadlifts

This compound movement works the hamstrings even if you aren’t holding weights. Here, Braden explains how to do it without equipment.

- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.

- Brace your core.

- Draw your arms toward your sides to engage your lats, which help support your core to maintain good posture during the exercise.

- Hinge forward from the hips with a slight bend in the knee.

- Focus on pushing your hips back.

- Keep your head up, back straight.

- Lower down for 4 counts, pause for 2 counts, drive hips forward to return to start quickly with control.

- Squeeze glutes and hamstrings.

- Perform 10 reps. Work up to 3 sets of 15.

4. Bridges

Danny Lehnert PT, DPT, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of Eclipse Wellness, recommends bridges — a move you can do using nothing more than bodyweight. You’ll also feel these in your glutes.

- Lie on your back with your knees bent so that your feet are comfortably resting on the ground.

- Keep your arms at your sides, but don’t press into them.

- Lift your hips up to make a straight line from your knees, hips, and shoulders. Or lift up as far as you can.

- Hold this position for 10 seconds. Think about squeezing the back of your body.

- For a challenge, lift one foot off the ground, then the other.

- You could also place your feet on an exercise ball and roll the ball as far forward as your hips allow then roll it back before slowly lowering.

5. Hamstring Walk-Outs

This move is a great exercise for beginners. Here, Braden explains how to do it in proper form.

- Lie on your back with your knees bent and heels on the floor, toes pointing up.

- Lift hips up into a bridge.

- Walk your feet away as far as you can. Maintain a straight back.

- Walk your feet back to your glutes.

- Repeat for 10 steps.

- Work up to 3 sets of 15 to 20.

6. Nordic Curls

Lehnert also likes Nordic curls. To do them, ask a friend to hold your feet down or wedge your heels underneath a bar or couch.

- Start in a tall kneeling position on both knees with your back straight.

- Put a pillow or yoga mat under your knees to relieve pressure on the kneecaps.

- Anchor your feet and cross your arms at your chest.

- Tip forward to lower your torso as far as you can before returning to start.

- Keep hips as straight as possible. All movement should come from your knees.

- To make it easier, hold an exercise ball and roll it forward with you.

- Do 2 sets of 5 reps to start.

7. Good Mornings

The Fishers suggest good mornings, a move you can do with or without weights to strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles.

- Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart.

- Slightly bend your knees.

- Place hands behind your head.

- Bend your torso forward and lower until it’s parallel to the floor.

- Squeeze the backs of your legs.

- Slowly rise back up to the starting position.

- Complete 12 to 15 reps, 3 to 4 sets.

Studies referenced:

Moustafa IM, Ahbouch A, Palakkottuparambil F, Walton LM. Optimal duration of stretching of the hamstring muscle group in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med. 2021 Dec;57(6):931-939. doi: 10.23736/S1973-9087.21.06731-9. Epub 2021 May 18. PMID: 34002974.


Scarlett and Ty Fisher, ISSA-certified personal trainers and owners of Fit 4 Life Services

Stephanie Braden, MFP-C, NASM-certified master trainer

Robert Dodds, certified personal trainer, owner of Nothing Barred Fitness

Danny Lehnert PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, CDNS, BRM, certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of Eclipse Wellness

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