3 of the Best Exercises to Build Your Hamstrings
Hamstring exercises are an oft-overlooked but extremely important part of a well-rounded training program. You need strong hamstrings for most lower body exercises, especially pulling movements such as deadlifts. Strong hamstrings also increase your explosive strength in lifts like power cleans and snatches.
Plus, mighty hamstrings are good-looking hamstrings, and that’s no bonus to overlook. To help you out on your leg-building endeavor, we created this guide to three of the best exercises for your hamstrings.
1. Barbell Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
Variations: Double dumbbell or kettlebell Romanian deadlifts
Why this is one of the best exercises for your hamstrings: A classic variation of the traditional deadlift, Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) isolate your hamstrings and glutes more than any other barbell movement.
How to do the barbell Romanian deadlift:
- Set up with a barbell as if you’re going to do traditional deadlifts. Use a grip you’re comfortable with. Deadlift the bar to start your first RDL from the hang position.
- With a slight bend in your knees, send your hips backward and simultaneously lower the bar. Keep the bar path tight — don’t let it stray too far from your legs.
- Keep bending until you feel tension (but not pain) in your hamstrings. Make sure to keep a neutral spine.
- Once you reach that end range of motion, squeeze your hamstrings to return to the starting position.
2. Barbell Good Mornings
Variations: Resistance band good mornings
Why this is one of the best exercises for your hamstrings: Another hinging movement, good mornings mimic Romanian deadlifts but shift the load to your posterior chain. Placing the barbell on your shoulders increases the tension in the lower portion of your hamstrings rather than the gluteus-hamstring tie-in.
How to do the barbell good morning:
- Place a barbell on your shoulders as if you were doing squats. You can take the bar from a rack or power clean it from the floor and press it overhead.
- Hinge at the hips. Press your hips back, keeping just a soft bend in the knees.
- When you feel slight tension in your hamstrings, bend at the hips, pressing your torso downward until you reach your end range of motion.
- Squeeze your hamstrings and glutes to return to the starting position. Make sure to fully extend your hips at the end of each rep.
3. Cross-Body Kettlebell Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Variations: Dumbbell single-leg RDL
Why this is one of the best exercises for your hamstrings: This unilateral movement requires extreme recruitment and control from your hamstrings. The cross-body aspect increases the need for balance and stability.
How to do single-leg Romanian deadlifts:
- Hold the kettlebell in your right hand. Plant your left foot and keep a slight bend in your left knee.
- Shift your hips back and lower the kettlebell, aiming for the floor in front of your left foot. Lower until you feel tension, but only as long as you can keep a neutral spine.
- Squeeze your left hamstring muscles to return to the starting position.
- Complete all reps on your left leg before repeating these steps with your right leg.