It has been my experience that hamstrings tend to be frequently overlooked in the eyes of many gym-goers and bodybuilders. To me, nothing looks worse onstage than when a guy or girl has great quads and shitty hamstrings. However, and believe me, full and developed hamstrings turn heads when it's time to turn around for the judges. At my contest, there were many competitors coming up to me and telling me that my hamstrings looked great and that they wanted to know the secret. After the contest, even the judges were commenting on my hamstrings, and under their breath telling me to put on some size! Well, the size will come, but knowing how to develop your hamstrings will take you to another level.
So, how do you go about doing this? First, let's make sure that you are actually doing enough for your hamstrings. You need to realize that your hamstrings need to be worked as much as any other body part. They have to receive the same amount of attention and intensity, or you will get nowhere. Some people choose to work hamstrings and quads together. I did this for most of my lifting career, and got good results out of it. As I started competing, I switched over to splitting up quads and hamstrings for different days. This way, I could push my hamstrings harder than if I had just gotten done working quads. Believe me, if you're working your quads like you should be, you should not be able to walk when you're done, much less go through a hamstring workout. The way my workout is set up, I take a day off between quads and hamstrings and do arms. If you are set on working both groups of muscles in the same day, you could even do a two-a-day where you work both groups at different parts of the day. To be honest, if I had the time, this is how I would do it.
Targeting Your Hamstrings
Now you're ready to start in on the actual workout. There are two basic ways to really target your hamstrings. First, you can do a movement that is isometric with respect to your hamstrings and dynamic to your back. Here, I'm referring to a straight leg dead lift. Next, you can do a dynamic movement in the form of a leg curl. These can be done standing, lying, and seated. I will go through all three forms so that you can know which form to do when you're in the gym.
The first movement, straight-leg deadlifts, can be done with either a pair of dumbbells or a barbell. Before you even start this exercise, make sure that you are thoroughly stretched and warmed up! Now, this movement may seem simple, bend over and touch your toes, but don't fall prey to this notion. First of all, you need to make sure that you have proper footing. I always like to keep my feet a between touching and shoulder width. Next, never lock out your knees; always keep a slight bend in them. Like a dumbass, I've actually tried this exercise with my knees locked, and my knees were killing me the rest of the workout and during the set itself. Prior to bending over, make sure that your chest is out, your head is back and slightly looking upwards, and your back is slightly arched. When I say arch your back, I don't mean stick your ass way out. Bend at the hips, and begin descending downwards. As you are on your way down, keep the bar close to your legs and stick your butt out. If you stick your butt out, the bar will automatically remain close to your legs. If you keep your back arched and chest out throughout the entire repetition, the bar should not be able to go much further than midway up your shin. On the way up, keep your back arched and pull with your hamstrings. Make sure that you stand up straight before starting your next rep.
Things to avoid: never round out your back at the bottom of a rep. If you round out your back, you are using poor form, and possibly too much weight. Many people do this because they feel like they have to touch their toes, even if they can't, in order to get a full repetition. Basically, this will make you more tired than anything and improve your chances for injury. Never let your shoulders roll forward or look down at the floor. Both of these will increase the likelihood of your rounding your back. Don't descend too quickly, this could cause you to loose control of the weight and result in straining your back or tearing your hamstring.
All About Leg Curls
The other type of exercise for hamstrings is the leg curl. Like I mentioned before, you can do these sitting down, lying down, or standing straight up. Personally, I always begin with lying leg curls. These are very good for warming up and beginning your workout because it is a simple movement designed to target the hamstrings, not a power movement like straight leg dead lifts. Before you start, you want to make sure that the leg pad is positioned right on your leg. The pad should be about half of an inch to an inch above your ankle. You want to avoid jerking the weight up without squeezing with the hamstrings. Curl your leg all the way until the pad hits you in the ass. Keep your foot flat, like your standing on the ground, don't point your toes. In your warm-up sets, try elevating your upper body by putting your elbows on the pad and holding yourself up. This will arch your back automatically and allow you squeeze your hamstrings that much more. In your work sets, you'll want to avoid this so that you can actually do the weight. Keep your pelvis on the bench; don't let your butt come up on the way up. When you're contracting, try to visualize your knees sliding down, this will help keep you on the bench better.
I don't do seated leg curls very much because I tend to slip forward and away from the seat. If a belt is connected to the seat, that would help. That is really the most important thing with this exercise, keeping your hips pressed against the seat. Make sure that you keep your hamstrings tight during the whole set, and don't point your toes. Standing, one-legged leg curls (uni-leg curls) are my favorite exercise for hamstrings. With this exercise, you can isolate your hamstring and really squeeze a lot more. This exercise is much easier if you can bend over a little. If you can bend over more, you will get more of a full range of motion with heavier weight. The key is to keep the quadriceps and knee of your working leg against the pad. Also, keep your back arched and don't lean to one side of the other.
Remember, never overlook your hamstrings, they can make or break you in a contest. Work them as hard as you work every other muscle group. The key is to feel the exercise and use the intended muscle. If you're not doing this, stop and go home because all you are doing is making yourself tired. I leave you with a great workout once you've accustomed your hamstrings to intense work:
Good luck, and e-mail me for any questions!!
- Lying leg curl: 3 sets of 15 reps
- Uni-leg curl: 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
- Straight leg dead lifts: 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
- Lying leg curl: 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps
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