Best Hamstring Exercises – Garage Strength

Best Hamstring Exercises

Best Hamstring Exercises For Leg Day Euphoria

Picture this- you…. walking around with mini-VW Beetles popping on the back of your legs. You know, that spot right where your hamstring is. Instead of a smooth piece of flesh, you have what can be compared to a punch buggy bulging. Even better, that bulging flesh doesn't only look good, but it contributes and oftentimes can be responsible for your impressive performance in the gym, it is contributing to your leg shape and helps you be a functional human in a world where strong is a superpower.

If you haven't guessed that we are talking about your hamstring, wonder no more. Your hamstring is something you want to train; you want to train well, and you want to be smart about how you train it. You can get all of that, and more, in our strength training app, Peak Strength.

As Earl mentioned in this article “if you want to be fast and athletic, functional hamstrings, strong hamstrings, hamstrings with athletic muscle bellies are where it is apt to make your locomotive speed, transient speed, and maximal mechanics at the upper echelon of sprinting sore faster, quicker, and more explosive.” Who doesn't strive to have that level of ability?

Understanding a few different exercises that can bring you there, plus some, is what we are going to unpack today. But first, let's review what your hamstring actually is, shall we?

Hamstring Anatomy

As mentioned, a well defined (and often functional) hamstring is one that can mimic a VW beetle popping on the back of your leg. This muscle (well, 3 to be exact) plays a critical role in many leg and athletic movements, most especially bending the knee and extending the hip.

The 3 muscles when we refer to the hamstring are the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus. These muscles working together make it so you are able to bend your knee or stand from a chair and can also be credited towards assisting in knee flexion and hip extension. 

 The Bicep Femoris is the outer hamstring and has 2 parts, a long head and a short head. Semitendinosus is your middle hamstring and semimembranosus is the inner hamstring. If you want to run, jump, or squat, these muscles are a vital part of that overall lower body strength and function.

Specific Benefits of Well Trained Hamstrings

Aside from looking cool and being a stud athlete, hamstrings play a bigger (arguably more important) role than just that. Here are only 5 reasons why you want to train your hamstrings but trust, there are more than this.

  1. Injury prevention: When your hamstrings are well trained, properly conditioned hamstrings can reduce the risk of both knee and lower back injuries. They provide support and stability during dynamic movements (perhaps during your clean and snatch) as well as during heavy lifting (when considering the absolute strength of your squat, this absolutely would be helpful!).
  2. Dynamic Trunk Control: When you engage your hamstrings (think squeeze, bend your knee or stand up) you are also indirectly working on dynamic trunk control. All of these muscles work as one to stabilize your pelvis and spine. The movements listed below as well as Olympic lifting, throwing, kettlebell swings- any of the like - require you to have solid trunk control as well as stabilize your pelvis and spine for maximum performance output. Strong hamstrings help.
  3. Explosiveness: Sprint, jump, pulls, full extension- all of these explosive movements heavily rely on power generated from your hamstrings. When you train these muscles, you are working towards improving overall athletic performance in your specific activities that require quick bursts of energy.
  4. Posture support: As previously mentioned, your hamstrings play a large part in dynamic trunk control as well as stabilizing your pelvis and lower back. If these muscles are weak, you may find you have low back aches and pains or poor posture. Working towards strong VW beetles on the back of your legs can also lessen the chance that you struggle with low back pain or poor posture due to inadequate hamstring ability.
  5. Balance: Since we have driven home the concept that your stability is related to hamstring training and strength, we would be remiss to not mention your hamstring's role in balance. Single leg work, maintaining equilibrium, agility in sport- you want to train hamstrings to level up your balance in a way that is conducive to making progress.

6 Hamstring Exercises to Uplevel Your Workout

Romanian Deadlift

Arguably one of the best hamstring focused, power, athletic, and posterior chain movements in your toolbox. Also known as an RDL, this hinge movement can be one to help develop absolute strength through manipulating load but also offers the option of adjusting the tempos and allowing time under tension to play a role in both strength and power development alike. Requiring effort from each of your hamstrings, glutes and lower back, an RDL performed properly involves hinging at the hips with a slight bend in the knee. The major focus here is a stretch and contraction of your hamstrings. 

Traditionally done with a double overhand grip, you may find it helpful to use straps as the load gets heavier.  Your feet are your roots helping you press into the ground which in turn helps promote stability as well as engagement of the glutes and hamstrings even more. The body awareness required to maintain posture and proper pressure can also translate well into some of your more technical coordination movements (snatch and clean and jerk).

There are many other varieties of this one movement.  

  • Snatch grip- both bilateral and unilateral.
  • Clean grip- bilateral and unilateral- which allows a heavier load.
  • Dumbbells- a great way to teach newer athletes how to engage hamstrings.
  • Kettlebells- reinforces a slight bend in the knee.

While performing the RDL, your trunk control will be challenged as well as making your erectors work to ensure you stay stacked with your ribs properly placed over your pelvis for the duration of the lift.  It is so much more than simply “pick it up and put it down.”  The added benefits of trunk control and body awareness make this one movement that, when manipulated and adjusted properly, can make your workout not just a leg day euphoric experience but one that leaves you proud of your training session for the physical and mental effort required to stay focused and move with intention.

Good Morning

When performing with the specific goal of chasing hamstring euphoria, the good morning we are talking about here is one where you choose to keep a slight bend in your knee and even consider using a safety squat bar rather than a traditional barbell. Also seen as a single leg, banded, dumbbell, or seated variety, this movement can bring big benefits to increasing your strength in many common compound movements while also reinforcing proper hip hinge mechanics. In more dynamic sports, incorporating good mornings in your training can translate into faster running and even higher jumping.

The primary muscles trained when executing a good morning are the hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors. The movement itself will mimic one of the RDL, however now with the load being in a dramatically different place (resting on your back/shoulders as opposed to pulling from the ground). You will notice the load to be much lighter while the muscular demand is dramatically different.  

Training your hamstrings with good mornings allows you to bring a hyperfocus to isolating those muscles.  So, for example, where a squat and traditional pull from the ground allow you to train your posterior chain, isolating those same muscles through a good morning helps you level up that training and muscular focus even while decreasing the load itself.  

Adding in good mornings to your training can also contribute to better back health not only through the primary muscles it works being strengthened but with the isolated focus it brings to your erectors.  This now ensures your trunk is getting taxed, in the best way possible.

Glute Ham Raise (or Nordic Hamstring Curls)

The Glute Ham Raise (GHR) can be performed in a variety of ways.  Bent knee to target more glutes, the Nordic Curl version if you don't have access to a Glute-Ham Developer machine or straight leg GHR- each offer different benefits to chasing that hamstring euphoria we are focusing on here.  

The traditional GHR is specifically designed to target the hamstrings and glutes. You will find yourself kneeling on the GHD machine with feet secured as you lower your torso forward until parallel with the ground.  From there, raising back up will require effort from both glutes and hamstrings. For muscular conditioning and hypertrophy purposes, this is what you may consider adding into training.

A bent knee GHR is one where you will primarily focus on glutes but have no fear, the hamstrings will still be incorporated in the effort, ultimately leaving you building the VW beetles.

Specifically speaking of the Nordic curl, this movement requires little to no equipment however does require a more advanced level of skill. This can potentially be beneficial to newer athletes looking to target hamstrings when kept to lower reps and 2x a week training while athletes with an older training age may find these make you extremely sore, so looking to add them to training 1x a week in sets of 5-6 across the board can be most beneficial.

What's best?  Well, as any good coach would say- “It Depends.”  What are your goals? What's your training volume like in general? What are your weaknesses? What do you have access to?  Be sure to pick and choose in a way that's most beneficial to you and your goals.

Single Leg RDL

Why single this out?  We already talked about the varieties of RDL’s that can be performed so why was this not included there? 

Simply because the single leg variation needs some extra love and we want to hit home the idea that unilateral work can bring big gains to your leg day goals.  

A Dumbbell or barbell Single Leg RDL is a great accessory movement that can bring balance to your hamstrings as we want to make sure unilateral work is prioritized in different phases of training.  Everyone has a weaker side and stronger side.  The goal is to work the weaker so those imbalances don’t catch up to you in a way that hinders your performance, aesthetic and fitness ability. 

 Allow the weaker side to dictate what both sides do, meaning that just because you can increase load on your stronger side, dont. Start with the weaker side and allow your stronger side to do “only” that which matches the weaker side.

The Single Leg RDL is similar to your traditional RDL, only it is performed on one leg.  Ideally you will work the weaker leg first and let the weight used on that side dictate what you do for both legs.  

With the single leg RDL, you are forced to focus on balance along with antirotation which translates well into sport and dynamic trunk control.  While this movement works the hamstring and stabilizer muscles, you are also forcing your central nervous system to be more heightened and that in turn your body will recruit more of the muscle we are trying to target.  

Mind muscle connection at its finest.

Sliding Hamstring curl

As a more advanced movement, this hamstring destroyer is great to enhance strength and hamstring control with nothing more than the floor and your bodyweight.  You can take the skill of this down a notch and modify to a leg curl, or lean on this more advanced variation.  

Requiring your body to be in a glute bridge position, you want to focus on squeezing the shoulder blades the entire time as well.  With heels properly positioned on your sliders or rollers, you will be using your hamstrings to slide or pull the feet towards your glutes through knee flexion.  Through this, your lower back and glutes are used for hip extension and your hamstrings will be the primary source of knee flexion. 

Similar to the single leg RDL in your nervous system requiring more effort, the sliding hamstring curl will also require intermuscular coordination so you will easily utilize every part of the hamstring to help improve strength and speed from your hamstrings getting worked.  Use this exercise 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps a few times a week.

Single Leg Squat

While predominantly thought of as a glute focused movement, when considering the muscular recruitment of coming out of the bottom of squat position, a single leg squat can be top notch in hamstring development. 

 Your hamstrings will definitely feel the work as they stabilize the body and control most of the upward movement in this lift. Because of the enhanced muscle fiber recruitment, you will find it contributes to both muscle growth as well as overall hamstring resilience, which can be beneficial in general training.  

If you have been here for a while, you may also know that we consider this movement the “Cheat code” for organizing the entire posterior chain.

With a single leg squat, you want about 70% of the weight in the front leg and 30% in the back. Ensuring and controlling proper alignment of the knees can help translate well into increased speed and the ability to produce strength and force from a unilateral position.  All key benefits to well-trained hamstrings.  

Keeping your torso upright and breath controlled, you will lower down until your back knee touches a pad or the ground and you drive up out of the hole (this is where you will note your hamstring integration) keeping your front foot flat and engaged, again looking for that root into the ground, similar to the RDL.

It is also worth noting that foot position is critical in ensuring this is a hamstring targeted exercise. Ideally, that front foot will be placed in a longer stride position to recruit that posterior chain like we are looking for.


When trying to decide how and when to program these, the main question needs to stay top of mind: What is the main goal?

As a general rule of thumb, be sure to prioritize your more technical and higher skill movements first. From there your compound movements like squats and bench will be next.

Lastly come the accessory movements. For example, something like a snatch + clean grip RDL will often come before a sliding hamstring curl. That is how you will likely see most of these applied, as accessory movements that complement the main sets of your training.

Be sure to check out our free program template found here.


Hamstring euphoria can be achieved in many ways. Heck, we even noted posterior chain, specifically hamstring recruitment, when stabilizing for and performing T bar rows. The key here is defining what you, the unique individual, will most benefit from. Also worth noting how your hamstrings, even though it's actually 3 different muscles, can fatigue easily and when form breakdown or extreme fatigue and soreness sets in, abort mission.

As a muscle that is massively important in most all of your power, performance and aesthetic endeavors, the last thing you want is to toe the line of injury due to overuse or being too sore.

Train smart, chase gains and be sure to best apply any one or some of these movements to make your next hamstring focused workout one that dreams are made of.

Gaylemarie Kayes

Gaylemarie, but just call her GM, is a seasoned fitness and nutrition professional with nearly two decades of experience in the industry. With a diverse clientele ranging from ultra runners to high-level competitors, gm brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise. As a former high-level athlete in running, CrossFit and Olympic lifting to now, a busy yet active mother, she understands the challenges of balancing fitness and goal getting with a hectic lifestyle. Gm's approach emphasizes discipline, ownership, and hard work, tailored to honor each individual's life season for optimal health and well-being.

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