This week I’m giving the upper body a break and moving back down to the lower body to discuss the muscles in the back of the upper leg – the hamstrings.
The hamstrings are made up of 4 different muscles and in a similar way to the groups of muscles discussed in previous weeks, the type of exercise you choose will activate each muscle to varying degrees.
Contrary to popular belief, the hamstrings are only moderately active during multi-joint lower body exercises. To really get the most growth out of these muscles you need to be including single joint, hamstring specific exercises. Therefore, the three exercises I have selected are all single joint (when executed correctly) and will help to stimulate growth across the entire muscle group, giving the upper leg a nice balanced look from front to back.
The Romanian Deadlift
To ensure you maintain good form with this exercise you need to be confident that you know how to hinge at your hips while maintaining a neutral spine (i.e. not rounding the back). You can use a barbell held in front of you or hold dumbbells by your sides (dumbbells can help to reduce tension in the lower back).
Start standing upright with soft knees. Move your hips back so your torso moves towards the ground, as if you are bowing. You should feel a stretch in the back of the legs. When your hands get to roughly shin level, drive the hips forward until you are back to a standing position. Aim to limit any bending at the knee (keep them soft, not locked) and create most of the movement from the hips (this keeps it more of a single joint exercise).
This is a great hamstring exercise that will really stimulate improvements in strength and size. However, due to the way it works the muscles it can also create a lot of muscle soreness when you first start using it. So, approach its use with a little caution and build the weight up gradually.
Gym Ball Leg Curls
While the Romanian deadlift trains the hamstrings through a hip dominant movement, this exercise trains them through a knee dominant movement (this is important for stimulating each of the hamstring muscles).
To set up for this one lie on your back with your feet resting on a gym ball and keep your arms by your sides for stability. Push down with the heels and lift the hips with your legs straight. Roll the ball towards you by bending at the knee (keep the hips up the entire time to make sure the movement only comes from bending the knees). Once the knees are bent control the movement back to the start position and begin the next rep when the legs are straight again (don’t let the hips drop until the set is complete).
This tends to be one of the more demanding hamstring exercises around and it helps to have a training partner as you need something or someone to anchor your lower legs when performing it. It’s another great knee dominant way of training the hamstrings, working specifically the “lower” parts of the muscle group.
To set up, kneel with both knees on a soft mat and stay tall through the hips (it helps to tuck the pelvis up a bit at the front). Have someone hold your feet down by the ankles. From here lean forward so you are moving only from the knee joints. Go as far as you can under control and then drop to the floor breaking your fall with your hands. Then push yourself up of the floor, like you would when doing an explosive press up. Pull yourself back to the start position, engaging the hamstrings to assist in the movement as soon as you can.
All three of these exercises will work well with the set and rep scheme from previous weeks:
Week 1 – 3×8 (72reps/session, 144reps/week), Week 2 – 3x 10 (90reps/session, 180reps/week), Week 3 – 3×12 (108reps/session, 216reps/week), Week 4 (deload week), 2×10 (60reps/session, 120reps/week). Then repeat the cycle for next 4 weeks aiming to add small increases to the weights used (don’t miss any reps though!). Aim to include these exercises into your training schedule twice each week.