“If you are not stabilizing at the knee appropriately—and that’s a big part of what your hamstring does, it helps keep the knee joint in place—you risk a greater incidence of injury when your quads are way overdeveloped and the hamstrings are too weak,” he explains.
Plus, thanks to too much inactivity throughout the day—think long days sitting at your desk or in your car for your commute—your hamstring muscles tend to tense up, Miklaus says. This tightness can contribute to lower back pain. So moving them regularly, like with hamstring-focused leg exercises, can keep those muscles loose, which can help ward off that discomfort, he says.
What are the best hamstring exercises you can do?
The best hamstring exercises are those that incorporate hip extension (think hip hinge, like if you were deadlifting) or knee flexion (like with a glute bridge, where your hamstrings fire as your heel applies force to the floor), says Miklaus. These types of compound exercises target your hamstrings and work them in a functional way—meaning, you’re moving similarly to how you would in everyday life and engaging other muscles around them, too.
To really isolate your hammies (meaning, hammer on those muscles and only those muscles), leg curls—which really hone in on knee flexion—are your best bet. The leg curl machine at the gym works great for this, but you can also do hamstring curls with your bodyweight, known as Nordic curls, or using a resistance band, stability ball, or gliders.
Even leg exercises that you’d traditionally consider quad-dominant moves, like squats or lunges, can also work the back of your legs. That’s because when you lunge or squat, your hamstring muscles have to turn on to keep your leg stable and to help you stand back up, he says. Variations like the reverse lunge and sumo squat will fire up your hamstrings more than the OG exercises.
So what’s the best way to add them into your workouts?
If you want to create a well-balanced leg workout, add two or three of the following hamstring exercises to each routine. Before you get started with a hamstring workout, make sure you warm up properly, Miklaus says. That can mean a few minutes of walking on a treadmill incline, climbing stairs, or riding a bike—movements that wake up your hamstrings specifically. Then do a few easy sets of the exercises you choose, but with lighter weight than your working sets or with just bodyweight. (And if you notice any tightness in the back of your legs following your workout, there are some great hamstring stretches you can try to alleviate the discomfort.)
Here are some great hamstring exercises to include on your next leg day.