The 7 Best Hamstring Exercises To Build Stronger, Bigger Hamstrings

The 7 Best Hamstring Exercises To Build Stronger, Bigger Hamstrings

clock-circular-outlinePosted 25 Jan 2023

Chasing that quad sweep or teardrop often takes first place when it comes to growing bigger legs – but focusing on the 'mirror muscles' is a rookie mistake.

Your hamstrings, at the back of your thighs, need some TLC too.

The hamstring muscle makes up around 1/3 of your leg mass, and is a strong, powerful muscle. Ensuring the hamstrings are well conditioned can help shrug off common hamstring injuries, reducing muscle imbalances and building overall strength and size in your legs.

This article will run through the brief anatomy of the hamstring muscles, and what they do – along with the best hamstring strength exercises to grow bigger, stronger hamstrings.

The Anatomy Of The Hamstring Muscles

The hamstring muscles are located at the back of the thigh, and are made up of 4 muscles:

  • Biceps Femoris (long head and short head)

  • Semitendinosus

  • Semimembranosus

The main action of the hamstring muscles is to provide flexion at the knee joint, along with assisting hip extension and thigh rotation.

This is why when training hamstrings, we try to replicate the above actions with added load. For example, the leg curl machine adds resistance to knee flexion, and Romanian deadlifts add resistance to the lengthened hamstring and hip extension.

Of course, the hamstring doesn't work in a silo, and recruitment from quads, glutes and further stabilizing muscles are required to adequately strengthen and grow the hamstring muscles.

If hitting your hamstrings hard is on your agenda, then keeping your posterior chain and back in tip-top condition will help keep you injury free. Try these back stretches to improve flexibility!

The 7 Best Hamstring Exercises

  • Romanian Deadlift

  • Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

  • Bulgarian Split Squats

  • Prone Leg Curls

  • Deadlift

  • Kettlebell Swings

  • Good Mornings

Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts (or stiff leg deadlifts) are a great exercise for working your hamstrings.

Unlike regular deadlifts which put a lot of the workload onto the lower back, Romanian deadlifts place the majority of the workload onto your hamstrings.

This allows a more targeted approach to training your hamstrings, placing them under greater tension whilst placing less stress on your lower back, like the conventional deadlift.

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

A test of courage, as well as balance. The Single Leg RDL is a more challenging variation of the regular Romanian Deadlift, adding increased isolation to one leg.

The Single-Leg RDL is generally performed with a single dumbbell, and this study found it to be one of the best hamstring exercises for targeting the biceps femoris.

If you're new to this one, start without any weight before proceeding to use a kettlebell or dumbbell for increased resistance.

Bulgarian Split Squats

Often seen as more of a quad exercise, however, the Bulgarian Split Squat is a great all-rounder for building bigger, stronger legs - whilst also developing your posterior chain as a whole.

The Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral leg exercise, that places increased stress through the leg muscles, resulting in an utterly miserable, but effective leg exercise - no pain no gain, right!?

Perform this exercise with dumbbells to work on balance, before proceeding to a heavier barbell.

Prone Leg Curls

Your gym most likely has multiple hamstring machines, and they all have their pros and cons. The prone leg curl, or lying leg curl, is an isolation exercise designed to purely target your hamstrings.

A study found that when the goal is purely muscle contraction and targeting the hamstring muscles, not many exercises came close to being as effective as the prone hamstring curl machine.

Great for building strength across lower rep ranges, but best when used for hypertrophy or high-rep training to failure - allowing you to exhaust your hamstrings with no risk of dropping weight or losing balance.

It's a great hamstring exercise and is often performed at the end of a leg workout to increase total volume through the hamstring muscle.


Having big, strong hamstrings is no good if the other muscles in your posterior chain are weak.

The deadlift is a compound movement that allows a serious amount of weight, and volume to go through your hamstrings, glutes, and back. Move slowly through the negative phase of each rep to really help target and develop the hamstrings.

The deadlift can be taxing on your lower back, so be sure to have a conservative approach to the progression of weight, reps, and sets when looking to build bigger hamstrings.

Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell swings are an excellent movement for developing strength, building power, and growing those hamstrings! 

Once your technique is on point, it's time to grab a heavier kettlebell and start challenging the hamstrings, and posterior chain.

Surprisingly, this study actually found Kettlebell Swings to be one of the most effective hamstring exercises for activating the biceps femoris.

Add these to a superset, circuit or load up with a heavier kettlebell and work on your strength and power.

Good Mornings

Good mornings are probably one of the least common exercises you see being performed at your gym, but it's definitely one of the best exercises for your hamstrings.

Underutilized, probably due to the fact it's hard to load the bar with any serious amount of weight - but that's a good thing.

Using moderate weight and good technique, this hamstring exercise is great for creating time under tension and adding resistance to your hamstrings in their lengthened state.

So if bigger hamstrings are your goal, add this one to your list!

. . .

Although we've listed the seven best hamstring exercises, it's best to focus on a few of the above exercises and focus on technique and strength development.

If you were to just pick the three best hamstring exercises, a recent study found that the three best hamstring exercises when it comes to muscle activation are:

  • Kettlebell Swings

  • Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

  • Prone Hamstring Curl

You could pair the 3 hamstring exercises above, with another exercise from our leg day guide for the ultimate leg workout!

Which is your favorite hamstring exercise to include in your workouts?

Let us know in the comments below.

. . .


Chris Beck is Senior Editor at Gymshark, with a passion for writing informative conditioning and health content. Chris is an experienced Personal Trainer, and also holds qualifications in Nutrition, Sports Performance and is a certified Crossfit Level 1 Trainer.

. . .

Chris BeckBy Chris Beck

Editors Picks