Here is the list of hamstring exercises that I've used and what I think about each of them.
I've included pics of step by step instruction and a video the entire exercise from start to finish.
This should give you a good understanding of how to perform the exercise.
If you want strong and powerful legs, you need to focus in on the best compound weight lifting exercises that target the hamstrings.
Squats really work the entire body and especially the entire lower body BUT different styles of squats can affect which muscle groups are targeted the most in the powerful squat exercise.
For example, a wider powerlifter style squat may work the hamstrings and posterior chain muscles much more than an Olympic style squat which will work the quadriceps much more than the hamstrings.
So really… squats aren't enough to work the hamstrings fully for MOST people.
We made this page so you know which weightlifting exercises to use to build strong and powerful hamstring muscles.
Barbell Stiff Legged Deadlifts
My experience with Barbell Stiff Legged Deadlifts
I love any variation of Stiff Legged Deadlifts. I believe Stiff Legged Deadlifts are the king of exercises for your hamstrings and are a great overall exercise for your entire body. Barbell Stiff Legged Deadlifts are one of my favorite exercises, and I highly suggest them to you. The stretch they give and the amount of weight you can lift are the main advantages over the other hamstring exercises.
You can perform Stiff Legged Deadlifts with your legs straight or slightly bent. Some people call these two different exercises but I'm going to call both methods a stiff legged deadlift to make it simple. I like doing both methods and you should always push through your heels when doing the positive portion of a rep. Most hamstring exercises will have you pushing thru your heels. You may have some trouble using your hamstrings to lift the weight at first if you've never done this hamstring exercise before. Practice using your hamstrings to lift the weight. You'll get the hang of it.
As I said, I like both methods of doing stiff legged deadlifts, but I like the style with slightly bent knees the best. I can really feel these in the lower hamstring area around the knee. I am always trying to build up the area around my joints because I have very small joints for my frame and the more muscle around the smaller joints, the bigger my muscles look. This is why I love the slightly bent legged version.
I keep my back lower back tight throughout the movement. The range of motion on this type is much less than the straight legged version. I only go down to just below my knees and then all the way back up.
How to Perform Barbell Stiff Legged Deadlifts
I set the bar in my power rack on the lowest set of safety pins. The range of motion is smaller on the type that I like so the safety bars don't get in the way. I position my feet around shoulder width and point my toes slightly outwards. I put my legs up to the barbell so they are touching.
I then bend over at my waist and make sure to keep all my weight on my heels. By keeping my weight on my heels, I can feel my hamstrings working throughout the movement. You need to use your hamstrings to lift the weight and pushing thru your heels is how you accomplish that. Keep your lower back tight and your heading looking forward.
From the bottom, I like to explode through my heels to the top position. I like to keep the stress on my hamstrings throughout the movement by not standing upright completely. From the top, you should lower the weight slowly thru your heels. You will feel a very good stretch on the way down. Only go as far as what's comfortable to you. Do not overstretch on this exercise.
Video of Barbell Stiff Legged Deadlifts
Dumbell Stiff Legged Deadlifts
My experience with Dumbell Stiff Legged Deadlifts
Again, any stiff legged deadlift variation is a great exercise. Using dumbells gives a totally different feel. I like to start with the dumbells in the same position as that of a barbell. As I come up on the positive portion, I like to rotate the dumbells so that the ends of the dumbell are parallel with my stance. If you decide to use this version, make sure you have some pretty large dumbells for the future. I use adjustable dumbells to go pretty high in weight.
I don't like to use extremely large weights with stiff legged deadlift exercises. They seem to do the job without maximal weight. You'll see that when the weight gets pretty heavy, it is a little harder to use your hamstrings because the rest of your body wants to help lift the weight. If this happens, I like to keep the weight the same for a few sessions and try to feel the hamstrings more and more on each rep. Then I increase the weight again.
If you've done stiff legged deadlifts before but have never tried them with dumbells, you should definitely give them a try. They feel totally different! If you need a little variation for your hamstring exercise, don't hesitate to use them on your next cycle of WLC.
How to Perform Dumbbell Stiff Legged Deadlifts
I like to start these at the top by squatting down and picking up the dumbells from the floor. To start, I am in a full standing position and concentrating on putting all the weight onto my heels.
From the top position, I slowly lower the weight until I get a very good stretch in my hamstrings. If you look closely at the picture, you can see that all the weight is being placed on my heels. I'm at the bottom position there in the picture, and I've got a very good stretch going on in my hamstrings. From the bottom, I explode back upwards thru my heels to the top position.
Video of Dumbell Stiff Legged Deadlifts
Trap Bar Stiff Legged Deadlifts
My experience with Trap Bar Stiff Legged Deadlifts
Using the trap bar provides you with another great variation of the stiff legged deadlift. This exercise is another one of the great hamstring exercises, but you must have a trap bar to perform this exercise. This one also feels much different than a barbell stiff legged deadlift because your arms will be at your sides throughout the exercise.
If you have a trap bar or decide on purchasing one, you want to get one that does not have raised handles. You can do many other exercises with a trap bar so it is a good investment. You will definitely want to try stiff legged deadlifts with a trap bar. These are also a great hamstring exercise and it is amazing how different these feel than the other variations.
How to Perform Trap Bar Stiff Legged Deadlifts
You start this hamstring exercise by stepping inside the trap bar as shown. Get your feet positioned about shoulder width and a slightly outward direction. Get your weight on your heels. And get ready to grip the bar.
I want you to squat down and lift the bar to a fully standing position. This is where we will start each rep. Get your weight on your heels again. Once you get used to using your hamstrings to lift the weight, you won't even have to think about using your heels.
Lower the weight to a full stretch as shown. Only go as far as what's comfortable for you. Do not overextend. Keep your lower back tight and your head facing forward. Push back up through your heels and feel your mastrings doing the work.
Video of Trap Bar Stiff Legged Deadlifts
Glute Ham Raise
My experience with Glute Ham Raises
I have never done this hasmtring exercise because I have worked out at home for so long and do not have a glute ham bench. I have always gotten great development out of stiff legged deadlifts, so I have had no reason to purchase a bench. Plus, the bench would take up room in my home gym. I do not see any reason to choose these over stiff legged deadlift unless you believe in. I have never used them so I can't give you an opinion on these. All I can tell you is that many weight lifters love this as a hamstring exercise that helps increase their squat.
Cable Pull Thru
My experience with Cable Pull Thru
Cable Pull Thru is an excellent hamstring exercise that I love because you can be very explosive on the positive. The movement reminds me of a lineman in football coming out of the 3 point stance.
The only thing that I don't like about this exercise is it is very hard to use lots of weight because you have to pull the cable far enough forward to start the exercise.
I like to take a block of wood and place it behind my heels when doing this weight lifting exercise with really heavy weights. You must have a block or some grip on the floor as your feet will slip backwards with heavy weight.
I would much rather you do a stiff legged deadlift variation because they build your hamstrings much better. But pull thru's are fun when done explosively and you should try them if you are sick of stiff legged deadlifts and want a change!
A fun exercise is a good exercise.
How to Perform Cable Pull Thru
You need to have a cable pulley system to do this exercise as shown. I like to use a triceps rope for this exercise. You need some type of smaller bar for this exercise because it needs to fit between your legs.
You need to grab the triceps rope or bar and walk forward so that the weight comes off of the stack. You're going to be bent over with the tricep rope thru the middle of your legs as shown. I like to slightly bend my knees for this hamstring exercise in the bottom position. You'll really feel a good stretch in the bottom position.
You're going to push thru your heels from the bottom position all the way to the top. Bring the rop thru your legs as you rise to a near standing position as shown. Then lower the weight slowly by letting the rope go back between your legs to the bottom position.
Video of Cable Pull Thru
Leg Curl Variations
My experience with Leg Curls
Leg curls are an isolation exercise that may be used when you don't want as much stress on the lower back. I prefer all the exercises listed above over the leg curl because every one of them is more of a compound movement than a leg curl. I have always found it difficult to progress in weight with leg curls and much less weight is used than other good hamstring exercises. This is the reason I would rather you choose a different hamstring exercise.
How to Perform Lying Leg Curls
You need to have a bench with an attachable leg curl as shown or you need to have a leg curl machine to do this exercise. Put the amount of weight you need on the leg curl attachment.
This is a very easy exercise to learn as are most isolation exercises. All you have to do is lay down on the bench and place your legs under the padding as shown. I like to straighten my feet as much as possible so that most of the stress is placed on the hamstrings. You'll be able to feel the difference if you try it.
Explode to the top position on each rep. Then lower slowly back to a full stretch at the bottom. Some machines will give you a good stretch while others will not.
Video of Lying Leg Curls
Barbell Good Morning
My experience with Barbell Good Mornings
Good mornings have always been an awkward exercise to me that is very hard on the lower back. When you are doing squats in your rotation, I find it very hard to do good mornings because they put so much stress on the lower back when the weights get heavy. I do not like good mornings much at all, but if they fit you well they seem to put good mass on your upper hamstrings if you need it there.
I personally do not like them at all. And I've given them all the chances in the world. I can never get them to feel right when increasing to heavier weights. And I think increasing the weight over time is the key to building muscle.
So, what's the point in an exercise if I never feel right when increasing to heavier weights? That's how I see it. Choose another good hamstring exercise.
Give them a try and see how they for you, though. Everyone is built differently and this exercise might be one of the best ones for your hamstrings.