RNT Body Part Series, Part 4: Two Tips For Hamstrings

RNT Body Part Series, Part 4: Two Tips For Hamstrings

Most people don't prioritise training their hamstrings. Don't fall into that category!

05 Dec 2017

Training Intermediate
5 Mins


In parts 1, 2 and 3 we looked at how we can optimise your training in the major muscle groups of the torso:  chest, back and shoulders.

In part 4 we’re going to take a different direction and tackle one of the most neglected body parts: the hamstrings.

In most people’s workouts, hamstrings are seen as an afterthought – and usually tacked onto the end of a workout with a few sets of half-assed leg curls.

If you’re one of the rare few that do train them strategically, but they’re still lagging behind, the answer may lie in your execution.

Hamstring training doesn’t need to be complicated. The best way to immediately optimise your hamstring training is to improve the way you’re already training them.

In between my two competitive bodybuilding seasons in 2014 and 2017, I started every single leg workout with a hamstring exercise.

If your hamstrings are lagging, this is the first thing to do – prioritise them!

From here, let’s assume you’re training them in a wide variety of rep ranges every 3 to 5 days and focusing on progressive overload. What next?

1. Stretch And Activate

When performing your leg curls and stiff-legged deadlifts, one of the reasons why many of you can’t achieve a full range of motion is because of tightness in the hip flexors and quads.

My favourite way to open up these muscles prior to training the hamstrings is to perform a single leg exercise that emphasises a deep stretch.

Bodyweight walking lunges and Bulgarian split squats done for 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps in a slow, controlled and deliberate fashion works very well.

I prefer this over static stretching for the hip flexors (which also works) because you also activate your glutes, generate blood flow to the legs and increase your heart rate – all serving as the perfect warm up.

Once you’ve performed this, flex your hamstrings for 8-10 seconds as hard as you can, and continue to do so between each of your warm up sets.

You can do this in a few ways:
  • Pretend you’re doing a single leg standing curl and flex
  • Hold the contracted position of a leg curl for 3-5 seconds at the end of your first few warm up sets
  • Flex your hamstrings as you would in a ‘rear relaxed’ bodybuilding pose, which involves digging your feet/heels into the ground to switch on your hamstrings
Doing this will establish a strong mind muscle connection so that when it comes to your ‘money sets’, it’ll be your hamstrings you’re overloading, and not any secondary movers.

2. Hips In, Hips Back

The hamstrings have two main functions: knee flexion (e.g. leg curl variations & glute ham raises) and hip extension (e.g. stiff leg deadlifts & good mornings).

With each function and their respective exercises, the main internal cue to focus on is different.

For all leg curl variations, you want to think ‘hips in’ at all times. The more you can keep your hips extended throughout the set, the more you’ll be able to maintain the focus on your hamstrings.

For example, during a lying leg curl, you want to think about pushing your hips into the pad while curling your legs. If your hips lift up and hike in the air, the stress will transfer from the hamstrings to the lower back.

When it comes to hip extension movements, especially the ‘stretch’ based exercises, you want to think hips back.
A common mistake many people make on stiff leg deadlifts is that they just drop themselves forward on the eccentric, and create a ton of overload on their lower back with little hamstring activation. Instead, the aim should be to shift your hips as far back as possible, and getting the craziest stretch possible.

At the bottom of every rep, it should feel like your hamstrings are going to be ripped off the bone – that’s when you know you’re doing it right.

A good tip that helps here is to think about having a string attached to the back of your hips, and that someone is pulling on it from behind.

This shift in focus will enable you to load up the hamstrings on the eccentric and make sure that they’re in the right position to pull you back up too.

Maximise Your Hang

If you see someone with the elusive ‘hamstring hang’, you know they’ve put the work in.

Hamstrings take a lot of time and effort to build up. If they’re a lagging body part, prioritise them and follow the process of activating them while warming up, and then progressively overloading them while using the ‘hips in, hips back’ internal cues.

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