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Today I would like to talk about the hamstring muscles.
The hamstring muscles are one of the most commonly injured muscles in the body and require extra care to maintain their integrity.
The hamstrings are one of several muscles in the leg. The others, one which I dealt with here, and the other that I will deal with in an upcoming article are: the quadriceps, and the calf muscles. Together, the leg muscles are the strongest and the longest muscles in the body.
For today, we will talk about the hamstring muscles: where they attach at both ends, what they do for us, and how to exercise them properly.
Let’s get started!
The Hamstring Muscles
The hamstrings are a group of muscles and their attached tendons at the back of the leg, between the hip and the knee. There are three hamstring muscles: the biceps femoris, the semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus.
All three of the hamstring muscles have their origins, where the tendons attach to the bones in the hip area, on a bone often referred to as the sitting bone (the ischial tuberosity of the hip) and also the lineal aspera of the femur. Since the origin of the hamstrings is on the sitting bone, all three muscles are stretched when we are sitting, and long periods of sitting can be problematic and will affect the hamstrings functions.
Two of the three (the semimembranosus and the semitendinous) hamstring muscles insert at various points on the tibia bone, and the most lateral muscle of the hamstring group, the biceps femoris, inserts on the lateral side of the fibula and the lateral part of the tibia.
Given the origin and insertion of the muscles, it is clear that the muscles will assist in the movement of the leg, around the knee joint, with the assistance of the quadriceps.
What It Does
The hamstrings flex the knee joint and extends the thigh to the backside of the body.
The hamstring muscles are used in walking, running, and many other physical activities such as jumping, playing sports, or climbing stairs.
When walking or running, the major job of the hamstring muscles is to act as antagonists to the quadriceps which are trying to straighten out the leg. The hamstrings will slow down the acceleration of this leg straightening. Since the quadriceps are so much larger and stronger, the hamstrings must work really hard to decelerate this motion and can be easily injured. In sports, where we are moving quickly, but also stopping quickly, the hamstring is called on regularly to slow down leg motion initiated by the quadriceps.
I cannot state with any more emphasis the importance of working=king out the hamstrings, as much or more than the quadriceps, to avoid injury. Just do the exercises!
Also, since we sit a lot in our society, the hamstring is often in the extended or stretched position for extending periods of time, and its integrity is already compromised; that is, its ability to contract is lessened. It is important that we exercise and grow the hamstring muscles as much as the quadriceps muscles, even though it is the quads that get all the attention on the beach!
Best Hamstring Exercises
There are many exercises that are great for the hamstring muscles. Keep in mind that no muscle works in isolation, so whenever you are performing leg exercises or back exercises, you are working the hamstrings.
I will mention four particularly good exercises for the hamstring muscles and then suggest a workout below.
Keep in mind that all of these exercises will stretch the hamstring muscles as if you were standing straight, bending at the hip, trying to touch your toes. That is the goal of hamstring exercises. To make it possible for you to touch the floor with your palms while keeping your legs straight. Adding weight will allow the muscle to grow, but it is important to work on the flexibility of the muscles first, to avoid injury.
The first exercise is the Stiff-Leg or Romanian Deadlift. This exercise is performed in the same manner as a deadlift, where you ensure that your shoe laces are below the barbell, choose a grip on the bar (both hand on top or one hand supinated), and safely lift the weight until you are standing. From this point is where there is a difference. Instead of lowering the weight all the way to the floor, you will bend at the hips and keep your legs stiff, lowering the weight as if you where trying to touch your toes. Lower it as far as possible without hurting the muscle. Return to the standing position and repeat.
Please keep in mind that the lowering and the lifting of the weight are of equal importance when working out the hamstrings. Pay attention to the muscle and make that all important mind-muscle connection.
The next exercise is the Body weight Glute-Hanstring Raise, or bridge. Lie on your back on the floor and bring you feet in toward your glutes. Then lift your back off the floor, using your glutes and hamstrings to do so. Push your abdomen to the sky. Adjust your legs as necessary to ensure that your hamstring muscles are doing the majority of the work on this exercise.
Another great exercise is Dumbbell Single-Leg Stiff-Leg Deadlifts. This exercise is similar to the Romanian Deadlift except that you use a dumbbell in one hand and bend at the hip, extending one leg behind you to stretch and strengthen the other leg. See the diagram for details.
It has been said that no leg routine is complete unless you do some single leg exercises. Just like you do arm exercises for each arm, you should exercise each leg independently.
The final exercise I will mention (and remember, there are lots more) is the exercise ball hamstring curl. Lie on your back on the floor and put both feet on an exercise ball. Raise your back and glutes up off the floor, balancing on the exercise ball. Roll the ball, using your hamstrings to move the ball, toward your glutes, squeezing the hamstrings along the way. Stretch back out and repeat. It may sound simple and easy, but trust me, it is not. This is by far one of the best exercises for your hamstrings as it uses all three muscles to their fullest extent as you pull and push and try to balance your trunk all at the same time.
Let’s put these exercises together in a little hamstring routine.
Best Hamstring Workout
Leg day will be one of the longer workouts of the week, and by far the most tiring. You will be performing three or four exercises for the quadriceps and three or four exercises for the hamstrings. Then you will need to exercise your calves. It is a busy day to say the least.
Another thing. You don’t need to do all the quad exercises, then all the hamstring exercises, then all the calf exercise. Come up with a routine that mixes them up and allows you to rest one muscle group while working on the other. Remember that the quads and the hamstrings are antagonist muscle groups, so working one will rest (sort of) the other.
I suggest that you start your hamstring workout with three sets of 15 repetitions of the Glut-Hamstring Raise. This will allow you to start slow and work up to a fuller stretch of the hamstrings. It is also a good overall warm up for the leg.
Then switch to single leg Deadlifts, really stretching all the way to the floor. I use a kettlebell and adjust the grip on each successive set so I can bend over further each time. Again, three sets of 12 repetitions.
Finish the workout with the Exercise Ball Hamstring Curl. Do three sets of 15 repetitions, again really concentrating on the hamstring mind-muscle connection to ensure you have exhausted this muscle group.
If you are intentional in these exercises, and really give a good effort, trying to stretch and strengthen with each repetition, you will be tired at the conclusion of this routine. Congratulations, you have ensured that stair climbing (walking far that matter) will be difficult for the next day or two!
My suggestions are just that – my suggestions. There are many ways to put together a hamstring routine, and you should change it up once in a while to keep your muscles guessing.
Skipping leg day is not an option. Use these suggestions, along with the suggestions in this article and the following article to put together a leg workout that works for you!
Also, if you are a father (or mother) (or anyone for that matter) who would like an easy to follow program that includes a menu and work out information, check out this article from a few months ago.
See you in the next post.
Have a great day!