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3 Hacks For Bigger Hamstrings

Goodbye Skinny Legs!

Posted by Scott_Herman - February 16th, 2018

Today, I’m going to save you from the embarrassment of skinny legs. However, the problem usually isn’t with the quads, most people hit those every week. But when it comes to the HAMSTRINGS, I don’t see too many people in my gym attacking them all that often. If you want that nice thick, round look, you need to prioritise them, not to mention the fact that they also go hand-in-hand with increasing your squat and deadlift.

Hack #1: Don’t Ignore The Basic Function Of The Hamstrings

Unfortunately, most people only focus on isolation exercises for the hamstrings, and believe it or not this can lead to an injury because the hamstrings will start to learn to work as an isolated muscle group as opposed to with the glutes. So if your workout program only consists of performing isolation type movements for the hamstrings, you’re training them in a way they’re not supposed to be trained for maximum performance.

If this sounds like you, make sure when you train your hamstrings you start your workouts with exercises that involve hip extension, like deadlifts, hip thrusts, glute bridges or squats. This will help you avoid a future hamstring injury because these exercises train the glutes and hamstrings together, which is their intended function…not just knee flexion.

Hack #2: Focus On Overloading Your Hamstrings During The Stretch

Once you’ve incorporated some of the exercises from hack #1 into your routine, don’t just run to a prone leg curl or a seated leg curl as your next exercise. Yes, exercises like these can give you a good flex, but the stretch is non-existent and that is where you get the most muscle damage for regrowth. I’m not going to say that either of those are bad exercises, but you need to utilize the proper order of these movements to see the most gains. For instance, you get much more muscle damage for regrowth from exercises that require a deep stretch, such as a Romanian deadlift. This movement should be a staple in your hamstrings training, so let’s go over proper form.

Romanian Deadlift

There are a few things you have to keep in mind before you even start doing Romanian deadlifts. Number 1, unless you have really freaky flexibility, the weight should not touch the ground between your reps. It should hover an inch or two above the ground every single time. Basically you’re going to be bringing the bar down to about mid-shin level. Number 2, you’re not doing a traditional squat stance. You want to stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, and your toes facing forward so that your heels are ‘under’ your shoulders. The last thing you have to keep in mind for this movement is that there is NO spinal flexion during the movement. That’s where most people go wrong with the exercise, and is why many people have back pain and/or don’t feel their hamstrings working and stretching.

Proper form involves standing with your feet shoulder width apart while the barbell is on the ground in front of you. Once in place, you want to reach down and grab the barbell a little wider than shoulder width, so that your hands don’t grind down your thighs as you go up and down, and you’ll then deadlift the bar up. Once you’re in position gripping the barbell, you’re going to sit back while keeping your chest up.

The bar should drag down your thighs, and then when the bar gets to about knee height, you’re then going to try to sit back even more while keeping that slight arch in your back. By the time you get to about mid-shin level, you should feel a DEEP stretch in your hamstrings (at this point the bar should still be about 3 inches off the ground). You’ll then return to the top of the movement and repeat. Keep in mind you want to control your negatives and go nice and slow – this is not a fast movement. It’s a slow movement so you can feel the hamstrings stretching, and if you do it too fast, you will not feel the hamstrings getting that nice deep stretch. If you’ve been doing it too fast in the past, try to really slow it down to get the form correct, and find that nice sweet spot where you’re able to perform multiple reps in a row without going into spinal flexion and really feeling those hamstrings ripping and tearing.

Stiff-Leg Deadlift

To be honest, these are an inferior exercise compared to Romanian deadlifts in terms of targeting the hamstrings, and they will actually place a bit more emphasis on your lower back and your glutes. The whole reason why a Romanian deadlift works so well is because as you go down, you’re bending your knees and sitting back. It’s the process of sitting back which gets that really deep tear and stretch through the hamstrings.

When doing a stiff-leg deadlift, you actually need to stand on a platform to do this exercise correctly, because you need to get your hands as close to the ground as possible for full range of motion of the movement. Also, some other changes here are that your legs are going to be straight the entire time, and you will also go into a lot more spinal flexion, which like I said in the beginning is why the movement is going to target a lot more of your lower back.

The fact this movements targets more of the lower back, it means you’re certainly not going to be able to lift as much weight to hit your hamstrings, because your lower back can only handle so much weight when doing a bent-over movement. So for this movement, your legs stay stiff as you come all the way down while still sitting back, but now you’re going into full spinal flexion until you get to the bottom of the movement, and then you’re picking the weight back up. Therefore you can try stiff-leg deadlifts if you want to, but after trying each movement for one set each, you’ll quickly realise that the Romanian deadlifts are the superior exercise you should be doing.

Hack #3: Finish Off Your Hamstrings With Volume

Now that your hamstrings are pre-exhausted, they’re primed for some serious muscle stimulation, and you’re going to make the most of that by attacking them with volume. However, instead of going straight to an isolation movement like a prone leg curl, you should instead utilize an exercise that focuses on hack #1, involving the benefits of the flex while also working the glutes and core to ensure the hamstrings continue to work together with the glutes.

Hamstring Curl On An Exercise Ball

To perform this movement, all you need is an exercise ball, but it’s going to be much more than just bringing your heels to your butt. A lot of people go to the gym to do this exercise, but they have no thought process going on during the movement and just fling their legs back and forward without really engaging anything. That’s not what you want to do. Now that the hamstrings are pre-exhausted from the other exercises, you want to overload them with volume, but you can only do that if you perform this exercise properly.

Remember, you want the hamstrings to work in unison with the glutes, so before you even start the exercise you’re going to flex your glutes and extend your hips to the ceiling. Once in place, you’re going to bring your heels to your butt, and as you bring them to your butt you’re going to flex your hamstrings and your glutes as hard as possible at the bottom of the movement. Once you do that, you’re going to return to the starting position and repeat for reps. Every single time you do a rep you’re extending and then when you bring your feet in, you’re flexing and squeezing your hamstrings as hard as you can. That is how you’re going to finish off your hamstrings, and continue to teach them to work in unison with your glutes while overloading with volume.


If you don’t have an exercise ball for the last movement, you can also perform the exercise by hanging from a barbell with your feet on a bench. Once in place, all you have to do is pull through with your heels, just make sure your body is angled down so you can get a full flex during the movement.

With these 3 hacks all in your arsenal, you’ll have those hamstrings looking HUGE in no time!

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Thank you, very insightful. I used to work hamstrings by doing the lying leg curl, standing isolated leg curl, and then seated leg curl. Changed it up the other day with your advice and will start doing it this way from now on. 

Scott_Herman  Edit  Delete  Close

@caseylaski glad you enjoyed it! Can't forget about those free weight exercises, especially in terms of hamstrings when you want to be getting the glutes involved a little bit as well!

Nice article!