If you’re picking teams for any type of sport choose the guy with the big hamstrings and J-Lo ass. You know he’ll be powerful.
If you wake up one day in some Game of Thrones type world and have to fight a guy to the death in order to have your life spared choose someone with no hamstrings and a pancake ass. If his feet are pointing out to the side like Donald Duck, instead of straight ahead, that’s a pretty good sign that he’ll be easy to bring down.
Hamstrings and glutes are the power muscles. They improve your athletic ability, help you lift big weights and will serve you well in medieval style battles or zombie apocalypse throwdowns.
Strong hamstrings also keep your knees healthy. This is critically important for athletes. Running, cutting and jumping with weak hammies is an injury waiting to happen. Strengthen your hamstrings and you reduce your chances of sustaining a knee injury. You’ll also run faster, jump higher and squat and deadlift a lot more weight.
Some coaches mistakenly believe that the quads should be stronger than the hamstrings. The late, great Olympic track and field coach, Charlie Francis believed that the ratio should be at least equal or possibly even as high as 2-3:1 in favor of hamstring strength.
Now, exact ratios don’t matter and are very hard to measure. The point is you NEED strong hamstrings.
Weak Hamstring Fix #1: Train Them
This sounds pretty obvious but it’s not to most people. The majority of guys only train quads. Leg curls are thrown in at the end as an afterthought. You need to do as much work for your hams as you do for your quads on a regular basis.
Weak Hamstring Fix #2: Prioritize Them
If your hamstrings are weak train them first and train them often. That means you should start two leg days per week with direct hamstring work before you do any type of double or single leg squatting. Bomb the hamstrings then move on to more quad dominant exercises. You can even do some Frankenstein sled walks on off days to bring them up faster. In fact, I’d recommend it.
Weak Hamstring Fix #3: Live on the Glute Ham Raise
Nothing brings up weak hamstrings quite like the glute ham raise. That’s why powerfifters use it all the time.
Years ago I remember being stuck at a 365 squat for quite some time. Then I got the idea from Louie Simmons to start doing three sets of glute ham raises at the beginning of all of my four weekly workouts. On lower body days I even threw some more sets in at the end.
Within two months I squatted an easy 405 for the first time and my hamstrings no longer resembled a wall. The added side benefit was that my knees felt far better than they ever had.
Weak Hamstring Fix #4: Train Them as Hip Extensors
Glute ham raises and different variations of suspended leg curls are great and need to be done but you’ve also got to do dedicated hip extension work for the hamstrings. This means Romanian Deadlifts (both single and double leg), good mornings, pull throughs, reverse hypers and back raises/extensions need to be a regular part of your programming.
“The role of the hamstrings as extensors of the hip is most important. Most coaches focus more attention on performing thigh curls using the hamstrings as a knee flexor for the purpose of balancing out the strength between hamstrings and quadriceps. But I think the hip extension aspect is where most hamstrings related strength work should be focused.” - Charlie Francis
Weak Hamstring Fix #5: Box Squat
At Renegade we always start everyone out on the box squat. The reasons are twofold. Firstly, it teaches you to sit back, engage the hamstrings and use proper form. Secondly, just about everyone’s hamstrings are too weak to free squat safely when they begin training. Their knees end up going a mile over their toes and the whole thing is a car wreck. The box squat simultaneously allows them to squat safely while bringing up the hammies.
Weak Hamstring Fix #6: Squat Deep
Half squats, as you see everyone in public gyms doing, put a lot of stress on the knees and do nothing to bring up the hamstrings. To fully engage the hammies and glutes you’ve got to squat down below parallel.
A properly performed full squat is an excellent hamstring exercise. The problem is most people will never be able to do that when back squatting. That’s not the end of the world, though.
The solution, in that case, is to mix in some barbell, safety bar or kettlebell front squats, belt squats or goblet squats. The method you use isn’t as important as the act of squatting deeply.
So if box squats are the only type of big barbell squat you can do just be sure to also include some deep goblet or kettlebell front squats in your program as well, to round things out.
Weak Hamstring Fix #7: Make Like Steve Miller
And go to Swingtown. Kettlebell swings have been hailed by many insanely strong powerlifters as one of the best assistance exercises for bringing up the deadlift. The great thing about the swing, in addition to the active hamstring stretch, is that there is very little eccentric component and it doesn’t really beat you up. That means you can push the volume quite high without fear of overtraining.
Making swings a regular part of your routine and hitting a few sets at least twice per week will definitely help bring up your weak hammies.
That’s a Wrap
Follow the seven tips below and stick with it for a few months. You should be pleasantly surprised in your hamstring size and strength along with the health of your knees.