Get people to list a bunch of muscles and the obvious will come up – pecs, biceps, triceps and the occasional traps or quads. Hamstrings often get a final mention almost as an afterthought. Scary thing is, a lot of trainers fall into this category too. That’s unforgivable, but that’s another post for another day.
Your hamstrings are a powerhouse. They keep your back healthy, they work in conjunction with your glutes (your arse!) to keep your hips where they should be and provide the power for anything involving fast movement or uphill walking/climbing. Many, many lower back problems are caused by a lack of strength in the hamstrings (and often the glutes as a linked issue).
Why does this happen? Well, you can’t train them in an easy session. The exercises that work hamstrings well tend to be big movements (hey, they’re big muscles!) The other big issue is that hamstrings are one of the non-mirror muscles. You can’t see them easily when you train, and much like a cat hiding it’s head behind a curtain thinking it’s invisible, many trainers think if THEY can’t see it, no-one else can. Unfortunately, everyone can see when someone skips leg training. If you only ever train your quads – muscles at the front of your legs – you will also end up injured. Fact.
So how do you train them properly? Bear in mind they aren’t just one muscle. They’re a group of muscles with one catch-all term. As with any bodypart, they need a range of stimulation to get stronger and to grow in size.
Have a go at this sample programme below and see the difference that spending 6-10 weeks training your hamstrings properly makes. A word of warning – if you’ve never PROPERLY trained them before, this routine done straight away will leave you incapable of walking down stairs or sitting on the loo properly. As with anything new, take it easy the first session and ramp up the weights as you get used to the volume and movement. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
1. Straight legged deadlift – 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps with a weight that has you getting worried about failing by the last rep.
2. Hip thrusts from a bench – 4 sets of 8-10 reps, with no weight if necessary, moving to weight plates or a barbell as you progress
3. Seated leg curls – 4 sets of 10-12 reps, squeezing hard on the force (‘concentric’) and lowering over 3-4 seconds on the relax (‘eccentric’) phase. Use a lighter weight. This will hurt.
4. Single leg seated curls. As above, but half the weight used.
Done properly, that should take you less than 40 minutes and have you wondering whether you’ll ever bend your legs again. Trust me, it gets easier. Not much, mind.
Enjoy, and let us know what you think!