Like many muscles on the back of our bodies, hamstrings tend to get neglected. It’s too bad, because they’re one of the main muscle groups responsible for powerful running and jumping. Azcentral.com explains this area includes four different muscles that span from your hips to your knee, so any movement in either joint involves your hamstrings. Even non-athletes should give these muscles some love since they play a role in simply walking around. Get started with these five exercises that will lead to stronger leg muscles.
1. Wall sits for stronger leg muscles
To perform this move, stand with your back against a wall. Keeping your back pressed against it, lower yourself until your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle and your thighs are parallel with the floor. Hold the position as long as possible, which may be only 60 seconds to start. You’ll feel the burn all throughout your upper legs and butt.
2. Single-leg hamstring bridge
Get into position on the ground, lying with your knees bent and your feet flat against the floor. You can extend your arms out to the sides for balance or cross them in front of your chest. Lift one leg off the ground, pointing it as close to straight toward the ceiling as possible. Slowly raise your hips until your shoulders, hips, and knees form a straight line. Pause briefly, then lower you hips while keeping your leg raised. STACK recommends aiming for two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.
If you’re ready to up the intensity, try performing the bridge using a bench. Instead of keeping one foot planted on the ground, keep it planted on the bench and perform the move as usual.
3. Swiss ball leg curl
Lie on the ground with your knees bent and your heels resting on a stability ball. As with the bridge, you can extend your arms out to the side to help you balance or cross them in front of your chest. Raise your hips so your butt is off the ground, then roll the ball out until your legs are fully extended and your body forms a straight line from your heels all the way to your shoulders. Contract your hamstrings to pull your knees back toward your chest until you’re back in the starting position.
You can perform this move one leg at a time for more of a challenge. Because it’s so difficult to balance, only move on to this advanced version when you’ve mastered the move with both legs.
4. Nordic hamstring curl
You’ll need either a partner or something to hold your ankles in place to do this exercise. Start in a kneeling position with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your arms crossed in front of your chest. If working with a partner, have him or her hold on to your ankles and keep them in place. If you’re going solo, hook your feet under some sort of bar, step, or ledge that will hold your feet near the ground.
In a slow, controlled motion, lower yourself towards the ground, keeping your upper body in a straight line. Extend your hands near your shoulders to catch yourself on the ground, then push off the ground, re-cross your arms, and use your hamstrings to pull yourself back to the starting position. Head to Bodybuilding.com to see this exercise in action.
5. Standing hamstring stretch
If the very thought of touching your toes induces laughter, your hamstrings are practically begging for a good stretch. According to Virtual Sports Injury Clinic, tight hamstrings could lead to lower back pain and muscle strains. Marc Perry, creator of BuiltLean, likes a standing stretch with one leg elevated to loosen these muscles. “Stretching your hamstrings while standing up is dynamic because you can alter the toe position of your back foot, which changes the stretch,” he says.
Prop one heel on a bench or other elevated surface, keeping your leg fully extended and your grounded leg straight. Keeping your gaze forward, reach down to grasp your foot with both hands by bending at the waist and letting your grounded knee bend slightly. As soon as you feel a stretch on the back of your upper leg, stop, then hold the position. Repeat with the other leg.