Time to shift gears to the knee! Knee flexion focused exercises are more likely to increase semitendinosus muscle activation rather than the other hamstrings based on it’s architectural design, however all of the hamstrings will still be contributing to knee flexion.
Barbell Good Morning
Good mornings are one of my go-to hamstring warm-up exercises. However. That doesn’t mean you can’t feel the burn and build your hamstrings along with the rest of your posterior chain with this exercise. The most important thing to focus on with this exercise is time under tension, don’t pause at the top with your body relaxed - go right into the next rep and slowly bend forward! You can also do good mornings with dumbbells or a strong band under your feet and around the top of your shoulders.
Foam Roll Hamstring Curls
What if you don’t have access to a leg curl machine but you have a foam roller? Great, you can do foam roll hamstring curls! This is a truly isolated knee flexion exercise and because you have to maintain a bridge keeping the hips extended the entire time, the hamstrings are going to be working very hard in a shortened position (especially as you curl in and your heels get closer towards your butt).
Single Leg Elevated Bridge
Elevated bridges work the posterior chain more than your traditional bridge as you start in a position of greater hip flexion. Also, elevated bridges are a hip extension focused exercise, so you’re going to feel more of your proximal hamstring (closer to your butt) than your distal hamstrings. Below we cover a different bridge variation that targets the distal hamstrings more!
Hamstring Slider Progressions
Hamstring slider exercises can humble many gym-goers, especially those that do not train their hamstrings often. The best part is you need very minimal equipment and just your bodyweight to start. In the video, I am demonstrating all of these exercises with furniture sliders but that doesn’t mean you can’t use something like a towel or pillowcase on a smooth surface or hardwood floor.
Single Leg Straight Knee Bridge
A variation of the traditional bridge exercise, the straight leg bridge is great if you want to focus on hip extension with the knees straight. This bridge variation will target more of the distal hamstrings versus the proximal hamstrings that we covered earlier with the single leg elevated bridge with the knee bent. We tend to use this in the rehab setting often when people are recovering from hamstring strains just so that we are targeting the hamstrings from every angle. In terms of working with the healthy population who are already lifting weights, performing the single leg variation will be a better stimulus for hypertrophy.
Off-set Single Leg RDL With Across Body Reach
The contralateral offset hold further adds to the stability demands of the exercise (that’s already on one leg). By holding the weight in your opposite hand, you are adding a longer lever to the exercise aka it will take more muscle activity to stabilize and move the weight.
Remember, torque (muscle activity in this case) = lever arm (perpendicular distance from the weight to the axis of rotation (in this case the hip)) x applied force (weight of the kettlebell). So we can increase muscle activity and make the exercise harder by either increasing the amount of weight we are holding in our hand (applied force) or by increasing how far away the weight is from our hip joint (lever arm).
Adding the contralateral reach with the weight also acts to further increase the lever arm. What I really like about the reach is that you can significantly increase the amount of muscle stretch and eccentric load on the hamstrings. We are getting as much hip flexion, internal rotation, and adduction as we possibly can with this variation at the bottom, all being controlled eccentrically by the hamstrings and posterior chain. More eccentric muscle stretch = more time under tension = more conducive environment for hypertrophic gains!
You can download a FREE HAMSTRING HYPERTROPHY WORKOUT featuring these exercises and more by clicking HERE. Stay tuned for our next article on sprinting your way to bigger legs!