We often say that the most important leg of a three-legged chair is the fourth, the missing one. Well, when it comes to the human body, the muscles composing the hamstring group (biceps femoris - long and short heads, semitendinosus and semimembranosus) are usually that fourth leg.

Quite simply, most athletes have horrendous hamstring development. This not only puts the athlete at risk of injury on the playing field, but it also significantly reduces performance potential. Why? For the following reasons:

  1. The hamstrings are among the muscles responsible for running fast. They're involved in both knee flexion and hip extension, two important actions in the running motion.
  2. The hammies are key decelerators. In other words, the stronger your hamstrings are, the faster you can stop, then change direction and resume your progress.

Many people still believe that the quads are the most important "speed muscles" in the body. Not true. This false belief has led to many athletes short-siding their results by becoming excessively quad dominant. The true speed muscles are the hamstrings and glutes. Both play a much more important role in the running stride, especially at high velocities.

Most of the time, hamstring training is put back at the end of the line. A classic lower body training session might involve the back squat, leg press, leg extension, and leg curl. As you can see, not much emphasis on the hams! And most importantly, when they are trained, they aren't trained according to their capacities and functions. To design a proper hamstring workout, it's important to understand that:

  1. They are knee flexors.
  2. They're also hip extensors.
  3. The hamstrings are built for speed. As a result, they tend to be more fast-twitch dominant than most muscle groups.
  4. They're heavily involved in knee stabilization.
knee flexors hip extensors

knee flexors          hip extensors

These four observations should influence program design. It means that both functions should be trained and that methods emphasizing fast twitch fiber involvement should be selected. Such methods include: accentuated eccentric training (eccentric or negative muscle action preferentially recruits fast twitch fibers), heavy lifting, and explosive lifting. Training the hamstrings isometrically is also very effective.

With that in mind, here's a very effective hamstring development program that's sure to reduce your risk of lower body injury and drastically increase your speed and agility.

Workout 1: Hip Extension

Exercise 1: Fixed Hip Extension/Heavy

Hip extension can either be fixed (meaning that both feet stay on the ground) like in a Romanian deadlift or good morning, or it can be free, like in a reverse hyper or a low-pulley hip extension.

Free Hip
Fixed Hip

For our heavy exercise we want to select the type of movement in which we'll be able to use the most weight: the fixed hip extension exercise. It can either be a Romanian deadlift or a good morning.

good morning good morning

The good morning exercise

Sets: 4-6
Reps: 4-6 during an accumulation phase; 2-3 during an intensification phase
Rest Intervals: 150 to 180 seconds

Exercise 2: Fixed Hip Extension/Explosive

For the second exercise we want to use an explosive drill. The adequate ones are the simpler variations of the Olympic lifts: the power clean from blocks/hang and the power snatch from blocks/hang.

power clean from the hang
power clean from the hang
power clean from the hang

power clean from the hang.

power clean from blocks
power clean from blocks
power clean from blocks

power clean from blocks

Power snatch from blocks
Power snatch from blocks
Power snatch from blocks

Power snatch from blocks

Sets: 4-6
Reps: 4-6 during an accumulation phase; 2-3 during an intensification phase
Rest Intervals: 150 to 180 seconds

Exercise 3: Option 1 (better) - Reverse Hyper, 2/1 technique

This first option requires a reverse hyper machine. Sadly, not all gyms have such a piece of equipment. For those who have access to this wonderful piece of machinery, you're going to use the 2/1 technique. This means lifting explosively with two legs and lowering it slowly one leg at a time.

Sets: 2-3
Reps: 10-12 (5-6 per leg) during an accumulation phase; 4-6 (2-3 per leg) during an intensification phase
Rest Intervals: 120 to 150 seconds

Exercise 3: Option 2 (not as good) - Low-Pulley Hip Extension

Low-pulley hip extension

This second option isn't as good as there's less eccentric accentuation, but it'll work if you don't have a reverse hyper machine. You'll want to lift the load as fast as possible while returning it in 5-6 seconds.

Sets: 2-3 per leg
Reps: 8-10/leg during an accumulation phase; 4-6 during an intensification phase
Rest Intervals: 120 to 150 seconds

Workout 2: Knee Flexion

Exercise 1: Option 1 (best) - Glute-Ham Raise

The second workout is designed to work on the knee flexion role of the hamstrings. Our first exercise is performed with heavy weights. For this we want to use the exercise in which we'll be able to lift the highest load, so we'll begin this first workout with the glute-ham raise.

This is one of the finest exercises for hamstring development. Sadly, this is another great device not found at every gym, but if you have access to one, better learn to use it!

Glute-Ham Raise Glute-Ham Raise

Sets: 4-6
Reps: 4-6 during an accumulation phase; 2-3 during an intensification phase
Rest Intervals: 120 to 150 seconds

Note: hold a weight on your chest if you can perform the prescribed reps easily.

Exercise 1: Option 2 (not as good)- Leg Curls

If you don't have access to a glute-ham bench, you can substitute this first drill with regular leg curls performed with heavy weights.

Exercise 2: Knee Flexion/Accentuated Eccentrics - 2/1 Leg Curl

Hamstrings and biceps respond the best to accentuated eccentric training. This is primarily due to their fiber makeup as well as isolation function as flexors. So for our second exercise we'll use the 2/1 technique on the lying leg curl. This means lifting the load explosively with two legs, and lowering it under control with one leg only.

2/1 Leg Curl 2/1 Leg Curl
2/1 Leg Curl 2/1 Leg Curl

Sets: 2-3
Reps: 10-12 (5-6 per leg) during an accumulation phase; 4-6 (2-3 per leg) during an intensification phase
Rest Intervals: 120 to 150 sec.

Exercise 3: Knee Flexion/Pure Eccentrics - Natural GHR

To once again take advantage of the high responsiveness of the hamstrings to eccentric loading, we'll perform the eccentric-only (negative only) glute-ham raise, also called natural GHR.

The objective of the drill is to lower your body toward the ground as slowly as possible. Try to control the descent for as long as you can. You then use a slight arm push to lift yourself back to the starting position. Try to keep your back as straight as possible (no forward bending at the trunk).

Natural GHR

Sets: 2-3
Reps: As many as possible
Rest Intervals: 120 to 150 seconds

Exercise 4: Knee Flexion/Isometrics - Isometric Leg Curl (3 positions)

Our last exercise will develop maximum isometric strength in the hamstrings. To do so, we'll use the lying leg curl and simply hold the weight in place for a certain timeframe.

Since gains from isometric training are position specific, we'll use three different positions: contracted, mid-range, and nearly extended. Note that you don't perform all three positions in a row (in the same set); perform all three sets of each position before moving on to the next.

Isometric Leg Curl 1 Isometric Leg Curl 2 Isometric Leg Curl 3

Sets: 3 per position
Duration: 30 sec. per position (accumulation); 10 sec. per position (intensification)
Rest intervals: 90-120 sec.

Training Split

When focusing on hamstring development you'll need to devote two days per week to this muscle group. Ideally, these workouts would occur on Mondays and Thursdays. A sample schedule could look like this:

Monday: Hamstrings workout #1
Tuesday: Upper body pressing muscles
Wednesday: OFF
Thursday: Hamstrings workout #2
Friday: Upper body pulling muscles
Saturday: Quad dominant workout
Sunday: OFF

If you don't want to train more than four times per week, one of these schedules would be adequate:

Monday: Hamstrings workout #1
Tuesday: Upper body
Wednesday: OFF
Thursday: Hamstrings workout #2
Friday: OFF
Saturday: Quad dominant workout
Sunday: OFF

Another option:

Monday: Hamstrings workout #1
Tuesday: Upper body pressing
Wednesday: OFF
Thursday: Hamstrings workout #2 and upper body pulling
Friday: OFF
Saturday: Quad dominant workout
Sunday: OFF

Supplements Recommendations

The right supplements can give you an edge that'll allow you to reap better gains. If you're a competitive athlete, this could mean the difference between fifth place and winning. Here's a sample supplement program that's sure to help you get the most out of your training:

15 minutes pre-workout

Plazma™ - 1 serving
Creatine - 5g (to make sure that the creatine stores are full)

During the session

Plazma™ - 1 serving

After the workout

Mag-10™ - 1 serving

Conclusion

This training program is super effective because it targets all the functions of the hamstrings, plus it trains all types of muscle contraction (concentric, explosive, eccentric, and isometric). It's quite simply the fastest way to grow strong and powerful hams, and it's sure to drastically boost your performance and reduce the risk of injuries.

Hammies aren't fun to train; they're the least "showy" muscles of them all. However, those who train them hard will truly separate themselves from the pack!