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Best Exercises for Activating Hamstring Muscles

Dr Paul Henning PhD, CSCS, CISSN

The dorsal muscles of the lower torso are used to support the thoracic and lumbar spine and peripheral joints, including the hip, knee, and ankle on the dorsal aspect of the body.

Although several exercises involve this musculature, many of those specifically target the hamstrings. In this article, we’ll take a look at muscle activity during four weight training exercises which stress the hamstrings.

What are the hamstrings?

The hamstrings muscle group is made up of 3 muscles in the posterior thigh, including the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. The hamstrings are responsible for actions at the hip and knee because they cross both joints at origin and insertion.

This muscle group is generally known for producing flexion of the knee, but with the trunk flexed and knees extended, the hamstrings are powerful hip extensors.

Four exercises (glute-ham raise, good morning, Romanian deadlift, prone leg curl) are suggested as targeting the hamstring muscle group. A recent study quantified activity of the hamstring muscles during these four exercises (1).

Practical application

Findings demonstrated that activity was maximized for the biceps femoris during the Romanian deadlift and glute-ham raise. The concentric action from the semitendinosus and semimembranosus was highest in the glute-ham raise, whereas the eccentric action of the semitendinosus and semimembranosus was highest in the Romanian deadlift. These findings suggest that athletes and coaches who seek to maximize involvement of different regions of the hamstring musculature should consider specific exercises.

References:

  1. McAllister MJ, Hammond KG, Schilling BK, Ferreria LC, Reed JP, and Weiss LW. Muscle activation during various hamstring exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 28(6) 2014.

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