Your hamstring muscles run down the back of each thigh, from the hip to the knee. They play an important part in performing most basic everyday movements, like standing, walking, bending the knees and squatting down to pick something up. If you spend a lot of time sitting during the day the hamstrings can get overstretched and weaken — which can contribute to knee, hip and low-back pain.
As a certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor, I recommend incorporating hamstring exercises into your workout routine to help improve your overall fitness and mobility. Whether you’re looking to improve your athletic performance, tone your lower body, or just want to feel stronger or more comfortable in everyday movement, these exercises will get the job done — no equipment needed!
But first, a tip when working your hamstrings: start slow. Hamstring injuries are common so be sure to warm up properly, focus on quality over quantity, and stretch afterward to avoid injury.
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your hands placed behind your head. Focus on keeping your shoulders back and your core muscles engaged. Take a deep breath in and on the exhale, hinge at the hips, bending your chest toward the floor until your body forms an upside-down “L” shape. You should feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings. If you feel any pain or uncomfortable pulling, you’ve lowered too far! Slowly move back into a standing position on your exhale. Squeeze the glutes and hamstrings to return to standing tall. Repeat.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor a few inches from your butt. Keeping your heels on the ground, lift your hips up and squeeze your glutes and hamstrings. You should form a straight line from your upper back to your knees. Pull your belly button in toward your spine, and slowly lower down one vertebra at a time. Repeat.
Single leg glute bridge
Starting in the same position as your standard glute bridge, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor in front of you. With this variation, start by keeping your left heel on the ground, and raise your right leg straight up in the air. Squeeze the glute and hamstring muscles, keeping your core activated as you lift your hips. Keeping your right leg raised, slowly lower your hips back to the floor. Repeat for 10 res. Then switch to the other side, keeping your right heel on the ground and raising your left leg.
Glute bridge walkout
A final variation of the glute bridge, this move will start just like the original. Once your hips are up in the raised position, pause and hold for a breath. Alternating feet, slowly “walk” your legs away from your butt until the legs are almost straight. Be careful to keep your low back supported by keeping your abs engaged. Then, slowly “walk” your feet back toward you until you are back into the bridge position. Repeat.
Standing reverse leg lifts
Stand tall and shift your body weight to your right leg. Lift your left leg straight back while you contract the glute, raising it to about a 45-degree angle from the standing leg. Slowly lower the leg back down and perform 10 times on this side. To switch sides, shift your body weight to your left leg, and raise your right leg back and up.
Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread wide, and knees directly below your hips. Press evenly into both hands and maintain this balance throughout. Keep your back straight and abs tight. Maintaining the 90-degree bend in your right leg, kick your heel straight up toward the ceiling. Only go as far as you can without arching the back or letting your hips start to angle outward. Lower the leg back down with control and then alternate legs. To further activate the hamstring, you can squeeze a water bottle or dumbbell behind your knees.
Stand tall with a straight back and your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your weight in your heels and your left leg straight, take a big step to the side with your right leg until the knee is bent around 90 degrees. Slowly and with control, push down through the right heel to press back up to the starting position and alternate sides. When stepping to the side and bending your knee, focus on lowering your hips (like you’re doing a squat) at the same time, and avoid leaning forward.