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Best Hamstring Exercises To Increase Strength

By Marc Perry / August 20, 2018

While it’s good to work muscle groups in combinations, sometimes you may want to target a specific muscle.

Hamstring exercises can be tricky because it’s very important to ensure you’re using proper form to avoid injuries. We’ve put together some thoughts on great exercises for the hamstrings to increase strength, and included tips on how they can improve performance in other fitness endeavors.

Best Hamstring Exercise #1 – DB Romanian Deadlift

While many exercises involve the hamstrings, the dumbbell Romanian Deadlift (RDL) can target the hamstrings very well. I find the dumbbell RDL is safer than with a barbell because you can have more control over the position of the weight as you lower it down. I don’t have this exercise in the BuiltLean Program because I think it’s too dangerous either unsupervised, or if someone doesn’t have the proper hip flexibility. It’s a relatively higher risk, high reward type of exercise. RDL’s are a favorite for sprinters because it can help improve sprint speed and performance. If you know a qualified fitness professional who can assess your form to make sure you are keeping your back flat and hinging your hips properly, then go for it.

Marc Perry ,CSCS, CPT

Best Hamstring Exercise Strength #2 – Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell swings! This move targets the glutes and hamstrings. It builds power and strength, and is a killer way to get some cardio into your workout. It’s an all-in-one exercise that offers so many benefits.

Kristin Rooke

Best Hamstring Exercise #3 – Romanian Deadlifts

Deadlifts or Romanian Deadlifts. I think deadlifts are great for increasing strength overall while RDL’s are great for targeting the hamstrings in particular. As long as the person has learned to hinge at their hips while keeping a neutral spine, RDL’s are a great addition to most people’s workouts.

John Leyva

Best Hamstring Exercise #4 – Romanian Deadlifts

There is a lot to think about here since your hamstrings have two functions. They both assist in knee flexion as well as hip extension. With that said, a combination of knee flexion exercises (hamstring curls) and hip extension exercises (deadlifts and hyperextensions) will work best in overall hamstring development. My personal favorites are stiff leg or ‘Romanian’ deadlifts to hammer hip extension as well as bodyweight glute-ham raises.

Stephen Bergeron

Best Hamstring Exercise #5 – Glute Ham Raise

Besides the deadlift, the glute ham raise. Although it starts off with mainly bodyweight, we can certainly ramp up the intensity and begin to add weight plates, or weighted vests to increase the difficulty of the movement. First time I did these, I felt the exercise’s affect – my hamstrings started cramping up while watching the game later that day! The reason why this exercise is so effective is that it teaches many different qualities of muscle tension in the lower body – eccentric movement on the way down, and then active hip extension as you fight gravity towards the top of the movement.

Miguel Aragoncillo


  • Mark Hier says:

    The exercises sound good. llustrations and step by step instructions would be helpful.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Definitely agree, Mark. I'm VERY close to making a big push toward doing videos again. I know it's something that many readers and visitors value, so I will get to it for sure. I love being able to connect with you guys in a more engaging way, so thanks for the encouragement!

  • Rinchen says:

    Hi Marc! This is related to not to the article but to general fat loss... My fat and weight loss regime was going quite well and now I'm facing an issue I have absolutely no idea how to deal with. Its the midsection fat question. I already have lost quite some fat from this area owing to HIIT, plyos and strength trainings I did following your articles. The remainder of this fat seems quite clingy and the 2nd part of my hurdle is that as the day passes my tummy tends to bloat a li'll, about half an inch? Its quite alright in early mornings when I measure it right after I get up. I don't know if that is just water/other liquids/gas or whether it is a normal problem faced even by people who have flat tummies or a 4/6 pack? Do you face this problem as and when you eat/drink through the day? Please guide me, there are a 2 queries here (a) losing that last, clingy, mid-sec fat and (b) the tummy situation as we eat/drink through the day.

    Hope you'll take out some time to guide me through this. Thankyou !

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Hey Rinchen - Regarding the bloating, my best guess is you may have a gluten sensativity, or lactose intolerance, or generally some type of food intolerance. A huge percentage of people are gluten sensitive, so it's something you should consider experimenting with. Gluten is a protein composite found in most grains such as rye, barley etc. Try spending a day eating only gluten free foods and see how you do. Regarding the clingy fat that you are having trouble losing, I suggest you read our article on Weight Loss Plateaus. Good luck!

      • Rinchen says:

        Hey Marc! Thanks for replying!

        Actually, the only cereals I take during the day are home-made wheat-bread (chappati/roti), white rice and pulses. I notice rice particularly creates the bloating (I take it in lunch as my carb source, with a boiled egg and pulses) but even anything else, and it creates a prominent bulge especially if i've taken a lott of water or even tea. I take milk-tea a lot, say, 4-5 times through the day. I need the tea as well as the water, but the bloat is quite uncomfortable and frankly, confounding!

  • chia says:

    for Rinchen,

    you didn't say your age. if you're over 40, it could be the start of estrogen fluctuations, leading to lots of lovely bloat...not even wanting to button pants up...ugh....
    also, it wouldn't hurt, if it's dietary, or just in general, to take good quality probiotics and digestive enzymes. I would dump all gluten and keep dairy to modest portions of dairy but NO milk. just my two cents, but depending on your age, things change.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Good points, could be hormonal, thanks for sharing.

      • Rinchen says:

        Hmm, I'm only 25.. I think it's mostly dietary. I did not take any milk today and lo and behold! The bloat hasn't disappeared but it has considerably reduced.

  • Kristin says:

    Hey Mark,

    Of interest I noticed you thought the RDL is dangerous. I take it you think this is more so the case than the deadlift?(I'm always hesitant to recommend deadlifts for a beginner as one has to learn to lift from the hip vs back). Personally I found RDLs to be easier, and started doing those + kettlebell swings before I started doing deadlifts (kettlebell swings in hind site I think are great in teaching you how to lift with your hips vs back). I also found RDLs to be great in facilitating hamstring flexibility. Maybe I just don't have many problems with hip flexibility :)
    Re: glute ham raise - those are a bear! Of the list I personally find them the hardest, LOL.