Strength training for hamstrings

Developing the full range of strength in this exercise will give an athlete a very good level of hamstring strength

Muscles involved: Hamstring group, gluteus maximus, erector spinae.Benefits: Developing the full range of strength in this exercise will give an athlete a very good level of hamstring strength in both eccentric and concentric movements. It may also increase the tendon strength in the whole muscle tendon unit.

Functional anatomy: The hamstrings at the back of the thigh are very important muscles for sprinting, required to perform many tasks during the sprint gait cycle. As the free leg swings forward rapidly and the knee starts to extend prior to foot strike, the hamstrings are working eccentrically to control the knee extension. On foot strike, the hamstrings and quadriceps co-contract to create a stable knee during ground contact; then, as the leg begins to push off, the hamstrings (assisted by the adductors) provide a concentric hip extension force to help forward propulsion. In addition, if the gluteal muscles are not sufficiently active to perform a stabilising function during the stance phase, the hamstrings may have to assist in stabilising the trunk. These multiple tasks place great strain on the hamstrings, which therefore need to be very strong.

This exercise is one of the toughest for the hamstrings, as the muscles are placed in a mechanically weak position, having to bear the entire weight of the athlete while extending and flexing at the knee joint.

Who should do it: All sprinters and other athletes who perform regular full-out sprints in their sport (eg football and rugby players).

Start position

The starting position

Illustration by Viv Mullett

  • Place your knees on the glute-ham bench with your ankles firmly supported and assume an upright position, with hips and shoulders in line with knees;
  • Tighten your gluteals (buttocks) and tuck your tummy in so your pelvis is in the neutral position.

Lowering movement

The lowering movement

Illustration by Viv Mullett

  • Slowly lower your whole body forward until you feel a pull in your hamstrings;
  • Keep your hips extended by squeezing your gluteals throughout the movement;
  • Stop when you feel a little strain in the hamstrings.

Return movement

Pause slightly and then raise your body back to the start position. You will feel the hamstrings working very hard to get you back up;

If you have to bend at the hips a little or use your hands to help you back up at first, that’s fine. As you get stronger, you will be able to complete the movement up and down smoothly;

If at first you cannot lean very far forward, this will also improve with practice. Aim to get as far forward as possible, so that you work the hamstrings eccentrically as hard as you can through a full range of motion.

Training tips

Perform two sets of five reps at first, building up the range of motion. Once you can complete a full range all the way down and up, keeping your body straight, increase to three sets of 8-10 reps. This exercise can also be performed on the floor with a partner holding down your ankles.


Raphael Brandon

Warning: The author and PP take no responsibility for injuries caused by attempting this exercise. PP recommends that you always learn new exercises under the guidance of a professional.