🤜The hamstrings are a muscle group that can be easily overlooked. But strong and flexible hamstrings are essential for many activities, from running and jumping to simply sitting down and standing up. You don’t need any equipment to build strong and capable hamstrings. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the best bodyweight hamstring exercises.

These exercises will help you build strength and mobility in your posterior chain (including your glutes AKA butt muscles!) without using any weights or machines. So whether you’re at the gym or at home, give these a try and feel the hamstring burn!💯

Summary:

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • 🎯 Functions of hamstrings
  • 🎯 The benefits of training the muscle group
  • 🎯 The best calisthenics hamstring exercises
  • 🎯 & Frequenty Asked Questions regarding hamstring health and safety

If you’re interested in training the whole lower body, check out our 101 Bodyweight Only Leg Exercises List for a complete lower body training: 101 Bodyweight Leg Exercises: The Ultimate List 

 

What do hamstrings do?🤔

Hamstring muscle

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles located at the back of your thigh. They work together to extend your hip and bend your knee. The hamstrings are also responsible for keeping your pelvis level as you walk and preventing your knees from collapsing inward when you stand up.

The three muscles in your hamstrings are the bicep femorissemitendinosus, and semimembranosus. The bicep femoris is the muscle that you can feel on the outside of your thigh when you touch your hamstrings. The semitendinosus and semimembranosus are located on the inside of your thigh, and they work together to stabilize your knee.

You don’t need to get in-depth learning the anatomy of your leg muscles, but understanding them in a general sense will help you be more aware on how to activate your hamstring muscles.

While the hamstrings are often thought of as “leg curl” muscles,  they actually do a lot more than that. Strong and flexible hamstrings are essential for many activities, from running and jumping to simply sitting down and standing up.

 

⚡️Why you should train your hamstrings?

There are several reasons why you should make hamstring strength and mobility a priority. Based on the functions above, you’ll immediately get the importance of why you should train your hamstrings.

1st: 🏆Leg health

Hamstring muscles stabilizes your knee joints. Having strong  hamstrings reduces your risk of knee injuries, such as ACL tears.

In fact, hamstring injury is one of the most common reasons why people visit their orthopedic surgeon. By strengthening your hamstrings, you can prevent these injuries from happening in the first place.

Additionally, strong hamstrings can also help relieve pain in the lower back  and hips. Research shows that addressing weaknesses in your hamstrings can allevaiate the pains in the surrounding areas.

Remember, out body is one big unit. Weaknesses in specifc areas can manifest as pain or dysfunction in other parts of the body.

Read more on: How Calisthenics Can Treat Injuries

2nd: 🏆Performance

Since your hamstrings play an important role in knee flexion and hip  extension, they’re essential for many movements in sports and dynamic movements such as sprinting and jumping.

Your quads and glutes work together with your hamstrings to help you change direction when running, stop immediately when sprinting, or immediately jumping after running.

A recent 2022 study demonstrated that strong hamstrings can help you stay efficient with your running technique even after when fatigue sets in.

If you’re someone who enjoys playing sports, or activey in dynamic activities such as running, parkour, or dancing, then you need to equally give attention to your hamstrings.

3rd: 🏆Day-to-day movement

We use our hamstrings in almost every movement we do, from sitting down and standing up to simply walking.

When we sit for long periods of time, our hip flexor muscles tighten and our glutes become lazy. This combination can lead to lower back pain and make it difficult to stand up or walk after sitting for a while.

Yes, strong and mobile hamstrings are fantastic for sport performance and injury prevention, but your hamstrings also vital for everyday movement as well. From running to your kitchen counter, bending over to tie your shoes, to improving your general posture. Hamstrings play an important role.

 

💥17 Best Bodweight Hamstrings Exercises for Strength and Mobility

✅Nordic curls

Nordic Curls

At the top of the list is the nordic curl. This exercise is the absolute best that offers a good stretch for the hamstrings while also providing a great deal of strength. It’s also a 2-in-1 exercise that targets the glutes!

A 2014 study show that nordic curls has a massive advantage on hamstring activation compared to popular leg exercises such as leg curls and good mornings. This makes nordics as a great option for body building for bigger hamstrings. It’s also one of the best exercises to improve your sprint performance according to 2021 research.

The nordic curl has a ton of variations you can work with. You can play with eccentrics, eccentrics then pushing up, using assistance from bands, and more. The full nordic is difficult to achieve, so you will definitely take some time to full achieve this exercise. And that’s not a problem, because it means you will have a lot of time to grow your legs with this exercise alone.

The main issue some people think of the exercise is the anchor point. If you don’t have a partner to hold you down or a nordic curl chair, you can use any heavy furniture or something else to hold you down. Be creative!

More help with calisthenics equipment alternatives here: 📍Ultimate Guide to Calisthenics Equipment & Cheap Ways to Replace Them

✅Glute-ham hybrid

Before you can master the full nordic curl, you will get to work with the glute-ham hybrid. This exercise follows a similar motion of the nordic curl, but with a slight hinge at the hips and not done with a full extension. You can adjust the intensity of the exercise by hinging more or less. The more upright your posture is, the harder the exercises since you lengthen the lever. The more hinged your body, the easier it is.

✅Glute-ham hinge

Nordic Hinge

Glute-ham hinge is a nordic curl variation that also works the glute and hamstrings but with a lighter the intensity. The exercise is done with an a flexed hip instead of an extended hip position with the full nordic curl. Compared to the hybrid variation above, the glute-ham hinge moves by hinging at the hips instead of the knee. This massively shortens the lever and makes the nordic curl motion more possible in the future.

✅Hamstring curl

Hamstring curls

This exercise is fanstastic for building your hamstrings on the floor while also strengthening your core and lower back.

To perform the exercise, all you need is a floor smooth enough for your feet to glide on. If you have the equipment, you can use sliders or a piece of cloth to help your feet glide. If you don’t have a slippery floor, then walking your feet across the floor can be a good subsitute.

✅Single-leg hamstring curl

If you’ve mastered the hamstring curl, you can perform it with a one leg to increase the difficulty. Take note that this exercise is very difficult because you need to stabilize your core and maintain square hips to efficiently perform the exercise. It’s easier said than done!

✅Stability ball hamstring curl

Another way to increase the intensity of the exercise of hamstring curls is by using a stability ball. The ball (ironically) adds instability to the exercise making it much more difficult to perform.

If you don’t have a stability ball, you can always get creative and use a wheeled bag or use a small basketball or volley ball for the exercise. The moving ball forces you to first stabilize your whole body before you can perform the exercise.

✅Single-leg deadlift

Single-leg Deadlifts

Deadlift is one of the best lower body exercises. It works the lower posterior chain from your lower back, to your glutes, and hamstrings. It trains the hip flexion movement function of the hamstrings.

Deadlifts are commonly performed in the gym with weights, but you can also perform the exercise and build muscle with it with calisthenics. Two-legged deadlifts with bodyweight might be too easy for most people, so transitioning into the single-leg variation offers enough intensity for hamstring and core developement.

✅Knee flexion

Sometimes, the simplest exercise can yield the most results. The knee flexion exercise helps you learn how to activate the hamstrings and feel how the muscle work when flexing the knee. You can easily increase the difficulty of the exercise by adding an ankle weight. You can also improve the surrounding motions such as internal and external rotations to better improve possible weaklinks in your leg muscles.

✅Single-leg hanging leg curl

Hanging leg curl is a cool exercise that trains your hamstrings, core, and grip. Knee flexion is achieved by activating your hamstrings to facilitate the movement. Resist the motion of using the upper body to move. The downside of the exercise is that grip endurance and strength can potentially be limiting factor with this exercise.

✅Banded hipflexor march

Hip flexion is one of the roles of the hamstrings. Improving your hip flexion consequently results to better range of motion for the hamstrings. Banded hipflexor march is great exercise for eliminating the tightness that can transfer to many other movement patterns such as 📍leg raises and L-sits. You can easily adjust the intensity of the exercise by using a band with a different thickness.

✅Glute-ham bridge – Beginner

Glute-Ham Bridge Single-Leg

Glute-ham bridge is one of the entry points for engaging your glutes and hamstrings. It also trains your lower back and improves your mobility if you want to work on your 📍back bridge progression.

✅Single-leg glute-ham bridge

Extended Glute-Ham Bridge

Moving to the harder variation, use a single leg to perform the bridge exercise. The unilateral manner allows you to promote equal development of both sides of your posterior chain eliminating weaknesses.

✅Elevated glute-ham bridge

Elevated Glute Bridges

From the glute-ham bridge on the floor, simply elevating your feet will increase the intensity of the exercise. This requires you to use a larger range of motion to perform the exercise. Performing the exercise, make sure you are not arching your back so can focus on your hamstrings when performing the movement.

✅Elevated single-leg glute-ham bridge

Elevated Glute-Ham Bridge Single-Leg

Similar to the exercise above, this variation turns the exercise into a single-leg variation making the intensity higher and requiring you more stability before you can perform the exercise.

✅Hip thrust – Beginner

The hip thrust from a low kneeling position allows you to follow the glute-ham bridge motion with an easier intesity. It also prepares your mobility of both your hamstrings and hips. It strengthens also your lower back and glutes if performed correctly.

✅Single-leg hip thrust

One-legged Hip Thrusts

Like the glute-ham bridge exercise, you can also perform the hip thrust with a single leg to turn it into a unilateral exercise.

✅Fire hydrant

Fire hydrant

Got tight hips and hamstrings? Then the fire hydrant is the exercise for you. It trains these muscles groups in a wide range of motion that’s scalable depending on your current skill level. You can benefit from this exercise from beginner to advanced. Fire hydrant can also work as a warm-up exercise for your whole lower body aside from working on it as a primary mobility exercise.

 

✨The Ultimate Exercise for Hamstrings: Nordic curls

Among these exercises, there’s one specific exercises that stands out among the rest and this is the nordic curl.

The nordic curl is an excellent hamstring exercise for several reasons. First, it’s a great way to isolate the hamstrings. This is important because most of us tend to use our quads more than our hamstrings. As a result, our quads become stronger while our hamstrings remain relatively weak.

Second, the nordic curl is an eccentric exercise. This means that it focuses on the lowering phase of the curl, which is when the muscle is under the most tension. Eccentric exercises are important because they help build strength and improve muscle size.

Finally, the nordic curl can be done with bodyweight or with added weight. This makes it a great exercise for both beginners and advanced athletes. There are also a ton of exerice progressions you can use to work your way towards the full nordic curl.

If you’re looking to improve your hamstring strength and prevent injuries, then be sure to add the nordic curl to your workout routine.

 

🔥Nordic curl progression

👊Strength component

This part of the progression focuses on developing raw strength of your hamstrings you can move towards harder variations. Although it focuses on strength, it can also improve your mobility and control.

You’ll notice that many exercises on the best bodyweight hamstring exercises list falls under the nordic curl. This is because the nordic curl is simply one of the most challenging and effective exercise for your hamstrings and the other exercises works towards it.

Glute-Ham Bridge (Two Legs)

Extended Glute-Ham Bridge (Two Legs)

Elevated Glute-Ham Bridge (Two Legs)

Glute-Ham Bridge (Single Leg)

Extended Glute-Ham Bridge (Single Leg)

Elevated Glute-Ham Bridge (Single Leg)

Negative Hamstring Curl

Hamstring Curl

Nordic Hinge

Assisted Nordic Curl

Negative Nordic Curl

Negative Nordic Curl with Push-off

Full Nordic Curl

🤸Skill component

The best way to learn the movement pattern of nordic curls is to perform the exercise itself. However, you can also benefit from performing a lower intensity exercise that targets your hamstrings to get a better feel of the muscle activation.

Hip thrusts

Weighted hip thrusts

One legged hip thrust

💪Muscle component

The muscular component are exercises that have a relatively easier intensity to accommodate higher training volume. The bigger the muscles, the higher the potential of your hamstrings can grow stronger. Don’t worry about bulking up “too much” as diet still plays an important role in developing bigger muscles.

More on diet here: 📍What to Eat for Lean Muscles?

Half squats

Ham Bridge (Two Legs)

Extended Glute-Ham Bridge (Two Legs)

Glute-Ham Bridge (Single Leg)

Negative Hamstring Curl

Nordic Hinge

Assisted Nordic Curl

Negative Nordic Curl 

Negative Nordic Curl with Push-off

🏃Endurance component

Working on your endurance helps you last longer in your workout and also promotes muscle hypertrophy even in higher rep ranges and lower intensity. Training for muscular endurance also helps you sustain effort for longer periods of time that transfers to many sports and disciplines.

Deep hold

Glute-Ham Bridge (Two Legs)

Extended Glute-Ham Bridge (Two Legs)

Glute-Ham Bridge (Single Leg)

Extended Glute-Ham Bridge (Single Leg)

Elevated Glute-Ham Bridge (Single Leg)

Negative Hamstring Curl

Hamstring Curl

If you want to learn more about the nordic curl progression, check out The Movement Athlete. In TMA, you can train your hamstrings and the rest of your body to its fullest potential using only your bodyweight.

 

🧐Frequenty Asked Questions:

🔎Where is the squat?

The good old squat, whether two legged, weighted, or single-leg variation, is commonly known as the best leg exercise. While it does definitely hit your hamstrings, it’s not ideal for optimal hamstring development.

The quads or glutes are emphasized in the exercise which can limit your hamstring growth. Your quads can be too fatigued before you can fully stimulate your hamstrings. This is when isolation exercises such as nordic come in so you can target your hamstrings in a most efficient manner.

🔎Do I need to stretch my hamstrings?

This depends on what you mean by stretching. If you mean stretching such as passive/static stretching wherein you need to hold a position that stretches your hamstrings for an extended period of time, then no. Flexibility work isn’t necessary for MOST cases. It’s only beneficial if you’re performing specific tasks that require flexibility or an intense range of motion such as dancing or gymnastics. Or if you just want to reach a high level of flexibility as your goal.

For the general public, strengthening the hamstrings in a full range of motion using the exercises we’ve mentioned above is enough to improve your hamstring health and performance.

Read more on: 📍Flexibility vs Mobility

🔎My hamstrings hurt. What do I do?

If you experience any pain in your hamstrings, then it’s best to seek medical consultation from your local healthcare specalist. Doing online consultation might not yeild optimal results as diagnosis and treatment plan might not be as accurate.

Don’t let your hurting hamstrings get a full rest. At the same time, don’t force your hamstrings to perform to a high degree when you’re already experiencing pain. Keep movement gradual and get profressional help immediately.

🔎How can I avoid hamstring injury?

Injuries, in general, can be avoided with one simple step: train your hamstrings in a gradual manner.

Injuries are usually caused by doing too much too soon and not doing 📍proper warm-up. Hamstring injuries are fairly common in dynamic sports such as football and basketball. This is because the sport tend to put a lot of strain on the muscle group when spriting and changing directions.

If you feel fatigued or something is already feeling tight, get some rest and treat the potential cause of weakness. Never train through pain.

Read more: 📍How to Avoid Injury When Training with Calisthenics

🔎How to train hamstrings in a workout?

Aside from training your squats, you can use one to two exercises on our list to hit your hamstrings after performing your major lower body compound exercise such as squats, lunges, or step-ups.

After that, you can focus on your hamstrings for added isolation and emphasis on the muscle group.

Beginners’ example:

After training normal squats for 3 sets of 12 reps

Use glute-ham bridge on the floor for 3 sets of 8-12 reps with 90-120 seconds of rest.

Choose an exercise on our progression list that offers the suitable intenstiy for your skill level so you can perform it with good form and meet the necessary training volume.

You can definitely 📍build strength and muscle with bodyweight alone.

🔎What if I can’t do the Nordic Curls yet?

That’s why we focus on 📍progressive calisthenics. This simply means using progressions that works towards the nordic curls so you can train safely and make progress efficiently.

 

📌Takeaway

Working on your hamstrings is crucial for a better everday movement, general health, and stronger leg performance. Bodyweight exercises are a great way to improve your hamstring strength and mobility so you don’t need any equipment or weights.💯

Overall leg development and health can be achieved by placing emphasis not only on your hamstrings, but also the rest of your lower body muscle group. So don’t forget to train your quads, glutes, hips, and calves as well!

☝️If you need help with your training program, then opting for a personalized, adaptive calisthenics approach is the way to go!

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