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5 Exercises to Build Bulletproof Hamstrings

If there's one area of the body that all athletes need to make a high priority, it is their hamstrings.

They are, according to a quick search in Google, the most injured muscle in field sports. Followed by the calf, the quads and the adductors.

In my youth, I had a good amount of hamstring issues, and in WG-Fit, there's been a lot of dodgy hamstrings walked in. Most, not all, tend to walk out much better.

Much of what I read online revolves around simply strengthening the hamstrings. Which is certainly not wrong, we want them to be like steel cables, no, like bungie cords!

Bu that isn't the the whole story. It's better than the old story of simply stretching them, but there's still a portion missing.

At the far ends of the hamstring we have the pelvis and the foot. The pelvis is where the hamstring attaches at the top. Ok, so the hamstrings don't attach to the foot, but it's the foot that can show us if the hamstring can be loaded efficiently or not.

Where does maximal hamstring loading occur in natural movement? It is the moment when the heel strikes the ground in walking, or immediately before the foot strike in running/sprinting. This is the position where the hamstring is longest, it is decelerating the leg swinging forward to it can get the foot on the ground to accept the body's mass.

As the foot prepares to strike the ground, it ought to be in an arched, or supinated position.

And this is where we can look at the foot and see if the hamstring is getting the opportunity to do it's job.

If the foot can't move from Supinated, to Pronated and back again, freely and while on the floor under load, then that suggests the muscle attachments for the hamstrings will not be in their optimal positions and the muscle itself will not load properly.

I've shared this video before but it shows how the foot ought to move so beautifully, don't worry about the audio, just watch that yellow bar move and how the bones move accordingly. As the foot flattens, that is prontation, as it arches that is supination:

To load the hamstring fully we want:

The hip flexing, is the leg moving forward of the body The pelvis posteriorly tilting, ie the bum tucking under be some degree by virtue of the leg swinging forward The knee extending, as the leg swings forward The foot Supinating and ankle dorsi flexing, essentially pulling the big toe towards the shinbone

It's a hell of a lot to think about, but thankfully we shouldn't have to if the body is well set up. By that I mean we can move with freedom, minimal restriction in our joints.

The only way we can really guarantee your movement is tip top is through assessment, but the following exercises are very commonly used on our training and rehab programs. This is not to replace getting an assessment, but if you add these movements to your warm ups, movement breaks and training plans, hopefully you'll see an improvement of your performance

Movement 1, Cog for spine and pelvis motion:

Movement 2, Suspension to load pronation and prepare for supination

Movement 3: Lateral Hams, to find where in the supination line needs stimulated. You hopefully will feel the hamstring load in this, but don't be surprised if you feel the peroneal muscles on the outside of the shin, as they "wake up" then the hamstrings can load easier.

Movement 4: Hip Flexor to Hamstrings. A very general movement that adds all of the above exercises together, this gives you a lot of movement

Each of these drills is taken from the work of Gary Ward using his Anatomy in Motion principles. At no point are you looking to create any extreme shapes, anything that would look cool in instagram. All you're looking to do is stimulate the joints to move, the muscles to load and the nervous system to remember.

Then we build brute force.

I'm a huge fan of the Kettlebell Swing and the Deadlift, two drills that if loaded right over a long enough timeline will build you a set of hamstrings that can take on the world. I mentioned my own hamstring issues from my youth, learning to swing kettlebells did more for me than any of the physio's I'd been to over the years.

Here's a set of swings from our client, Kevin aka "Hardcore" be sure to read the caption:

And here's a contrast set that I both like to use myself and with many of our athletes as when appropriate:

Contrast training is taking one motion, ie the hip hinge and the hamstring loading, and training that movement in two ways back to back. You do one heavy or power drill, then one lighter, faster drill. Go from the heavy power exercise to the lighter exercise fairly quickly, but then take a good rest before repeating. I'd suggest no more than 3-5 reps on the big lift, and anything up to 15 reps on the lighter lift, depending on what exercise you choose of course. Kettlebell swings lend themselves nicely to the higher numbers.

What about other exercises?

I also like people to Squat to a box to get them sitting into the hips with a knee bend. And lots and lots of single leg exercises.

Be they AiM Squats, Skater Squats, Split Squats and every type of lunge you can imagine

Once the joints are moving well, you're training options go through the roof. The reason I like so many different lunge types is that they offer us some many ways to stimulate the joints and therefore the muscles. And as no joint or muscle ever works in isolation, the lunging in all directions will help the body to experience a huge variety of loading so that when it happens out in the field, it's hopefully been there, or been close to there before.

This is the Clock Lunge, which does everything we just talked about:

So yes, lift heavy, but remember, the big lifts don't necessarily prepare you for the random, out of alignment movements that really occur in sport. That's where good joint action is needed, as well as brute strength.

Build the joint actions in the warm ups and the assistance work, let the big lifts bring brute force.

And then get out there and put it all together in whatever game you like to play.


Dave Hedges

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