Most people assume that the deadlift and squat are enough to build their hamstrings, but really that’s only one small portion of what’s needed to train the hamstrings.
Addressing limitations is critical to consistent improvement in maximal strength, but also for strength endurance – and if you’re not considering where you’re weakest it’s time to start.
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of variations to train the hamstrings – just 10 tried and true variations to cover all of our bases.
And the hamstrings should be part of your normal routine in both closed chain (think RDL) and open-chain settings (like banded hamstring curls) – both settings are covered in this list.
This list of movements actionable in which you can start applying these to your lower-body training sessions and see results in as little as 4-weeks.
Benefits of having strong hamstrings
- Maximal Strength Development: Increase your squat, deadlift, and Olympic Lifts
- Prehab: Prevent knee injuries, since your hamstrings help stabilize the knees, as well as hamstrings pulls
- Rehab: Help athletes coming back from hamstrings injuries
- Body-comp: Look better naked, duh
The Glute Ham Raise & Inverse Leg Curls
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better variation to crush your hamstrings than the Glute Ham Raise (GHR) (other than of course the Inverse Leg Curl), but most gyms are simply don’t come equipped with that level of equipment.
Fortunately, most CF boxes do have glute-ham raises. This GHR certainly isn’t a beginner variation though so you may find you actually have trouble with this one so check out the full video for some great scaling options.
The GHR is a staple exercise in ALL of our individual plans.
And if you’re fortunate enough to have access to an inverse leg curl this can be a progression from the GHR
Accumulate 30-50 reps with varying levels of resistance
The Sledpull with straps between legs
The best part of the about sled is that it requires almost zero skill to perform – if you know to walk, you’ll be good to go.
The sledpull with straps between the legs may be the tool you’re missing that help take your strength gains to the next level. Load the sled heavy while still being forceful on every step performing 8-10 sets of 60 yards resting 60 seconds between sets.
Moreover, the sled is arguably one of the best conditioning tools known to man that you can read more about here.
Perform 6-10 x 60 yards for strength work
Perform 400-800 meters for strength endurance work
Sumo RDL with RNT Band
Obviously this list cannot be complete with the good ole barbell RDL. While this a trusted variation we can certainly insert some variation with movement by using Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT) with the form of bands pulling forward.
The band pulling forward is going to force us to dial in a solid position and engage the anterior core/posterior chain to even greater potential. This can be done with a regular or wide stance.
Perform 4 sets of 8-10 reps.
RDL with Reverse Bands (Future Method)
Using reverse bands or as Westside calls it, “the future method” is an incredibly powerful tool to alter loading through range of motion. The bands unload at the top of the movement allowing you to work with heavier loads than normal.
While this method is often used for Max Effort work it can also be used effectively for repetition effort work as well. One caveat though – if you’re using the future method for ME work use it sparingly has this method is very demanding on the nervous system.
ME work – Build to a 1RM in 10 sets
RE Work – 4-5 x 6-10
Single-Leg Supported RDL
I love this variation for the sheer fact we can increase loading without being limited by balance, but this certainly does not replace the unsupported version. Instead, this is a progression for those that have mastered the unsupported version.
4-5 x 6-8 each
Single-leg Landmine RDL
The landmine is an incredibly effective tool that can satisfy just about any training need so it’s no surprise we’re able to train the hamstrings quite effectively. If you’re looking to compliment your training with an unsupported variation this is it.
Unlike the supported RDL, the goal here is to work with lighter loads in higher-repetition strength endurance settings.
2-3 x 10-15 each
Double Leg Banded Hamstrings Curls
None of our lists would be complete without a band variation to improve the quality of tendons as well as improve their elastic abilities.
We’ve covered this quite a bit here, but know that the main purpose of band work mainly for injury prevention and usually this will be done as high-rep “finisher.”
Accumulate 100 Reps, AFAP
Trap Bar Deadlift – Touch n go reps
I love using the trap bar deadlift for higher-rep sets more than a conventional deadlift for the sheer fact of where the loading is placed in the trap bar vs. the conventional stance.
Higher rep deadlifts are an effective tool but are often used haphazardly where people will sacrifice their lumbar spine for loading/cycle rate – take a look at just about any CrossFit competitor performing high-rep deadlifts in a conditioning setting and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a neutral spine.
With the trap bar, the weight is positioned closer to our center mass – creating a different joint angle/gravity line allowing us to train bilaterally with less risk of mechanical breakdown. For most though, I’d recommend pulling from a 2-4″ elevated surface (elevate plates) for at least a few exposures first.
4-5 x 6-8 @70-75% of 1RM
The Wide Stance Box Squat
We’ve gone through the box squat more than a few times and the box squat has been the topic of much debate as of recently. We’ve covered this here and have even sited empirical data to present an alternative view, but if you’re ready to implement the box squat it can be done a few ways.
A few caveats though – you’ll want to use a box height that puts you at parallel or slightly higher to ensure the movement remains “hip dominant” and you’ll need to watch the full video demo to make sure you don’t miss some of the key points.
If you’re still learning to box squat – stick with submaximal effort or dynamic effort method before attempting a max effort attempt.
Dynamic Effort – 8 x 3 @60%, every 60s.
Submaximal Effort – Build to a moderate set of 5 in 6 sets
Max Effort – Build to a 1RM
These variations give you all of the tools to keep your hamstrings training fresh, get stronger, get jacked, and prevent injury.
You’ll also be able to work in multiple settings and training ALL special strengths such as max effort training, submaximal effort, repetition effort method, strength-endurance method, general strength work, as well as dynamic effort training.