Hamstrings are the ultimate bodybuilding bodypart. After all, most every other athlete trains them–if they train them–for injury prevention. You rarely notice hams of note on a nonbody-builder, and even most bodybuilders lack the density and dieted-down details to wow a crowd with rear-leg heft or vertical-blind lines.
In this article we help you hammer your hams as we lay bare the top five hamstrings-training blunders. Class is in session.
Mistake #1 Failure to work all areas
The muscles at the back of the upper legs were traditionally called the “thigh biceps” in reference to the largest ham muscle, the biceps femoris. We made a linguistic leap forward over the past three decades as the more inclusive “hamstrings” came into common usage. Still, most trainers think of their hams as two muscles (one at the back of each upper leg) or as a set of muscles with identical functions.
In fact, there are three muscles on the back of each thigh, which collectively form the hamstrings, and the biceps femoris has a somewhat different function from the semitendinosus and semimembranosus.
- Lying leg curls with your hips on the bench target the biceps femoris (outer hams). Make sure to do at least three sets in each ham workout.
- Seated leg curls target your semitendinosus and semimembranosus (inner hams), so perform at least three sets of seated leg curls in each ham workout.
Pulling your hips off of the bench during lying leg curls will also focus the stress more on this area.
Mistake #2 Insufficient volume
We started this month’s lesson with the provocative argument that hamstrings are the ultimate bodybuilding muscle group, but if you’re like most weight trainers, not only have you not given your hams their due respect, you’ve also been dissing them. Too many bodybuilders still relegate the back of their thighs to the back of their leg workouts. After slogging through an assault of squats and leg presses, they only eke out a few lackadaisical sets of leg curls. In relation to bodyparts such as biceps, which you doubtless lavish with sets, your hams carry more muscle and deserve at least as much volume.
- Especially if your legs are lagging, consider training your hamstrings on separate days from your quadriceps. This allows you to focus more on each area.
- If you train quads and hams in the same workout, try combining the two by following an exercise for one with an exercise for the other.
- Do at least 10 sets for hamstrings, and at least three different exercises in each ham workout.
A sample 12-set routine consists of Romanian deadlifts, lying leg curls and seated leg curls, each for 4 sets.
Mistake #3 Lagging intensity
When was the last time you did forced reps, drop sets or rest-pause to extend a set of leg curls beyond full-rep failure? For that matter, when was the last time you psyched yourself up for a balls-to-the-wall set of Romanian deadlifts in the way you approach a blow-out set of squats or leg presses? Owing in part to the fact that hams are frequently relegated to second place behind quads, and in part to the fact that they’re not a flashy bodypart unless colossal and/or sliced, most bodybuilders slog through their ham work on autopilot.
- As mentioned previously, give hams their own workout to give them your maximum focus.
- Doing drop sets on lying or seated leg curls is as easy as moving the weight stack’s pin into a higher slot. Make your last set of one-leg curls a drop-set sequence.
- A training partner can easily remove stress from the positive halves of reps and add stress to the negative halves to keep sets going beyond failure.
- If you train alone, you can increase the emphasis on the negative by raising the leg curl weight with both legs, but lowering with just one leg (alternating legs each rep).
- Any ham set can be extended via rest-pause. Pause for 10-20 seconds in the ready position after reaching failure, and then do up to 4 more reps to failure, pause again, and again do up to 4 more reps to failure.
Mistake #4 Minimizing the importance of strength gains
As with insufficient intensity, a related mistake is a failure to emphasize strength gains. If you’re like most bodybuilders, you know your personal bests in the squat and leg press, and strive each workout to top the workout before. In comparison, bodybuilders tend to think of Romanian deadlifts as a “stretching exercise” and focus less on progressive strength gains, and many are content to churn out the same moderate-to-high rep sets of leg curls with the same weight month after month, believing it’s enough to merely pump blood into their hams.
- As with any exercise, focus on doing more reps with the same weight or the same reps with more weight from ham workout to ham workout. A workout log can help you monitor your shortterm and long-range progress.
- Don’t lock your reps into the 10-15 range. Pyramid at least one exercise per ham workout, increasing the weight and decreasing reps until you reach a maximum 6-rep set.
Mistake #5 Going too fast and too short
Too fast and too short commonly pair up, because when you’re reducing the time of your reps, you’re likely reducing their range of motion, as well. Bodybuilders tend to work the mid-range of leg curls, missing the crucial stretches and contractions.
- Slow down leg-curl reps. Take as long as 5 seconds (2 seconds up, 3 seconds down) on each rep.
- Focus on getting a complete stretch and contraction on each rep. Pause briefly at contraction with your ankles as close to your glutes as possible.
- Some machines employ smaller ankle pads or use foot cuffs, which allow you to get a longer range of motion. On the other hand, avoid machines with oversized pads or biomechanical designs that reduce the range of motion.
- To slow down and target each leg individually, do at least one exercise per workout unilaterally.
Chose unilateral standing or kneeling leg curl machines or do your lying or seated leg curls with one leg at a time.
- Do exercises for both your outer hams and inner hams in each hamstring workout.
- Do at least 10 sets for hamstrings, and consider breaking up your ham and quad workouts.
- Push sets to failure, and include intensifiers, such as forced reps, drop sets and rest-pause.
- Focus on strength gains, and pyramid some sets.
Slow down your reps on leg curls, and be certain to get full stretches and contractions.