Holy Hamstrings: How to Build the Backside of Your Legs

There is nothing more impressive on a physique then a set of well developed wheels. However, all too often do I see a inequality between weightlifters quadriceps and hamstring development. Not only is this an issue from an aesthetic standpoint, but also from a functional standpoint. Large disparities in hamstring and quadriceps development and/or strength can lead to a host of issues leading to increased risk of injury of the knees, hips, and low back. On the athletic front, most of the well-gifted clients I work with have become quad dominant, amazing accelerating specimens, however they lack the same ability to decelerate and brake with the hamstrings and glutes. When I start to focus more on these athletes hamstring strength they begin to see better performance on the field and less time off of it.

A Brief Introduction to the Back of Your Legs

The hamstrings are made up of three main muscles; the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris (see figure 1). The former two muscles, along with the long head of the biceps femoris both extend the hip (act to move the leg backwards) and flex the knee (actively bend the knee). The short head of the biceps femoris does not cross the hip joint and thus only flexes the knee. In regards to the fiber type of the hamstrings group Type II, also called fast twitch fibers, predominate, and because of this higher intensity exercise should make up your hamstring routine (Garrett 1984).

Figure 1: Musculature of the hamstring

Determining if you have an imbalance

There are a couple angles we can take in regards to hamstring development; aesthetic and strength. Visually it is much more subjective to determine the state of your hamstrings, and thus one would be best served to have their physique judged by a professional trainer, coach, or judge well-versed in the competitive physique industry. When it comes to strength we can substantiate things quite a bit more objectively. The strength of your hamstrings should be roughly 2/3 the strength of your quadriceps. You may be thinking, that’s great but how in the world do I assess that? Charles Poliquin, a renowned strength training mind, suggests that if your front squat is less than 85% of your back squat an imbalance exists (Poliquin 2010).

Conducting the ham balancing act

When programming exercise it is always important to take a holistic approach, meaning you should account for all variables in your overall program. That encompasses your workout split, rest and recovery, priority of muscles worked, and of course the goals you hope to accomplish from your program. However, in this article we will focus strictly on the training it will take to bring up your hamstring strength, size, and detail. Remember that the hamstrings groups both extend the hip and flex the knee, so the exercises in our “Holy Hamstrings” program should account for that.

Also, as aforementioned, the hamstrings groups respond best to higher intensity exercise, and accordingly the loads we choose should be sufficient enough to allow for only 6-8 reps, 12 at most, so long as good technique is maintained. Below are a couple recommended workouts depending the angle at which you want to attack your hamstrings.

Example Routine 1 Sets x reps
Title Big & Ripped Hamstrings various
 1A Good Mornings (extend) 3-4 x 6-8
 1B Glute Ham Raises (flex) [click here to view video] 3-4 x 8-10
 2A Stiff-Legged Deadlifts (extend) 3 x 8
 2B Lying Leg Curl (flex) 3 x 8-10
Example Routine 2 Sets x reps
Title Strong & Powerful Hamstrings various
Romanian Deadlift (extend) 4-5 x 6-8
Glute Ham Raises (flex) 4-5 x 6-8

As you can see there are different exercises, rep/set schemes, and overall volume depending on whether you are training for size (routine 1) or strength & power (routine 2). For a better idea of how to incorporate these exercises into a comprehensive leg program check out Ian Lauer’s article “Your Physique is More Than a Torso. Train Your Legs!“. Now you have no excuse for a lagging backside, of your legs. Whether you want to excel on the playing field, bring a better physique to the stage, or sport a stronger pair of lower limbs, it’s important to prioritize your hamstring training.


  1. Daisey, P. (Composer). (2012). Hamstrings. [Web Graphic]. Retrieved from www.daiseypt.com/articles/anatomyart/hamstrings.htm
  2. EliteFitnessSystems. (Producer) (2007). Elitefts.com-ghr [Web]. Retrieved from youtube.com/watch?v=p0oqLDZ8JcI&feature=relmfu
  3. Garrett, W., Califf, J., & Bassett, F. (1984). Histochemical correlates of hamstring injuries. American Journal of Sports Medecine, 12(2), 98-103. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6234816
  4. Poliquin, C. (2010, January 30). The structural balance factor. Retrieved from charlespoliquin.com/Articles Multimedia/Articles/Article/235/The_Structural_Balance_ Factor.aspx
Adam Bisek

Adam Bisek is a Physique Athlete, Writer, Personal Trainer, and Nutrition Coach practicing in Minneapolis, MN. Certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) he brings a high level of intensity and passion to early morning bootcamps and a dedication to results with his personal training and weight loss coaching clientele. Adam’s love for education and improving the health and fitness of others pushes him to bring his best on the stage, on paper, and in the gym.

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