9 tips to help you develop your hamstrings
Written by Mark Coles - Follow on Google+ | Facebook | Twitter
Firstly, let's consider two things. Are you training the hamstrings for aesthetics (the look) or performance (functionality)? Are you interested in being explosive (as in sprinting), or creating muscular balance, size and thickness?
What's the goal?
If you purely train for function, you're missing a big part of hypertrophy (development of muscle). By this we mean, restricting yourself to squats, deadlifts and RDL's. Isolation movements, whilst not being "functional" in many peoples' eyes, are extremely important in helping fix structural imbalances. Using isolation movements, also allows us to place direct emphasis on a particular muscle, and gives us the ability to train it from many different angles.
In order to improve and get stronger in your big lifts, such as squats and deadlifts, you must fix structural imbalances. So a big part of your training must take into consideration the function of the muscles, mobility and stability. If you don't, you run the risk of serious injury further down the line.
So when I train hamstrings, I cover all angles by incorporating big movements, with plenty of isolation moves. Over the years, I've had long phases where I've been fixated on trying to build up my legs using big movements such as squats. It was only through my own trial and error, and studying from other body builders, that I took on a new approach. My legs grew at a fast pace, not only in overall fullness, but across the full range of the muscles.
So what did I learn, and what top tips can I share with you?
1. Learn how to contract the muscles.
Too many people focus purely on fast contractions, they lose the ability to contract the muscles in their shortest position. Take the leg curl, people curl the weight very fast, and the weight bounces off their glutes and comes crashing down to the bottom of the weight stack. Try curling the weight, and holding the contraction at the top, before you lower the weight back down. You’ll find you’re very weak in this position, and that’s another opportunity for you to grow that area.
2. Don't limit yourself to low reps.
My hamstrings really took on a new level, when I moved away from purely heavy and explosive reps (3-5/5-7), to more focussed higher reps (as high as 30). I still incorporate heavy work, but I also mix higher reps too.
3. Hit them from as many angles as possible.
Many gyms only have a seated leg curl, which limits you to one angle. To train the hamstrings across various parts of the strength curve (at different angles of the joint, the strength of the muscle varies), you need to hit them from different angles. So mix between a lying, seated, and even a kneeling leg curl. Use exercises such as the glute ham and RDL variations.
4. Shorten the muscles, then place them on stretch with load
Fill the muscles with blood and create a shortening of the muscles using leg curl variations, then put them through a full stretch using the RDL variations and even the good morning variations (a tip I picked up from John Meadows AKA Mountain Dog).
5. Change gyms
If all you have at your disposal is a squat rack and a leg extension. Look to train somewhere that has a full range of leg curl machines and a glute ham. It will be even better if it also has a reverse hyper machine.
6. Train your hamstrings more frequently.
Many people fear training legs, all because it's hard. My legs really didn't respond at all, until I started training them at least 2 times per week. Sorry, but this is where you have to “man” up and get on with it.
7. Don't get fixated on always getting stronger.
Too many people are concerned with seeing their strength go up each week, they fail to understand that a muscle grows from the damage inflicted upon it. This can also occur from higher rep, lower load work, as well as heavy powerful work. By limiting yourself purely to heavy lifting, you’re missing another opportunity to create damage, and ultimately grow those particular muscles. So this is where you could use drop sets, rest pause, partials and even isometric techniques, which extends the sets and creates further damage to the muscles.
8. Don't rely on squats alone to develop your hamstrings size and thickness.
Research from a seminar I attended with Dr Brad Schoenfeld, identified less hamstrings recruitment from the squat than most people. This confirmed to me why I was seeing such good gains from adding more isolation movements into my workouts.
9. Train your hamstring in isolation at the start of the workout, and at the end.
This method has worked very well for me, I might start a workout with say 10 – 12 reps for 3 working sets on the lying leg curl, and finish with 3 sets of 25 reps using the kneeling leg curl. In between, I'll add in exercises such as the RDL, leg press, hack squat, lunges, glute ham and squats.
Add some of these techniques and tips into your leg training, and see how quickly they respond. Be prepared to work hard, and you will see results.
If you want to pick up some of my training programmes, you'll find them in our 8 Week Muscle ebook. Click the button below to find out more