Strong hamstring muscles make your legs look strong and shapely, but that’s only the beginning of their usefulness. The hamstrings—which are actually three muscles located at the back of the upper leg, behind the thigh—help you to extend your hips, flex (bend) your knees, and rotate a bent leg inward.
The below exercises were curated with the help of Anthony Wall, MS, director of professional education at the American Council on Exercise. They incorporate not only the hamstrings but also the muscles around them (the hamstrings function across two joints, the hips and the knees, so it isn’t really possible to work them alone, nor would it really make sense to). You will need an exercise mat, a resistance cable or band, and a light body bar. For all the exercises, start with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions (or one set per side for the hamstring curl). As the moves get easier, you can add a second set.
Lie on your back on the exercise mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Your arms should be relaxed at your sides. Exhale as you press your heels into the floor and lift your hips and buttocks up off of the ground. Keep your abdominal muscles tight and make sure your body is in a straight line from shoulders to knees (don’t arch your back). Hold the position for a second or two, then inhale and slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. (This is also a good exercise for the lower back.)
Standing hamstring curl
Begin standing, with the cable or resistance band attached just above your right ankle and anchored to something sturdy in front of you and close to the ground (like the leg of a heavy table or dresser). Your feet should be hip-width apart, with toes pointed forward or turned slightly out. Depending on how good your balance is, you may want to hold on to a chair lightly. Exhale as you slowly lift your heel upward toward your buttocks or even until it touches the buttock on that side. If your hips or torso begin to tilt forward, don’t go any further with your foot. Inhale as you slowly lower the right heel until it’s back in the starting position. Do one set, then repeat with the other leg.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding the body bar vertically behind you; grasp one end of the bar above your head and the other end of the bar at the small of your back. The bar should be in contact with your body at 3 points: the back of your head, the point right between your shoulder blades, and just above your tailbone. Exhale as you shift your weight into your heels, hinge forward at your hips, and push your hips and hamstrings back (as if you are closing a door with your buttocks) as you lower your upper body to about a 45-degree angle. Inhale as you push your hips forward and return to the starting position.