While strengthening your legs, it is important to do exercises for your hamstrings, or the muscle on the back of your thigh. The human leg is the most powerful part of the body, and using your legs to can lift more weight than you could if you were to use your arms or shoulders. There are a few exercises that help to target the hamstrings, but, because the thigh includes powerful muscles, many of the exercises done to strengthen legs are intensive and can be exhausting. With higher weight, these exercises for hamstrings can make you more powerful, where as lighter weight can help to shape and tone them if done correctly.
The deadlift is a weightlifting exercise that can be done a number of different ways. For higher weights it can be done with a barbell, but with lower weight it can be done with dumbbells. To perform this, you begin the exercise by having the weight at your feet and your feet almost together. You lean down, keeping your back and legs straight and grab the barbell or dumbbells and you rise to the standing position slowly, making sure to keep both your legs and back straight throughout the entire controlled motion. Once you reach the standing position you slowly lower the weight back down to the ground using the same motion as before. Without bouncing the weight off of the ground and controlling it the entire way, you begin to stand back up to begin your second repetition. With three sets of ten repetitions, this can be the most arduous and fatiguing workout done for the hamstrings.
For those who are not looking for a more intensive hamstring exercise or looking for other workouts to supplement the deadlift, the leg curl can be very helpful. You can perform the leg curl by standing in front of a machine that has a low pulley that can attach to your ankle and give you resistance as you bend your leg at the knee with the heel of your foot moving up towards your gluteus maximus and back. Many gyms have a machine where you can perform this same motion while laying on your stomach and bending your legs to pull the weight, helping to target your hamstrings. The leg curl is very helpful but not as exhausting as the deadlift, and as long as the same motion being done is replicated with some resistance, whether with weight or even a resistance band, it can help to strengthen the back of your legs.
The third exercise that helps to target your hamstrings for strengthening or toning requires equipment often found at the gym. It is called a “hyperextension,” and you begin by getting on the apparatus that allows you to secure your feet and legs up against a pad while allowing your upper body to move. There are hyperextension machines that have you lying almost completely flat on your stomach and there are also ones that have you leaning at a 45 degree angle. Using a weight held to your chest, you slowly bend downward as far as you can bend over the pad while keeping your legs secure where they are. As you bend over the pad, you lean down as far as you can go before you begin to come back up. Once you are straightened at the back, this is one repetition. Once more, you bend at the hips and lower your upper body before coming back up to the starting position slowly for the second repetition.
The last exercise that targets your hamstrings is called the “Good morning,” but it can potentially be dangerous and should only be performed with a spotter and with low starting weight. You begin by placing a barbell on your shoulders (if it is your first time, begin with no weight so you get used to it) with your feet close together. While keeping your legs and back straight, you bend forward with the weight on your back, bending at the hips and pushing them out backward until your upper body has become parallel to the floor. From here, you bring your hips back in and raise your upper body up (while continuing to keep your back and legs straight) until you are back at the original standing position. This is one repetition, and it can be just as intensive as the deadlift because of the unusual range of motion.
The hamstring is an important part of the leg to exercise, and if done correctly you can strengthen or even just tone your legs. The good morning and the deadlift are both intensive workouts that can be used to strengthen your hamstrings when done correctly, but there is no real need to go overboard and do both of them. The hyperextension and the leg curl are both substantially less intensive and are used as supplementary to the more intense exercises. The leg curl and hyperextension are not needed together but can help to supplement your workout if you are also doing the deadlift or good morning, but the supplementary exercises are both not exhaustive enough that they can be done together. When exercising, you should choose one of the main lifts (deadlift or good morning) and complement it with one or both of the less intense workouts (hyperextensions and leg curls) to strengthen your hamstrings.