Defined, Hanging Hamstrings

Give your hamstrings the attention they deserve.

Defined, Hanging Hamstrings

Well-honed hamstrings are essential to complete leg development. Unfortunately, too many bodybuilders look at hamstrings as a secondary bodypart, giving preference to quadriceps. To me, this is like putting biceps training on the back burner to focus on triceps. Both muscle groups must be developed to their maximum to create a well-proportioned and impressive arm. Similarly, hamstrings and quads must be given equal attention during thigh training.

I relied on a combination of three exercises to build my hamstrings: lying leg curls, stiff-leg deadlifts and standing leg curls. Each one hits the back of the thighs in a slightly different way, making for complete development. Of course, since I am a proponent of high-intensity training, I would perform only one working set for each. I suggest you do more — maybe two or three sets of each exercise, not counting warm-ups.

Typically, my hamstring training would follow my quad exercises in my leg-training routine. I would begin by warming up my knees with leg extensions, which also do an adequate job of pre-exhausting the front of the thighs. From there, I would move on to leg presses. My final quad exercise would be hack squats. You’ll notice that I don’t perform squats. I made this decision in 1989 after suffering a hip injury while squatting two years earlier. Although I had attempted to return to squats after incurring the injury, I soon began to feel the niggling pains that often forecast a larger injury. So, despite my love for the exercise, I decided to give up squats in favor of a combination of heavy leg presses and hack squats.

After hack squats, it was time to get into my hamstring training. I’d start the ham section of my leg workout with lying leg curls. I’d first do one warm-up set of 10-12 reps before launching into a working set of 10-12, which I would perform slowly and precisely. I made sure to always keep my hips and thighs pinned to the bench and would squeeze every rep until I could not squeeze out one more by myself. I would then have my training partner assist me in knocking out two more reps beyond the point at which I failed.

Following leg curls, I would perform stiff-leg deadlifts. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as I actually would slightly bend my knees, thereby taking stress off them. When doing deadlifts to target the hams, I would lower the bar only to my shins. Going farther takes the workload away from the hams and puts it on the lower back. I also liked to use wrist straps when performing deadlifts, so my grip didn’t fail before my hamstrings did.

Finally, I’d do a set of standing leg curls. I like this exercise for carving separation between the glutes and the hamstrings. For both deadlifts and leg curls, eight to 10 reps do the job nicely.

Performed using correct form and enough intensity, these three exercises should be all you need to build a nice pair of hanging hams that will be the envy of your gym. Good luck!


  • Lying Leg Curls | SETS: 1* | REPS: 10-12
  • Lying Leg Curls | SETS: 1 | REPS: 10-12
  • Stiff-Leg Deadlifts | SETS: 1 | REPS: 8-10
  • Standing Leg Curls | SETS: 1 | REPS: 8-10

NOTE: Yates suggests that less experienced trainers perform two or three working sets of each exercise.

* Warm-up set