A generation ago, when men with names such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno and Franco Columbu stalked stages, hamstrings were deemed about as important to physiques as ham sandwiches or ham radios. One did a few sets of lying leg curls after quads and called it a workout. Today, hamstrings are as crucial to bodybuilding as pectorals. "Vertical blinds" on the backs of thighs are key indicators of conditioning, and ham mass adds a necessary fullness to side leg views. Still, it's rarely an easy-growing area, chiefly because hamstring training often lacks variety and intensity. This month, H.U.G.E.™ focuses on the backs of the legs and serves up five fresh approaches for curing your hams.


Consisting of the biceps femoris (a.k.a. thigh biceps), semitendinosus and semimembranosus, hamstrings are a relatively large muscle group. Still, it's likely you've done fewer sets for your thigh biceps than for your arm biceps, even though the latter is a smaller muscle. Do eight to 12 sets and two to four exercises in each ham workout. Even if you consistently try to give your hams the requisite dosage of hard work, it's difficult to do so if heavy squats and leg presses have exhausted much of your strength and energy first. If your rear thighs are lagging behind your front thighs, prioritize hams by working them before quads in at least half of your leg workouts.

Today, many champion bodybuilders train hamstrings separately from quadriceps, giving their rear legs their own starring workouts (typically followed by calves and/or abs). This is something even an intermediate hardgainer may want to do. If, however, separate workouts don't fit into your training split, or if your rear thighs don't trail your front thighs so much that you want to consistently work hams first (which will decrease your strength in exercises such as squats and leg presses), try alternating quad and ham exercises. In our prioritization routine, you can do leg curls and squats with near-maximum strength and energy.

2. VERY HIGH REPS: A NO-NO Hamstrings are one of those areas, like abdominals, that trainers tend to think they can work details into by doing a lot of reps. This is untrue. Consistently performing very high reps (more than 20 per set) will only lead to less muscle, not less fat. Ham lines come into focus through dieting and cardio, and are rarely prominent off bodybuilding stages. That said, an occasional workout with sets of 15 reps – rather than the norm of eight to 12 – should lead to sore hams the following morning.

3. LOW REPS Although most bodybuilders rarely do fewer than eight reps for hamstrings, Tom Prince frequently did sets of five to seven reps for hams, and his legs were bent by two of the best hamstrings in history. Sets of five can be a growing experience if the body has become accustomed to sets of 10. In our routine, precede each exercise with a warm-up set of 10 to 12 reps. For your working sets, use a weight that allows you to get five or six full reps before reaching total failure. For at least your final set of each exercise, either have a partner assist you with an additional one or two forced reps or pause for 15 seconds before doing two more reps on your own.

4. SLOW MOTION Speed is one of the most underutilized weapons in a bodybuilder's arsenal. If you dramatically slow down an exercise, it can become a completely new way to stress muscles. For the exercises in this workout, take approximately five seconds to lower the weight and five seconds to raise the weight for each and every rep.

5. UNIQUE LIFTS A common problem with many hamstring workouts is that they focus too much on lying leg curls. It's a perfectly good exercise, but if it's the cornerstone of every ham routine, your intensity will eventually wane or your muscles may stop responding to the stimulus and stop growing. Luckily, we have the antidote for the "same ol' blues," for there are excellent ham lifts you probably aren't doing. Replace a stale exercise in your current workout with one of our fresh alternatives, or, to really stun your hams, try our unique lifts routine of four underutilized "hammers."

– Hamstring Smith squats: Just as stiff-leg deadlifts work hamstrings more than they do the lower back, Smith machine squats can be performed in such a way that they put more tension on the hams and glutes than the quads. Place your feet 12 to 18 inches in front of the bar and push each rep through your heels.

– Hamstring raises: This is a favorite of Alexander Fedorov, owner of two of the biggest hams not baked at a luau. Position your knees on a hyperextension bench and hook your ankles or heels under the support pads. Make certain you're secure (short trainers may not be able to do this on most hyper benches). While keeping your back straight, lower yourself until you're parallel to the floor, then pull yourself back to an upright position by tensing your hamstrings and glutes. Ask a training partner to assist you until you master this difficult bodyweight exercise and can do eight reps on your own. When you can do more than 12 reps, begin holding a weight. This exercise can also be done on the floor by having a training partner hold your ankles while you kneel on the floor and lift up your entire body.

– One-leg negative curls: This movement can be done lying or seated. In either version, do the positive half of the rep with both legs at normal speed (allowing you to lift a heavy enough weight into position to be effective for the negative rep), and then perform the negative half of the rep with only one leg. Alternate legs. Try to take 10 seconds to lower the weight, even though you will naturally speed up in your final reps when you grow fatigued.

>- Standing cable one-leg curls Perform one-leg curls with a low cable attached to the working ankle. This method allows you to focus on the peak contraction of each rep, and it also allows you to alter your leg position more easily. Curling with your working thigh pulled back a few inches provides continuous tension and focuses more on the ham/glute tie-in.


If you are working hamstrings one or two times per week on a regular basis and are not getting results, the culprit may simply be stagnation. Stop going through the motions with the same low-intensity leg curls, and increase the intensity and the variety. Utilize the preceding routines, exercises and principles to spark rear leg growth and cure your lagging hams. 



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