9 Best Hamstring Exercises for Stronger Legs

You can do almost all of these at home, and some don't require any equipment

Running, walking, cycling, and hiking are just a few activities that recruit the hamstring muscles located on the back of your thigh. During movement, the hamstrings flex the knee and extend the hip. Hamstring exercises include those that involve knee flexion and hip extension.

Woman doing reverse plank

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Hamstring Exercises

Below you will find instructions and benefits for the following hamstring exercises:

  • Sumo squat
  • Kettlebell swing
  • Single leg deadlift
  • Basic bridge
  • Single leg bridge
  • Lying leg curl
  • Leg press on the ball
  • Reverse plank
  • Squat

A well-rounded leg workout should include hamstring exercises targeting the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus—the three hamstring muscles.


Sumo Squat

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

To work your inner thighs or adductor muscles and hamstrings, consider adding the sumo squat to your lineup of hamstring exercises. With the sumo squat, you get the same benefits as the traditional squat, but you’ll increase activation of the inner thighs and hamstrings. You can perform this move with or without weight. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width. Point your toes about 45 degrees outward. Your hips will be rotated outward. 
  2. Put your arms out in front of you at shoulder height. If you are using weight, hold the dumbbells securely at the shoulders or in a goblet position in front of your chest. 
  3. Take a deep breath, engage your core, and push your hips back, lowering into a squat position. 
  4. Pause at the bottom, exhale, and press back into a standing position. Keep weight evenly distributed in heel and midfoot.
  5. Do 12 to 15 reps.

You can make this move more difficult by squatting lower or make it easier by shortening the distance you squat down.


Kettlebell Swing

Athletic man doing kettlebell swing exercise at gym

Westend61 / Getty Images

If you’re looking for an exercise that boosts cardio endurance, burns calories, and targets multiple muscle groups, then get swinging. In addition to working all of the lower body muscles, the kettlebell swing specifically increases the activation of the hamstrings.

This hamstring exercise targets the back half of your body (also known as the posterior chain), including the glutes and hamstrings. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Place the kettlebell slightly in front of you and hold onto the handles. Keep your shoulders back and down.
  2. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip distance, and your toes angled out slightly. 
  3. Keep a straight spine with your shoulders, bend your knees slightly, send your hips back, and tip your torso forward as you pick up the kettlebell with both hands. This is not a squat. It is a hip hinge, so avoid bending the knees significantly. 
  4. Holding the kettlebell, roll your shoulders back, engage your core, and begin the movement by squeezing the glutes and hamstrings to fully extend your hips as you reverse the hip hinge (the hips stop right underneath your shoulders, not in front of them).
  5. Swing the kettlebell up in front of your chest. Keep your body weight toward your heels.
  6. Lower the kettlebell and swing through your legs to repeat.
  7. Do 15 to 20 repetitions or perform for a specified time. 
  8. Make sure you are doing a hip hinge and not a squat. The hinge movement is what allows you to target the hamstrings and glutes.

We've tried, tested, and reviewed the best kettlebells. If you're in the market for kettlebells, explore which option may be best for you.


Single-Leg Deadlift

one leg deadlift

Caiaimage / Trevor Adeline / Getty Images

The single-leg deadlift isolates the hamstring muscle of the standing leg. Choose a kettlebell or dumbbell that is light enough to keep your form strict but heavy enough to feel the hamstrings working.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Stand on the right leg with a soft knee bend. Hold a kettlebell in your right hand. The left foot will be off the floor. 
  2. Tip your body forward by hinging at the hips and moving the weight toward the ground. Keep your chest up. Your left leg will go straight back behind you. Go as far as you can until you feel the tension in the right hamstring. 
  3. Stand back straight, squeezing your glutes, and return to the starting position. 
  4. Complete all reps on the right leg before changing to the left leg.
  5. Do 8 to 10 repetitions on each leg. 

If you’re new to this exercise, try performing it without weight before adding a kettlebell or dumbbell. It takes time to make this move correctly. When in doubt, ask a personal trainer or physical therapist for help.


Basic Bridge

Basic Bridge Exercise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The basic bridge exercise isolates and strengthens the hamstrings and glute muscles. Since it is a beginner exercise, it is appropriate for most fitness levels. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Place an exercise mat on the floor. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor about a foot away from your butt. Arms should rest at your sides.
  2. Contract your abdominal muscles and glutes, push your heels into the floor, and lift your hips off the floor until your body is straight from shoulders to knees. Focus on squeezing the hamstrings. 
  3. Pause in this position for 10 to 20 seconds
  4. Lower to the starting position and repeat.
  5. Do 10 repetitions. 

Avoid the bridge if being on the floor causes pain or is contraindicated due to a medical condition.


Single-Leg Bridge

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The single-leg bridge is a variation of the standard bridge. By raising one leg while in the bridge position, you’re able to isolate the hamstrings and gluteus muscles.  

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Place an exercise mat on the floor. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor about a foot away from your butt. Arms should rest at your sides.
  2. Contract your abdominal muscles and glutes, push your heels into the floor, and lift your hips off the floor until your body is straight from shoulders to knees. Focus on squeezing the hamstrings.
  3. Raise and extend your left leg while keeping your pelvis raised and level. Your right foot stays planted on the floor. 
  4. Pause for a few seconds before returning your bottom to the floor. Keep the left leg raised and extended. 
  5. Lower the starting position and repeat with the left leg raised before changing to the right leg. 
  6. Do 10 repetitions on each leg. 

For a challenge, try holding the position for 20 to 30 seconds before returning your bottom to the floor and repeating the move.


Lying Leg Curl

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The lying leg curl is an isolation exercise that specifically targets the hamstrings. To perform this move, you need access to a leg curl machine. Most gyms have a supine machine. Some facilities also have a standing or seated leg curl machine. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Adjust the roller pad so it rests above the heels. The machine should have instructions with pictures demonstrating this step.
  2. Lie down on your stomach with the roller pad resting on your lower calves. Make sure your legs are fully stretched. Grasp the handles on either side of the machine.
  3. Lift your feet while keeping your hips on the bench, flex your knees, and pull your ankles towards your glutes.
  4. Pause for a few seconds, then slowly lower your leg to the starting position. 
  5. Do 10 to 15 repetitions. 

Choose a weight light enough to maintain strict form. If your hips are coming off the bench while curling, decrease the weight.


Leg Press on the Ball

Shot of a young woman exercising using a fitness ball

PeopleImages / E+ / Getty Images

Performing a leg press on an exercise ball targets the lower body and improves core strength and stability. If possible, do the move on a non-carpeted floor. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Sit on a large exercise ball. 
  2. Walk your feet out until your body is at an incline on the ball. Your head and shoulders will be off the ball. Keep your neck natural and avoid looking up or down. Arms will be at your sides. 
  3. Bend your knees like you are going to do a squat. Then, press through the heels to return to the starting position, focussing on contracting the hamstrings. 
  4. Do 10 to 15 repetitions.

Keep your weight in the heels rather than the toes. When returning to the starting position, really squeeze your hamstrings.


Reverse Plank

Reverse Plank

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The reverse plank is an intermediate-level hamstring exercise that is great for the core, glutes, hamstrings, and upper body. Add the reverse plank to a core workout or integrate it into leg day. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Place an exercise mat on the floor. Sit down with your legs extended in front of you. 
  2. Put your hands slightly behind you, palms down, and fingers spread wide. Each hand should be outside your hips but in line with your shoulders. 
  3. Press into your hands and lift your hips and upper body toward the ceiling. Your body should be straight from your head to your heels. Look up toward the ceiling. 
  4. Contract your core, glutes, and hamstrings and hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds. 
  5. Lower to the starting position. 
  6. Do 5 to 10 repetitions. 

To increase the tension on the hamstrings, add a toe tap. Bend your right knee and bring your toe towards the glutes. Do a toe tap. Extend your leg and change to the left leg. Repeat. 


Traditional Squat


Verywell / Ben Goldstein

You can't beat the squat when it comes to the best exercise for overall leg development. Known for its ability to target the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves, the squat is an integral part of a lower-body workout plan. And the best part? You can do them with or without weight. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart. If you’re using weight, hold a dumbbell in each hand and keep arms at your sides, or hold in a goblet squat position.
  2. Engage your core, slowly bend your legs, and squat down until thighs are parallel to the floor. For bodyweight only, raise your arms in front as you squat down. 
  3. Keep your head up and look straight ahead. 
  4. Hold the bottom position for a few seconds, then exhale, push through the heels, and return to the starting position. 
  5. Do 12 to 15 reps.

You can use dumbbells, a kettlebell, or a barbell to add resistance to the squat. Really squeeze the hamstrings during the entire motion.

A Word From Verywell

Hamstring exercises will build strength, mobility, and muscular endurance in your legs. The above exercises can be done at home or in the gym. Add some of them to your weekly routine, choosing a few to do each session, or try them all at once. If you need help ensuring proper form, seek out a personal trainer for guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best exercise for hamstrings?

    The best exercise for hamstrings is the stiff leg deadlift and similar variations. However, there are several other hamstring exercises that are very effective and may work better for you. For hinging movements, the stiff and Romanian deadlifts, as well as the good morning are very effective. For knee flexion and long head activation try hamstring curls or Nordic curls.

  • Do squats work hamstrings or quads?

    Squats primarily work the quads, but also activate the hamstrings. The more upright you stay in your squat, the more you will activate your quads, especially if you keep your chest high and push through your quads correctly when standing.

  • How can I work my hamstrings at home?

    You can work your hamstrings at home with bodyweight, bands, dumbbells, or any other equipment you may have. Just make sure to challenge yourself enough that you can make progress by working within a few repetitions of failure (5 or fewer) and increasing the challenge over time.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sørensen B, Aagaard P, Malchow-Møller L, Zebis MK, Bencke J. Medio-lateral hamstring muscle activity in unilateral vs. Bilateral strength exercises in female team handball players – a cross-sectional studyInt J Sports Phys Ther. 2021;16(3):704-714. doi:10.26603/001c.24150

  2. Coratella G, Tornatore G, Caccavale F, Longo S, Esposito F, Cè E. The activation of gluteal, thigh, and lower back muscles in different squat variations performed by competitive bodybuilders: implications for resistance trainingInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(2):772. doi:10.3390/ijerph18020772

  3. Yoon J-O, Kang M-H, Kim J-S, Oh J-S. Effect of modified bridge exercise on trunk muscle activity in healthy adults: a cross sectional studyBrazilian Journal of Physical Therapy. 2018;22(2):161-167. doi:10.1016/j.bjpt.2017.09.005

  4. Hegyi A, Csala D, Péter A, Finni T, Cronin NJ. High-density electromyography activity in various hamstring exercisesScandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 2019;29(1):34-43. doi:10.1111/sms.13303

  5. Ko M, Song C. Comparison of the effects of different core exercise on muscle activity and thickness in healthy young adultsPhysical Therapy Rehabilitation Science. 2018;7(2):72-77. doi:10.14474/ptrs.2018.7.2.72

  6. Coratella G, Tornatore G, Longo S, Esposito F, Cè E. An electromyographic analysis of Romanian, step-Romanian, and stiff-leg deadlift: implication for resistance training. IJERPH. 2022;19(3):1903. doi:10.3390/ijerph19031903

  7. Llurda-Almuzara L, Labata-Lezaun N, López-de-Celis C, et al. Biceps femoris activation during hamstring strength exercises: a systematic review. IJERPH. 2021;18(16):8733. doi:10.3390/ijerph18168733

  8. Lee JH, Kim S, Heo J, Park DH, Chang E. Differences in the muscle activities of the quadriceps femoris and hamstrings while performing various squat exercises. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2022;14(1):12. doi:10.1186/s13102-022-00404-6

By Sara Lindberg
Sara Lindberg, M.Ed., is a freelance writer focusing on health, fitness, nutrition, parenting, and mental health.