By Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT ProSource
Step away from the leg curl machine and build big, meaty hamstrings
Goal: Size, Strength
How many exercises do you use in the pursuit of beefier hamstrings? One? Two, maybe, if you include the seated leg curl? You may feel limited by the boring, one-dimensional hinge that is your knee but there are better ways to target your hamstrings.
One way is to rekindle your love affair with the barbell. The barbell is favored by serious mass-gainers for its ability to allow greater overload on target muscles. So why not use it for hammies? The Romanian deadlift allows you to crush your hamstrings with heavy weight loads across two joints -- the hip and the knee.
It's not that the leg curl is an ineffective exercise, it's just that it tends to focus on the lower half to two-thirds of the hamstring. But the hamstrings originate at the hip and insert below the knee, meaning that they cross two different joints. So it only makes sense to add stimulus that will stress the entire length of the muscle belly.
To get this can't-miss mass-builder right, keep a slight bend in your knees and a slight arch in your lower back and lower the weight close to your body until you feel a stretch on your hamstrings. Reverse the motion and come into a full standing position at the top, putting a squeeze on your glutes and hammies for a count before lowering into the next rep.
Make a point of pushing your glutes back to initiate the movement. This will keep you from leaning forward at the hips, putting undue stress on your lower back. By doing this, you can better maintain the proper lower back posture, which will better engage your hamstrings.
Glutes + hams
Bodybuilding fans know that there's a clear (if alarming) trend in the sport, whereby shows are sometimes won and lost on the quality of an athlete's glute-ham tie-in. This is an area that is not hit through leg curls, so if rear-view aesthetics is your thing, this is your move.
On your next leg day, perform the Romanian deadlift as your first move for hamstrings, working in the 8-12 rep range for 4-5 ham-shredding sets. For better results, alternate between quad-focused and hamstring-focused moves. Studies show that working opposing muscle groups in alternating fashion allows each group to perform better than if trained in traditional fashion.
Smith-Machine Squat 4-5/8-12
Romanian Deadlift 4-5/8-12
Leg Press 3/12
Dumbbell Walking Lunge* 3/12
Leg Extension 3/12
Lying Leg Curl 3/12
* One study showed that the lunge improved the hamstring strength of trained athletes by 35%. Over the course of the study, the same group experienced no significant improvement in quad strength.