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6 Effective Bodyweight Hamstring Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

How can you grow and strengthen your hamstrings when you don’t have any equipment available? Here are the 6 best exercises for bigger, stronger hamstrings.

The best exercises to grow your hamstrings without equipment are:

  • Sliding leg curls
  • Good mornings
  • Single leg deadlifts
  • (Lateral)Lunges
  • Split squats

All those exercises can be done with just body weight. You can hold a loaded backpack or water jug for resistance if necessary.

Keep reading below to find out what hamstrings do exactly and how best to exercise them. 

Hamstring Exercises Without Equipment

Now we understand what the hamstrings do, we can figure out some movements that help train the hamstrings. There are very few hamstring exercises that really isolate the hamstrings and only target them. But the body has to work as a unit anyway. There are quite a few exercises that hit the hamstrings as well as other muscles nearby.

Image doing hamstring exericses.

1. Sliding Leg Curls

The exercise that isolates the hamstrings the best is the sliding leg curl. You’re flexing the knees without moving the hips so you get the main purpose of the hamstrings. It’s one of the exercises that barely involves the glutes. I say barely because you still have some glute engagement but it’s static because your glutes hold your hips in the correct position but there shouldn’t be any movement. 

What you need is a hard (slippery) floor and some socks or a mat that slides easily. Lay flat on your back and get into the top position of a glute bridge. That means; drag your heels up as close as possible to your bum and push your hips up. Now, instead of letting your hips sag down again, push your feet forward until you only have a slight bend left in your knees. Then drag your heels back to the starting position.

Make sure what you have under your feet slides easily but is still grippy enough to easily control the slip. This is a pretty tough exercise so start slowly and make sure you use the right form. Keep your hips extended through the movement and don’t bend the hips. 

If it’s too easy, you can do one leg at a time.

2. Good Morning

The good morning is a good exercise that targets both the hamstrings and glutes. It’s a hip extension exercise which means both the glutes and hamstrings are hit. There is no knee flexing going on though. 

You do need quite good hamstring flexibility to do this exercise correctly. You basically keep your knees straight while bending over the upper body (and keeping the upper body straight). This puts a pretty intense stretch on the hamstrings and tendons. So starting with no or very light weight is a good idea even if you can squat/deadlift a decent amount of weight. And once a muscle is stretched, you have to contract it to get back to the original length. Do this with resistance and you have the recipe to grow the hamstrings. 

You can do this exercise with body weight in the beginning. However, after a while, you might want to add some resistance. You don’t need any serious equipment to do this, just hold a filled backpack or water jug in front of your chest.

3. Single Leg Deadlift

The standard barbell deadlift is a great full-body exercise and also involves a lot of hamstring. However, you do need a barbell and weights to do one properly. At home without equipment or maybe a heavy bag, the single-leg deadlift is a better option for hamstrings. 

Just like with good mornings, you do need a reasonable amount of flexibility in the hamstrings. Here’s how you do a single-leg deadlift: 

  • Stand up straight
  • Keep one foot on the floor and pivot the rest of the body and the other leg. 
  • In the final position, your upper body and one leg are horizontal while one leg is still vertical. 
  • This puts a good stretch on the hamstrings which means they have to contract for a long way to get back to upright. This long range of motion makes for a great training impulse. 

4. Lunges

Lunges are a complete leg exercise. Not only the hamstrings are targeted but also the glutes, quadriceps, and calves. 

To do a lunge you simply step forward with one foot while keeping the other in place. Then bend the front knee and keep bending it until your rear knee almost hits the floor. Then push through the heel of the front foot to get back up. By pushing through the heel, you move some of the stress from the front of the leg to the rear or in other words; from the quadriceps to the hamstrings and glutes. 

Your hamstrings are responsible for bending the knee and as a result, also resisting bending the knee. So go down in a controlled manner to maximize the amount of stress the hamstrings are under. On the way up the hamstrings help with the hip extension. 

5. Lateral Lunges

You don’t only want to train the muscle to go straight up and down. Some lateral movement is a good idea to incorporate into most workouts, regardless of the muscle group. In real life, you don’t have the luxury of always moving in a single plane and when you have to step out unexpectedly, you haven’t trained your muscles to deal with it. 

With lateral lunges, you step out sideways so the muscles are hit a little differently. Your hamstrings are loaded in a way that has to resist/control bending and contract to push back up. Like with normal lunges the quads, glutes, and calves will also be targeted. But since the direction of the motion is different, all your muscles get trained in a slightly different way. 

6. Split Squat

On the outside, this looks like almost the same exercise as lunges. The difference is that split squats keep your feet in the same place between repetitions while during lunges you step between reps. 

With split squats, you have the benefit that you can raise the rear leg. This puts extra pressure on the front leg. So if you don’t have any weights to load up the lunges, you can simply put your back leg on a chair and you’ve got more resistance without changing anything else. 

Adding Weight

The exercises above can all be performed with just body weight. That means no equipment is required except for a mat and smooth floor for the sliding leg curls. However, if you’ve got some weights lying around, it’s very easy to add some extra resistance to most of the exercises above.

This weight can be dumbbells, a kettlebell but also a milk/water jug filled with water, or a full backpack. Dumbbells and kettlebells are the easiest to hold and are the most flexible, they can be used for many other exercises.

What Do Hamstrings Do And How To Train Them?

To be able to train a muscle properly, we have to know where the muscles we try to train are and what they do first. 

The hamstrings are the muscles on the back of the upper leg. They are the muscles that sit below the glutes. Their purpose is to flex the knees but also help the glutes with hip extension. 

The hamstrings are actually not a single muscle. There are three muscles that make up the muscle group of the hamstrings: 

  • Biceps Femoris
  • Semitendinosus
  • Semimembranosus
Diagram of the hamstrings

If you’re interested in the function and location of all those different muscles, click here.

They all attach to slightly different points on the pelvis and knees. The main function of the hamstrings is to flex the knees. But another big part is helping the glutes with hip extension. So the exercises below will pay attention to both functions. That means you’ll have some exercises that are also great for the glutes. This also means that combining hamstring and glute workouts is going to be more efficient and even harder to avoid. 

To train the hamstrings you want to do exercises that either bend the knee where there is resistance from the rear or where you extend your knees.

In general, you want 6-8 heavy working sets per muscle group per week for hypertrophy (muscle growth) and strength increases. Warmup sets don’t count. Hamstrings can take a while to recover since they’re quite large. They’re also prone to injuries so you want to give them enough recovery time.

You’ll likely be using the hamstrings during other workouts anyway so one dedicated hamstring workout a week is going to be enough for most people.