How often have you burst into speed at the park to catch a child or full-out sprint to get down the field for that epic touchdown?
Chances are, if you have done any of those things, you have used your hamstring. The bad news is that our hamstrings are neglected.
We squat like the best of them, and the quadriceps start to overpower their partner in crime. Unfortunately, the result is that we get injured.
There are many ways to strengthen the hamstrings, including strengthening other muscles.
Calf raises help to support the hamstrings by providing stability for those quick bursts of movement. No leg curl machine? No problem.
Check out some hamstring leg curl alternatives that can help. Bottom line, there are many exercises you can try to power up those hammies. How exactly? We are glad that you asked. Let’s go through some dumbbell exercises that work your hamstrings.
You can do them right at home to beef up those neglected muscles.
What are the Hamstrings, and How do they work?
Before we get to the exercises, let’s talk about the hamstrings and how they function. The hamstrings are a group of muscles and tendons at the back of the thigh.
The bicep femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus are the main muscles of the hamstring. They function to move the hips and bend the knee.
They are more prone to injury because of the significant involvement that they have in leg movement. Because the quadriceps are some of the strongest muscles in the body and work to help you walk, run, sit and stand, they are often people’s priority when it comes to training.
This is how the hamstrings are often ignored and injured. It’s terrible because they play such a vital role in hip and knee movement. Also, once you have strained these muscles, reinjuring them is relatively easy.
Why is it so easy to reinjure the hamstring?
It happens all too often that a hamstring strain occurs, rehabilitation happens, and then when the athlete gets back to playing, they reinjure the muscle all over again. Why exactly does that happen?
A study on hamstring rehabilitation experimented with a unique restoration that might prevent future injuries of the muscle. Hamstring injuries occur either from over-stretching the muscle or during high-speed running.
The study hypothesized that athletes often return and reinjure the hamstring because they have not rehabilitated the muscle using lengthened state eccentric training.
Eccentric Muscle Training
Eccentric muscle training is when you perform muscle contractions that lengthen the muscle while loaded with some weight. The key is to perform the contraction slowly to stretch the muscle as it contracts.
Think of it as the negative movement you perform in an exercise. If you are doing a crunch, it’s the lowering of the head to the floor that is the eccentric contraction.
It’s crazy that the decline of weight is part of the exercise, right? It is. It works to lengthen the muscle, which promotes muscle growth too.
The study promotes ice, pulsing ultrasound, and eccentric training in the first two phases of recovery. In the third phase, once the athlete had more motion in the hamstring, the participants performed lengthened eccentric training.
An example exercise was to pull the knee to the chest while connected to a cable or other resistance tool. Slowly, the patient extends the knee into flexion, resisting the weight of the cable.
Here, the hamstring reaches a full lengthened state and ensures an athlete can utilize the muscle to its full potential without reinjuring it. The researchers concluded that adding this training to the rehabilitation process might prevent future injuries of the hamstring. Isn’t science just the best?
Why are Hamstrings Tight?
Good question. Unfortunately, our sedentary lifestyle is one of the main culprits for tight hamstrings.
When you sit down for long periods at a desk to work, your hip flexors (muscles used to lift your leg in the air) are in a shortened position. While this isn’t an issue for short durations, sitting like that too long makes the hip flexors shorter and tighter, making it harder to lengthen them.
As a result, the hamstrings, which assist in lifting the leg, have to work harder to compensate for the shortened hip flexors. What happens next?
You overstretch the hamstring muscle, and you are in pain. Not only that, almost every exercise that we do engages the hamstrings in some way.
If you aren’t stretching it properly beforehand, it’s more likely you will injure it.
Hamstring Exercises with Dumbbells
There are a lot of hamstring exercises you can do right at home. Just grab a pair of dumbbells and get moving.
We’ll go through several movements below and how to do them to get the most out of your hamstrings.
This is known as one of the best ways to strengthen your hamstrings right at home. The starting position is feet hip-width apart and bent over from the hip, holding your dumbbells with your palms facing your thighs.
Keep your back straight and your knees slightly bent. Slowly lift your body by using your hamstrings and squeezing your glutes. Lower back down to the starting position, keeping your chest parallel to the floor.
Try to do this with five or ten-pound dumbbells to start. If you do about three sets of twelve reps three times a week, you will notice significant results in your hamstrings and glutes in no time.
Not to be outdone by the regular deadlift, the Romanian deadlift differs in that the muscle contraction occurs as your bend over from the hip.
The movement similarly utilizes the hamstrings and glutes to the straight-leg deadlift. To start, have your feet hip-width apart and the dumbbells in your hands with your palms facing your thighs. Slowly push your hips back, keeping your back straight as you lower your chest to the floor.
Once your hands are right under your knees, and your body is parallel to the floor, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to lift your body back to the starting position. Not too hard, right?
Once you have this, there is an option to do a single-leg Romanian deadlift. The movement is the same except one leg lifts behind you as you bend from the hip.
Your body forms a straight line when it is parallel to the floor, and then you drive yourself back up to the starting position. Lift your left foot behind you, and then switch to your right foot.
This one is more intense, so get the Romanian deadlift first and then move on to the single-leg deadlift.
Glute Bridge Press
The ever-popular glute bridge press is another excellent exercise for your hamstrings. The starting position is to lie supine on the floor with a dumbbell in each hand, facing away from you. Keep your knees bent with your feet flat on the floor.
Slowly lift your hips off the ground and press your arms up towards the ceiling. Make sure that your dumbbells are lifting above your chest and not your head.
You want to press up with your hips until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Stop there and then return to the starting position. That was one rep. Don’t stop there! Keep going.
The best thing about this exercise is it works the triceps and chest too. Yay for a compound exercise!
Knee Tuck Pull-Over
The knee tuck pull-over is another exercise that you can do lying on your back for some hamstring work and abdominal work. Lie on your back and hold a dumbbell straight above your head close to the floor with both hands.
The starting position is your left foot is on the floor with a bent knee, and your right leg is straight out in front of you, hovering over the floor. Bend the right knee as you bring the dumbbell to meet your knee, keeping your arms straight.
Once your elbows are close to your knee, return to the starting position. This exercise is a compound one, so you are working your abs too.
Make sure you keep your back flat on the floor to avoid arching your back and injuring yourself. One rep down! Try for two or three sets of twelve reps on the right leg and then switch to the left leg and repeat.
Dumbbell Hip Thrust
Sometimes this movement is done with a barbell, but you can also do it with a pair of dumbbells.
Start with your upper back on a bench and your feet shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor. Place a dumbbell on each of your legs at the crease of your hips. Drive your heels into the floor and lift your hips, squeezing your glutes once your body forms a straight line.
Return to the starting position and repeat. Try to keep this movement as slow and controlled as possible to maximize its effect on your hamstrings.
A few things to keep in mind are to keep your back on the bench and try not to move the upper body too much.
Also, to engage your hamstrings more than your glutes, walk your feet a little further out.
Dumbbell Reverse Lunge
You knew that we had to throw a lunge in here for you. We know how much you love them.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell in each hand down by your sides. Slowly step back with your right foot about two feet behind you and bend your knee down toward the floor. Keep your chest lifted and your left knee over your ankle as it bends as well.
Bend both legs until your right shin and left quad are parallel to the floor. Push from your left heel and bring your right foot back into the starting position.
The lower body is working hard on this exercise so that you will feel it in your quads and glutes too.
Alternate to your left foot after you complete the reps on your right. Lunge away, people!
Dumbbell Good Morning
The first rule of this one, you have to do it in the morning. Kidding. Do it whenever you want for some epic hamstring work.
The starting position is feet hip-width apart and hold one dumbbell to your chest with your arms crossed. Gently lower your chest down to the floor and push your hips back, with your knees bent slightly.
Stop the movement when your chest is parallel to the floor and push your hips forward to bring you back to the starting position.
Go for two to three sets of twelve reps and see how you do. This one seems simple, but you will feel the kick in the hamstrings the more you do it.
Dumbbell Sumo Squat
You knew there were going to be squats. Don’t act surprised. This is different from a regular squat where your knees and toe face the front, and you squat down.
Instead, you start this squat with your knees and toes turned out slightly at about 45 degrees, and your feet are a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in with both hands in a vertical position.
Bend your knees while pushing your hips back slightly. As you drive back up to the starting position, dig in your heels and feel this exercise through the back of your legs. See? Squats to the rescue!
If you can’t get to the gym right now, we proved that there are many hamstring exercises you can do right at home with a set of dumbbells.
Keep those neglected muscles pumping as we sit more and more these days.
Your body will thank you, and your injuries will be non-existent. Take that 2021!
Kristen holds a bachelors in English from Louisianna university. With a longstanding passion for fitness, she owns and operate her own gym and is a certified jazzercise instructor.