by: Yuri Elkaim

The Ultimate Cheatsheet to the Best Bodyweight Hamstring Exercises

There’s a reason hamstring injuries are one of the most common injuries in sports today (1).

It’s because your hamstrings feel neglected, and they’re acting out to get your attention.

The Benefits of Strong Hamstrings

First, let’s think about your anatomy. The three hamstring muscles in the back of your legs run from the bottom of your lower pelvis down to your knees.

Anatomy of Hamstring Muscle

When you think about your lower-body muscles, your hamstrings likely take a back seat to your quads and glutes. But in reality they’re extremely important for bending and straightening your legs, as well as preventing back and knee pain.

Specifically, when your hamstrings become weak and tight they can’t support your pelvis and low back, which can lead to low back pain and bad posture. Not to mention, the weaker your hamstrings are, the harder it is to perform simple movements like standing from a chair or walking up stairs.

Weak hamstrings also put you at risk for injuries during workouts or any other sport-type movement that requires a lot of knee-bending and leg extension.

In this case, the risk is twofold: if your hamstrings are just weak, your knees and low back won’t have enough support, setting you up for injuries to either area.

But if your hamstrings are also tight, you could end up tearing one of the muscles, which will leave you in a painful place.

For example, it’s pretty common for softball players to pull or tear their hamstrings during their first game of the season, simply because they spent the winter doing less movement. Now, think about how tight and weak your hamstrings might be after years of not using them, if this is the result after only a few months!

Luckily, doing the right exercises that both strengthen and lengthen your hamstrings will go a long way toward protecting yourself from these types of injuries.

The other great thing about many hamstring exercises is that they also work the glutes and even the core to an extent, so you get extra sculpting and injury-prevention benefits.

Check out the extensive list of hamstring exercises below. Trust me, you won’t get bored with so many unique moves.

The Best Bodyweight Hamstring Exercises

Top 27 Bodyweight Hamstring Exercises

The days of regular hamstring curls on the leg curl machine are over now that you have this list. Plus, they work your body in a more functional manner – think about it: how many times do you actually move your legs that way in the course of a day?

Many of these exercises require nothing more than your body and a bench, meaning they can be done anywhere at any time.

Before getting started, be sure to warm up with a dynamic warm-up consisting of leg swings, bodyweight lunges, and light stretches to get your blood pumping. For a list of dynamic warm up exercises, check out this post.

Now, let’s get into the exercises.

1. Good Mornings

Level of difficulty: Beginner

Bodyweight good mornings are an excellent exercise for beginners to start working the hamstrings and posterior chain. While it might look like this exercise only works your lower back, when done correctly it actually works the entire posterior and deeply engages the core and hamstrings.

2. Inchworms

Level of difficulty: Beginner

Inchworms help fire your hamstrings as you bend over to inch into a plank, then engage once again to help pull you up to standing. Additionally, this exercise works your entire core and upper body as you work to support your weight in the plank position.

3. Crab Walks

Level of difficulty: Beginner

Crab walks are a great functional movement exercise that strengthen not only the hamstrings, but also the glutes, shoulders, triceps, and low back.

Functional exercises are definitely something you want to incorporate into your workouts if you’re looking to improve mobility and all-around fitness, since they mimic natural movements.

4. Glute Hamstring Walkout

Glute Hamstring Walkout via Men's Health

Level of difficulty: Beginner

Glute hamstring walkouts are an excellent nothing-but-the-floor-required exercise that sets your hamstrings and glutes on fire. You can also widen or shorten your stance to engage different muscles throughout your backside, all while keeping the focus on your hams.

Really focusing on squeezing your glutes to keep your hips elevated during this one.

See the exercise here: Men’s Health

5. Natural Leg Curls

Level of difficulty: Beginner

Natural leg curls are a great way to work your hamstrings when you don’t have access to a leg curl machine, or just prefer using your own bodyweight.

You can do these using a bench or box, or even a countertop if you’re at home. You’ll feel the burn from these deep in your hamstrings and glutes due to the elevation of your feet.

6. Romanian Deadlift

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

Romanian deadlifts are an awesome exercise for targeting the entire posterior chain, so you get a nice glute lift along with your sculpted hamstrings. As a bonus, Romanian deadlifts work to strengthen your core as you bend over.

The form on this one can get tricky, so try to position yourself near a mirror so you can make sure you’re doing it right.  Be sure to always keep your chest lifted and avoid rounding your back throughout the movement.

7. Glute Hamstring Raise with Stability Ball

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

This exercise targets the hamstrings in a unique way that doesn’t involve leg curls or walkouts. It’s particularly great for strengthening the hamstrings and glutes without straining your knees, since you’re rolling out on the stability ball instead of bending and straightening your knee.

The extra balance required to stay upright on the stability ball gives you added core engagement as well.

8. Hanging Hamstring Curls

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

Hanging hamstring curls will fire up your hamstrings while also engaging your glutes. The great thing about this exercise is that you can easily make it more difficult by stepping out further from your TRX anchor point, or make it easier by coming in closer.

9. Reverse Hypers

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

Reverse hypers are a killer hamstring exercise than will have you feeling the burn throughout the back of your legs and bum. They will also work to strengthen your lower back muscles, which can help prevent spinal injuries during high-impact exercises.

10. Single-Leg Reverse Hypers

Level of difficulty: Beginner-intermediate

These reverse hypers switch it up to a single-leg version in a standing position, making them excellent for when you don’t have access to a gym. While this video uses a band to add resistance, feel free to just use your bodyweight for these to get a nice hamstring and glute burn.

11. Elevated Hamstring Walkout

Level of difficulty: Intermediate-advanced

Elevated hamstring walkouts are a deceivingly simple-looking exercise you can do to get your hamstrings firing and also engage your glutes as your lower body works to keep your bum elevated. Be sure not to let your butt sag toward the floor as you walk your feet out.

12. Hanging Leg Curl

Level of difficulty: Intermediate-advanced

Hanging leg curls are a challenging exercise for not only your hamstrings, but also your entire back, glutes, and core.

Be sure to build up your posterior strength with some of the beginner exercises on this list before attempting these, as they can be difficult if you’re a beginner.

13. Gliding Leg Curl

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

Gliding leg curls will have your hamstrings and glutes feeling the burn within just a few reps. If you want to make these harder, stay tuned till the end of the video to see a single-leg version that will also engage your core and stabilizer muscles to help improve your balance.

14. Reverse Hamstring Curl

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

Reverse hamstring curls are a tough exercise that challenge your glute muscles and hamstrings to work together to pull your body against gravity. Be mindful that you’re engaging these muscles and not your spine during this exercise.

15. Stability Ball Leg Curl

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

Stability ball leg curls add an extra balance challenge to the regular leg curl, which helps engage more muscles throughout your posterior and core. As you do this exercise, make sure to always keep your glutes lifted and abs tight. For a harder version, try doing them single-legged.

16. Glute Bridge

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

The glute bridge is a great exercise to develop the backside of your entire lower body, helping you sculpt lean hamstrings and a lifted booty.

17. Single-Leg Glute Bridge

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

The single-leg glute bridge takes the standard glute bridge up a notch. Here you’ll notice a deeper burn throughout your hamstrings, thighs, and glutes, while also getting in some core work from the challenge of balancing on one leg.

18. Reverse Lunges

Level of difficulty: Intermediate

Lunges in general are excellent for building overall leg strength, but reverse lunges specifically target more of the hamstring and glute muscles. As a bonus, they will also get your heart rate up for an extra fat-burning effect.

19. Banded Glute Bridge

Level of difficulty: Intermediate-advanced

Putting a band around your glute bridge will further engage your glutes and hamstrings by adding resistance and forcing your backside to activate fully. This will not only improve your strength, but also your balance and mobility.

20. Elevated Glute Bridge

Level of difficulty: Intermediate-advanced

Elevating the glute bridge adds an extra challenge to the hamstrings, glutes, and core as your lower body works to keep its balance. Not to mention, the added distance between the floor and the top of your hip thrust ups the intensity of your burn.

21. Single-Leg Elevated Glute Bridge

Level of difficulty: Intermediate-advanced

Here you’ll take the glute bridge to new heights by doing them on a single leg and elevated. This will strengthen and sculpt your hamstrings, glutes, and even your lower back and core.

It’s also great for correcting muscle imbalances in your legs, since working one at a time avoids letting one leg compensate for the other.

22. Glute Bridge with Leg Curl

Level of difficulty: Intermediate-advanced

The glute bridge with leg curl doubles up on your hamstrings by engaging them with a glute bridge immediately followed by a curl. Doing this will have your glutes and hamstrings on fire and your entire lower body working.

23. Single-Leg Sliding Curl

Level of difficulty: Intermediate-advanced

This exercise may look deceptively simple, but it actually takes a lot of hamstring, glute, core, and quad strength to lower and lift in a controlled way using sliders.

Aside from strengthening your entire backside, you’ll also develop your stabilizer muscles throughout your lower body to help improve your mobility and balance.

24. Eccentric Single-Leg Sliding Leg Curl

Level of difficulty: Intermediate-advanced

Just when you thought the sliding leg curl was over, it bounces back with a version requiring even more control and posterior strength.

Doing the eccentric (lowering) phase of this exercise slowly requires complete activation of your hamstrings and glutes, which will help build strength and sculpt your backside quickly.

25. Shoulder and Feet Elevated Hip Thrusts

Level of difficulty: Intermediate-advanced

This exercise contains two versions: one easier double-legged elevated hip thrust and another, harder single-legged version. Both will have your hamstrings and glutes working to their max, while simultaneously sculpting your booty.

26. Straight-Leg Hip Thrusts

Level of difficulty: Intermediate-advanced

The straight-leg hip thrust hits the glutes and hamstrings from a lower angle, which can really work the lower portion of the hamstrings and also get the muscles of your lower back involved. To make this one easier you can do it using both legs instead of single-legged.

27. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Level of difficulty: Intermediate-advanced

The single-leg Romanian deadlift is an awesome functional exercise to engage and sculpt the hamstrings and core, while also activating your glute and stabilizer muscles.

Be sure to keep your chest lifted and spine straight with this one, and if you find it too difficult, try doing the standard Romanian deadlift.

Creating the Perfect Hamstring Workout

One of the easiest ways to get in a good hamstring workout is to group them together, circuit-style, and go through them with minimal rest in between. This not only gives your posterior a killer workout, but also burns fat due to the quick pace of circuit training.

If you want to create your own hamstring workout, pick 4 to 5 exercises of your choice from the list above, plus 4 to 5 cardio-based exercises to do in-between each exercise.

Run through the circuit 2 to 4 times, with no rest between exercises and take a minute rest between circuits.

An example:

  • Natural leg curls – 10 to 15 reps
  • Burpees – 10 reps
  • Hanging leg curls – 10 to 20 reps
  • High knees – 30 seconds
  • Reverse lunges – 20 reps total
  • Skater jumps – 30 seconds
  • Hip thrusts – 12 to 15 reps

Rest for one minute, repeat 2 to 4 times through.

Happy Hamstrings

Happy hamstrings equal happy glutes and a happy lower back.

Not to mention, when they’re tight and toned, they also equal a happier, more confident you. With these bodyweight hamstring exercise options, there’s no reason not to give them a good burn.

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Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim

Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.