5 Best Barbell Hamstring Exercises (with Pictures!): For Stronger Legs

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 24, 2022

Hamstrings are one of the most important muscle groups in your body. They're responsible for supporting the body when walking, running, and jumping. Fortunately, there are numerous exercises available to help strengthen the hamstring muscles using barbells alone.

Exercises that strengthen the hamstrings with the use of a barbell include Romanian deadlifts, good mornings, single-leg deadlifts, and barbell hip thrusts. These exercises influence muscle fiber recruitment in the hamstrings so they can support themselves better when needed.

The Hamstring: Anatomy and Function

The hamstring muscle is a relevant muscle in the body as it helps to move the legs and hips. The hamstring muscles are found at the back of the thighs, and it is responsible for moving the leg backward. The hamstrings also help to rotate the leg inward when the individual walks or runs. 

It is important to recognize that the hamstring muscles are divided into 4 parts: the long and short head of the biceps femoris, the semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. These muscles are all connected together by way of tendons, so they work in tandem during activity. 

hamstring muscles

The hamstring muscle includes several branches that fan out from one main tendon, which attaches to the bone of the lower leg. These branches then attach to other bones in the lower leg and hip, giving them the power to move both the hip and knee joints. In order to do this work, the muscle needs a lot of oxygen during exercise. 

Barbell Exercises for the Hamstring

As mentioned above, stronger hamstrings provide multiple benefits that assist in the performance of daily activities. To build stronger hamstrings, there are multiple exercises that can be utilized. Below is a list of exercises for the hamstrings, specifically with the use of a barbell. 

1. Barbell Romanian Deadlifts

The barbell Romanian deadlift is a great way to build strong, functional muscles. This exercise helps to develop stronger hamstrings, build the core, and increase the power-to-weight ratio. 

The Romanian deadlift is a variation of the deadlift that works primarily on the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. It’s also a great way to help strengthen the core muscles as the individual lifts off the floor.

To perform start with a chalked or not slippery surface and with a weight that feels heavy but not too much. Stand with the feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed outwards. Stand in front of the barbell where the shin is just touching the bar.

barbell Romanian deadlift movement

Bend over so that the torso is at a 90-degree angle with the legs, with the knees slightly bent. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip slightly outside of the legs. Lift the barbell up by fully extending the hips and knees and erecting the torso. A pause is observed at the top of the movement while the buttocks are squeezed to emphasize the contraction.

Lower down the bar by pushing the hips back and slightly flexing the knees while keeping a neutral spine until the barbell is just below the knees. Repeat the motion for the desired number of reps to complete one set.

2. Barbell Good Mornings

The barbell good morning is a similar exercise to the Romanian deadlift. It engages the same muscles and thus is effective to work out the hamstrings. It can be performed with an empty barbell or with weight plates.

To perform the exercise the individual stands with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a bar with an overhand grip.

barbell good morning

Lift the barbell up, placing it behind the head just on top of the upper trapezius area. Keep the back straight and thighs stationary. Bend forward from the hips until the torso is almost parallel to the floor. Repeat this motion with the desired number of reps to complete a single set.

Do not bend too far forward or backward as this can put a strain on the lower back muscles which may lead to injury if done incorrectly. 

3. Barbell Single-leg Deadlifts

The barbell single-leg deadlifts work the hamstrings, glutes, calf, and core muscles. Aside from strengthening the muscles of the posterior chain, it also aids in improving balance. The single-leg deadlift is an advanced movement and must only be done by experienced lifters. 

To perform this exercise the individual stands in front of the barbell with the leg that will be planted on the floor placed at the center of the barbell with the leg almost touching the bar. Bring the opposite leg off the ground by simply bending the knee or extending at the hip joint. 

barbell single leg deadlift

Bend the planted foot slightly to be able to reach the barbell. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip at slightly outside shoulder width. Externally rotate the shoulders to bring the scapula closer together to gain a neutral posture, maintaining this posture all throughout the performance.

Lift the barbell by fully extending the knee and hip of the planted foot keeping the arms straight. Then lower the barbell slowly on the floor and switch to the other leg. Repeat the motion on the other leg to complete 1 rep. 

4. Barbell Hip Thrust

The barbell hip thrust works the posterior chain muscles specifically the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles. To perform the barbell hip thrust the individual sits down on the floor with a bench, bed, or sofa positioned behind the individual. 

barbell hip thrust

The individual then bends the knees and places the barbell on the hips. The barbell is grasped and the hips are thrust up to lift the barbell with the back supported by the bench behind the individual until the body is now horizontally parallel to the floor. The body is then lowered back to the floor to assume the starting position by hinging the hips to finish the rep. 

5. Barbell Stiff-leg Deadlift

The barbell stiff-leg deadlift is another variation of the deadlift that primarily works the hamstrings. Despite having the movement focus more on the hip hinge, the muscle that does most of the hip extension is the hamstring.

To perform this exercise assume a hip-width stance and place the bar over the top of the shoes. Hinge forward and push the hips back until the torso is nearly parallel to the floor. Reach down and take a shoulder-width, double overhand hold on the bar.

barbell stiff legged deadlift

Check that the spine is in neutral, the shins are upright, and the hips are around the same height as the shoulders. Lift the weight by pushing on the floor by driving through the legs.

As the knees and hips are stretched, keep the bar in a straight line. Once the hips have been locked out, reverse the movement by pressing the hips back and hinging forward. Return the bar to the floor and repeat as many times as required.

Benefits of Strengthening the Hamstring

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles that run down the back of the legs. They're responsible for stabilizing the pelvis and hips, which makes them important for preventing injury. The following benefits can be gained from strengthening these muscles: 

Relieve Lower Back Pain

Hamstring weakness can cause lower back pain because they’re often tight in individuals who have it. Because it is attached to the pelvis, it contributes to its tilting and thus plays a role in lower back health.

Tight hamstrings also pull on other muscles in the thigh and lower leg, which can lead to muscle tension and other issues that cause pain in these areas. Strengthening these muscles will eliminate imbalances in muscle strength or overuse that causes pain.

Increased Flexibility

Hamstring strengthening can cause the muscle to be more flexible which will assist the individual in performing sports or other activities with ease. It has been studied that eccentric training of the muscle, which means that the muscle is active as it lengthens, has been observed to increase the overall flexibility of the muscle.

There is no basis for the belief that exercising a muscle shortens it, on the contrary, as long as the exercise is done correctly, muscle strengthening can increase the stretch tolerance of that particular muscle.

Improve Overall Leg Strength

Hamstring strength is important for all athletes, especially sprinters who need to maintain their speed over long distances. The hamstrings are responsible for pulling the body forward in a running motion and also provide support when you're jumping or landing from a jump.

Hamstring strength allows athletes to exert more force on the foot when running and jumping, which can mean better performance in sports like track & field or soccer (or any other sport where speed matters). 

Improve Posture, Alignment, and Injury Prevention

Posture is important for good health, and it can help prevent injuries. One of the most common causes of back pain is poor posture, which can lead to disc degeneration and other issues. Strengthening the hamstrings helps maintain good form while sitting or standing throughout the day.

Good posture and balance help prevent injuries, but it's also something that's important for overall health. Having poor posture can lead to muscle tension and decreased circulation in the body. This will decrease the ability to perform physical activities properly, which could lead to injury or pain.

Hamstring injuries often occur during explosive movements like jumping up to catch a pass or a quick change of direction. They can also occur when squatting or lunging forward in order to quickly break into open space on offense or defense. Strengthening the hamstrings helps prevent these injuries as they become better equipped to handle the amount of force that the muscle is subjected to.

Final Thoughts

Strengthening the hamstrings is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. They are one of the most powerful muscles in the body, and they play a significant role in everything from running to cycling, from weightlifting to jumping rope.

The benefits of strengthening the hamstrings go far beyond improving performance on the field. By making sure that these muscles remain strong and supple, injuries can be prevented and posture is improved while reducing stress on other parts of the body like the knees or the back. 

References

1. Oliver GD, Dougherty CP. The razor curl: a functional approach to hamstring training. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(2):401-405. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818f08d0

2. Bourne MN, Timmins RG, Opar DA, et al. An Evidence-Based Framework for Strengthening Exercises to Prevent Hamstring Injury. Sports Med. 2018;48(2):251-267. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0796-x

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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