People can often get stuck on the deadlift and the straight leg deadlift as the only barbell variations. Both of these are amazing exercises and are in our list, but finding some extra variety for your hamstring training can be a great way to increase the stimulus and keep training fun and interesting.
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One reason to put emphasis on your hamstring isolation movements and straight leg hinge work is that it can do wonders for your deadlift. If you are interested in powerlifting and want to be able to deadlift as much as possible, these sorts of exercises should be in your accessory work without a doubt. My favourite accessory work for increasing my deadlift is the away-from-body straight leg deadlift, it really allows pressure to be applied to both the hamstrings and the lower back.
Athletes need to be fast, hamstrings are a critical part of the running action and therefore should play a small part in athletic development. Even marathon runners are doing deadlifts and hinge movements as they are so well known to improve hamstring strength which can cross over to running performance. Obviously, for marathons, the impact will be minimal but for sprinters, these exercises can play a large role in a strength and conditioning programme.
Hamstring injuries are common among athletes as well as with recreational sports participants, so using these exercises to help strengthen and grow your hamstrings will help you mitigate injury. Nothing can even “prevent injury” but it’s logical to assume the strength of the muscles and tendons of a joint can play a role in mitigating injury.
It cannot be said enough that for these movement to be effective at either growing or strengthening the hamstrings then the position of the lower back must be correct. The lower back needs to arch inwards, with the hips in an anterior pelvic tilt. If the lower back is rounded or arched this will prevent the hamstrings from being the driving force and put much more of the pressure on the lower back. If your goal is to increase your strength in your deadlifts by doing heavy deadlifts with a round back then thats up to you, but if your trying to target your hamstrings with a specific intervention it is crucial that you maintain an arch in the lower back.
Training recommendations for hamstrings depend on your goal, if you’re looking to improve strength or hypertrophy the training guidelines will be different.
Strength training requires heavy weight (for the individual) to be lifted at regular intervals. The percentage of your 1rm required to increase strength in the hamstring should be above 80%, this doesn’t always have to be calculated, it’s unlikely that you know your 1rm straight leg deadlift, but you need to have a sensation that the weight is heavy and you can only lift it between 3-6 repetitions. Using Prilepin’s training chart can be beneficial when writing your own strength training programme.
Growing your hamstrings will require a large amounts of working sets to be performed with the hamstrings. These working sets can be done with these barbell exercises of other load bearing hamstring exercises with a dumbbell or kettlebell. In order to maintain hamstring size your looking around 4 working sets per week, in order to create growth adaptation between 6-8 sets per week should be optimal for people looking to grow their hamstrings.
The deadlift is a compound lift that can generate a great deal of fatigue and by no means only targets the hamstrings. That being said they remain extremely effective at both strengthening and growing the hamstrings as the put so much pressure on the entire posterior chain of which the hamstrings plays a crucial part.
The rear foot elevated barbell straight leg deadlift is an excellent isolation exercise for the hamstring with a barbell. It is a very advanced exercise and should only be attempted by those who have a lot of experience in the hinge position. Make sure if you use this exercise that you start with weights that allow you to perform the movement to extremely high quality, then increase the weight as you become more and more comfortable with the movement.
The sumo deadlift is another compound lift very similar to the conventional deadlift that requires a large variety of the body to work in unison to lift the weight. This exercise allows you to lift heavy loads just like the conventional deadlift, meaning a great of pressure and stimulus can be put on the hamstrings, creating both growth and increasing strength.
The barbell straight-leg deadlift is the traditional barbell hamstring exercise that can be used to increase the strength and size of the hamstring muscle. It’s the traditional version because of how effective it it. It allows heavy weights to be applied directly to the hamstring muscle, sending excellent growth and strength signals.
The barbell good morning isolates slightly less the hamstrings than say the barbell straight leg deadlift as more work is required from the lower back. That being said it still remains an excellent hamstring-strengthening option with a barbell. This exercise can take some time to get used to, so ease your way into using heavier weights. Make sure you’re controlling the downward portion of the exercise, at not point should you be falling to the floor.
The barbell away from body straight leg deadlift is one of my favourite barbell hamstring exercises as it places so much direct stimulus to the hamstring but also requires a great deal of stability from the lower back. This exercise also needs to be loaded with care, it is substantially more challenging that the traditional barbell straight leg deadlift. The arch in the lower back must be maintained throughout here otherwise you risk putting too much pressure through the spine without the protection of the lower back muscles taking the load.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.