4 Hamstring Exercises That Strengthen Your Muscles and Improve Alignment

Do them twice a week to relieve—or help prevent—pain.

hamstring exercises
Julia Hembree Smith

Tight hamstrings? Contrary to popular belief, stretching isn’t always the answer. That’s because elongating the muscle isn’t a surefire way to improve your hamstring flexibility and restore full range of motion.

In fact, if poor alignment is to blame, your hamstrings are already in an overextended, stretched-out position. If that’s the case, stretching can actually be counterproductive, says Mike Robertson, C.S.C.S., co-owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (I-FAST).

The first step in finding relief, he says, is to work toward achieving proper pelvic positioning, which will alleviate tension down the back of your thighs. Check yours by standing in front of a mirror, then turn to the side.

  • If your hips and pelvis look level, you have a neutral pelvic tilt, but can still benefit from strengthening your hamstrings regularly.
  • If your pelvis spills forward and lower back seems to arch, you have an anterior pelvic tilt and overstretched hamstrings. You should work on strengthening—not stretching—the hamstrings to restore proper alignment with the moves below.
  • If your pelvis leans backward, you have a posterior pelvic tilt and should stick with trying to lengthen your hamstrings with these tips and stretches.

    [Cross-train with Tinman Elite strength coach with the Run Faster program.]

    How to use this list: To help you get started, Robertson created this simple, two-day hamstring workout. The warmup moves will help you improve your pelvic positioning. Then, you’ll work on strengthening your muscles. You will break up the strength moves: Do the first two on one day, and the second two on your other strength day. You will need a set of medium weights, an exercise ball, access to a wall, and a heavy object (like a couch). An exercise mat is optional.

    If you run two or three times per week, you can just do these workouts on your off days. But if you run four or more times per week, you should do these hamstring workouts after your run.

    Warm-Up: Cat-Cow

    Start on all fours with your knees under hips, wrists under shoulder, and palms flat on the mat. Inhale as you arch your back, drop your belly, and tilt your head back. Exhale and round your back up toward the ceiling as you tuck your chin and hips. That’s 1 rep. Complete 5 reps with each breath.

    Warm-Up: 90-90 Hip Lift

    Mitch Mandel

    Lie faceup with your feet resting against a wall and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Exhale. Dig the heels down while keeping the feet glued to the wall. Keeping the lower back contacting the mat, slightly raise the glutes off the ground. The knees should move towards the ceiling and you should feel the hamstrings engage. Maintain that as you breathe in, and then fully out. Hold the end of the exhale for three to five seconds. Take 5 breaths; hold the exhale on each. Complete 5 reps.

    Day One:


    Start standing with feet hip-width apart and holding a pair of dumbbells. Send hips back to hinge at hips and lower the weights down in front of your legs. Lower the weight as far as your flexibility allows. Keep back flat and neck neutral, then push hips forward to bring weights back up. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

    Leg Curl With Exercise Ball

    Lie faceup with your heels on top of an exercise ball. Lift your pelvis so that your body forms a straight line from head to knees, exhale, and then use your heels to roll the ball toward your glutes. Reverse the movement to roll ball back out and lower hips. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

    Day Two:

    Single-Leg Deadlift

    Start standing and shift weight onto left leg. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in your left hand. Hinge at the hips to lower the weight down as your right leg extends out behind you. Return to standing. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps. Repeat on right leg.

    Nordic Hamstring Curl

    Mitch Mandel

    Kneel on the floor with your feet secured under a heavy object like a couch. Exhale and with core engaged, lower your torso toward the floor. Keep the movement slow and controlled for as long as you can. When you start to accelerate forward, place your hands in front of you. Press through your hands to push yourself back up to starting position. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

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