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6 Hamstring Exercises to Help Injury-Proof Your Muscles

There's nothing more painful — and debilitating — than a hamstring injury. Here's how to make sure you don't experience one.

If you want to see a ghastly hamstring injury, just watch a game of football. Along with large men picking wedgies and Joe Buck’s ego, it’s one of the gridiron’s most common sights. But the NFL is far from the only place the injury is common. Just ask a group of runners, cyclists, and dads performing impromptu backyard end zone dances. The hamstring muscle – the most famous of the posterior thigh muscles (which, by the way, is actually three muscles) is essential to your on-field and off-field existence. To make sure you don’t become one of the sufferers, we reached out to Marty Velasco, CPT, owner of Fitness Edge in Cleveland to offer up some hamstring exercises the average guy should add to his routine. Incorporate them, and you’ll be less likely to go down holding the back of your leg — and be stronger and more flexible overall.

Deadlifts

Why? “Deadlifts are the essential hamstring exercise,” says Velasco. “They work 100 percent of your legs, and engage just about every other muscle in the body.”

How to do them:

“Start with the barbell on the floor, just above your ankles and directly in front of your shins,” advises Velasco. “Keep a shoulder-width stance, and use your whole body to lift the bar off the floor. You want to lift the weight with your legs and glutes, instead of your lower back. At the top of the exercise, stand up straight without overextending your lower back, then lower the bar with control, keeping it as close to your body as possible.” Perform three sets of 1-6 reps at maximum weight

Good Mornings

Trainer says: “This is a hip hinge exercise – the movement comes from bending at your waist. Good Mornings will strengthen your glutes and hamstrings, which are involved in everything from running to throwing and catching the ball.”

How to do them:

“Rest the barbell on your upper back and shoulders, rather than your neck and spine,” Velasco instructs. “Keep your head up, and straighten your back so that you can bend forward at the hips until your body is parallel to the floor. If you’re new to the exercise, go down as far as you can while still maintaining control before you return to the starting position.” Three sets of 8-10 reps at medium weight

Plate Drags

Why? “Plate drags are great because they don’t require any special equipment – just a weight. And you can do them lying down.”

How to do them: “Lie down with both feet out in front of you,” says Velasco. “Then place one of your heels on the weight and bend your knee while dragging the weight across the floor, and up to your butt. When you extend the leg, push the weight back out. Plate drags won’t bulk you up, but they’re perfect for conditioning and developing strength.” Perform three sets of 10-12 reps per leg at medium weight.

Glute / Ham Raises

Why? “This is a body weight exercise, like a pull-up or push-up, that you can do anywhere you’ve got a level surface, and something you can use to brace your feet. If your kid is big enough, he or she can even sit on them.”

How to do them:  “Start by kneeling and bracing your feet. You can have someone hold them, or you can tuck your heels underneath the couch, or a chair. Put your hands at your ears, and slowly let your body fall toward the ground, while controlling the motion. You’ll be using your hamstrings, glutes, and core. Once you get to the point of failure – where you think you’re going to fall forward – drop into a pushup and propel yourself back to the starting position.” Perform three sets of 10-12 reps 

Towel Hamstring Stretch

Why? “If you work the muscle, stretching it is just as important. This is a great stretch for someone who might have mild lower back pain, like we tend to get as we grow older.”

How to do it: “Lie on your back, and support your thigh with a towel wrapped around midway between your glutes and knee. As you slowly straighten your knee, you’ll feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. The goal is to stretch far enough back that the bottom of your foot faces the ceiling.” Alternate legs, and start by holding the stretch for 10 seconds. Then work up to 20-30 seconds.

Wall Hamstring Stretch

Why? “This is an easy one, too. All it takes is a wall and a flat surface, and you can properly stretch your hamstrings before, during, or after a workout with minimal stress.”

How to do it: “Lie on the floor with your butt against the wall at a corner, or by a doorway. Keep one leg on the floor, and raise the other leg against the wall and push the knee straight – without hyper-extending it – so your raised leg, and your leg on the floor form a 90-degree angle.”Alternate legs, and hold the position for 10-15 seconds, three times per leg.

Standing Hamstring Stretch

Why? When you have one particularly tight hamstring, you want to spend a bit more time stretching it. This stretch allows you to focus on one leg at a time.

How to do it: Stand upright with your right leg crossed over the leg. Keeping both legs straight, bend down and try to touch your toes. Hold. Now, switch legs and do the same on the other side. Repeat as necessary and feel free to hold one side longer if it is tighter.