These exercises will fire up your adductors, quads, hips, and cores. But mostly they'll light the back of your thighs—your hamstrings—on fire.

By By Cara Kagan
Updated: March 21, 2019

In fitness, it's easy to focus on the muscles you can see-you know, the ones on the *front* of your body. But your hamstrings, a trio of muscles along the back of the thighs, help you bend and straighten your knees and extend your legs from the hips (read: they're super important). Weak hammies make it tougher to run and kick, and contribute to lower-back and knee pain (and to make sure they're working to their full potential, you also want to give the muscles surrounding them-your quads, adductors, and glutes-some love).

So how do you best target the back of your thighs? To stretch and strengthen these underappreciated movers, try these 12 moves from R. Marcus Minier, a physiotherapist and athletic trainer based in New York City. (Related: The Best Lower Body Exercises to Tone Your Glutes and Hamstrings)

1. Hamstring March

Body Parts: Core, glutes

Equipment: Bosu ball (optional)

Repetitions: 10–12

A. Lie faceup with head and shoulders on a Bosu ball (or on the ground), arms extended at sides, and knees bent. Raise hips so body is aligned from shoulders to knees. Lift right leg so knee is directly over hip.

B. Extend leg in front of you so thighs are parallel.

C. Return to the starting position and repeat with left leg to complete 1 rep.

2. Hamstring Curl with Towel

Body Parts: Glutes, hamstrings

Equipment: Towel

Repetitions: 10–12

A. Lie faceup on a smooth floor and place feet on a towel, knees bent 90 degrees. Rest arms on the floor out to the sides. Lift hips and toes.

B. Keeping hips off the floor the entire time and abs tight, straighten legs as far as you can, then bring them back in to the starting position; repeat.

3. Deadlift

Body Parts: Glutes, hamstrings

Equipment: 8- to 15-pound dumbbells

Repetitions: 10–15

A. Stand holding dumbbells, arms hanging in front of thighs, palms facing in, feet hip-width apart, and knees slightly bent. Squeeze shoulder blades down and together and contract abs, bringing spine to a neutral position.

B. Keeping knees slightly bent, with back and arms straight, flex forward at hips until you feel a slight tension in your hamstrings. Contract your butt and hamstrings, straighten to an erect position, and repeat. (Also see: 6 Hamstring Exercises That Aren't Deadlifts)

4. Plank Dumbbell Hamstring Curl

Body Parts: Back, shoulders, glutes, abs, hamstrings

Equipment: 5- to 10-pound dumbbells

Repetitions: 12–15

A. Kneel with palms on ground, arms straight, wrists in line with shoulders. Hold a dumbbell behind right knee by squeezing calf against it. Straighten left leg behind you, balancing on the ball of left foot, and contract abs so body forms a straight line from head to left heel.

B. Maintaining this position, lift right knee up to hip height. Lower and lift knee for all reps; switch legs.

5. Seated Hamstring Stretch

Body Parts: Back, hamstrings

Equipment: Balance ball, resistance band

A. Sit on ball with hands on thighs, knees bent and aligned with ankles, then straighten one leg, toes up, heel on floor.

B. Inhale as you push ball back with buttocks and lengthen spine, then exhale as you hinge forward from hips toward extended leg until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.

C. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then bring torso up and repeat with opposite leg.

6. Bent-Knee Extension

Body Part: Hamstrings

Equipment: None

Repetitions: 8–10

A. Lie faceup on floor with arms at sides, knees bent 90 degrees and heels shoulder-width apart on a stability ball.

B. Lift hips toward the ceiling, being careful not to overarch back.

C. Hold for 3 counts and lower.

7. Scissors Kick

Body Part: Adductors (inner thighs)

Equipment: None

Repetitions: 12–15 per side

A. Lie faceup on floor with arms at sides, palms down and legs extended.

B. Lift legs about 45 degrees, pointing toes.

C. Quickly open and close your legs, crossing the right thigh over the left and then reversing the movement. Repeat on other side.

8. Single-Leg Wall Extension

Body Part: Quads

Equipment: None

Repetitions: 8–10 per side

A. Stand with your back pressed into a wall, feet shoulder-width apart. Bend knees 90 degrees.

B. From this position, straighten right leg, pointing toes.

C. Hold for 3 counts and lower. Repeat on other side.

9. Ballerina Squat with Knee Bend

Body Part: Adductors

Equipment: None

Repetitions: 8–10 per side

A. Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out. Bend knees 45 degrees and hold.

B. From here, shift your body weight to the left side, keeping left knee bent while straightening right leg.

C. Hold for 1 count; switch sides, straightening left leg and bending right knee. Repeat.

10. Single-Leg Hip Curl

Body Part: Hamstrings

Equipment: Stability ball

Repetitions: 8–10 per side

A. Lie faceup on floor, legs extended, arms at sides and heels shoulder-width apart on a stability ball.

B. Raise hips toward ceiling and hold.

C. Lift your right leg off the ball, pointing toes toward ceiling.

D. Slowly pull the ball toward your body using your left leg; keep hips lifted. Roll back to start and repeat.

11. Flamingo Squat

Body Part: Quads

Equipment: None

Repetitions: 8–10 per side

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.

B. Raise right leg about 3 inches off the floor and squat down with left leg, bending knee about 45 degrees.

C. Straighten leg and repeat, balancing on left side; keep right leg elevated.

12. Single-Leg Knee Adduction

Body Part: Adductors

Equipment: None

Repetitions: 8–10 per side

A. Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, lift right leg off the floor, bending right knee 90 degrees; keep hands on hips.

B. Bring right leg 45 degrees away from body, balancing on left leg.

C. From this position, bring right knee toward right side and back toward center.

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