Being a beginner with skinny legs is more than the muscles located at the front of the legs. Sure, big quads will make up most of your leg size. However, seeing your legs from the side or behind will reveal how little attention your hamstrings have been given.
So, if you’re looking to build big hamstrings as a beginner, use the seven exercises I've listed below to get started. But before you get there, it's essential to understand some basic hamstring anatomy.
The hamstrings are made up of three different muscles and four muscle heads. We will focus on these main muscles consisting of:
The hamstrings are unique muscles as they cross two joints, making them biarticular. That means they serve two main movement functions knee flexion and hip extension. Knee flexion exercises preferentially target the inner hamstrings, while hip extension exercises target the outer hamstrings .
This is why it's so important to encompass leg curl and deadlift movements for the complete development of the hamstrings. However, we want to pick the movement regressions for beginners training the hamstrings to nail a great mind-muscle connection with the hamstrings.
7 Best Hamstring Exercises For Beginners
As a beginner, you've likely never directly trained your hamstrings, even though you may have been to the gym many times. They are often highly neglected because they aren't "sexy" to train and can be difficult.
So, these hamstring exercises will be the initial exercises to start with before progressing to more advanced exercises.
Dowel Good Morning
This is where I start anyone I work with to learn proper hip hinging. Learning to hip hinge properly will ensure you can target your hamstrings during hip hinging exercises. You'll be able to do exercises like the deadlift safely.
While this may look easy, it certainly isn’t. And while it won’t stress your hamstrings to a great degree, it will set you up to hit them hard when you start loading. Here’s how to do it:
You can progress to the Romanian deadlift once you've learned the dowel good morning, and load the hip hinge. For a beginner, I prefer the Romanian deadlift over the good morning as it’s easier on the lower back and much easier as a progression. Here’s how to do it:
The reason to stop once your hips stop moving is to keep the exercise targeted to your hamstrings and glutes. This will result in the barbell only getting to your knee or slightly below. If you go further, your lower back continues the movement, not the hips, so avoid doing this.
Bent Leg Isometric Hamstring Bridge
The bent leg isometric hamstring bridge will cause your hamstrings to cramp if you haven't trained them before. It's tough! But easily scalable to your current level of strength. Isometric exercises are the forgotten stepchild among muscle building.
But there's excellent research showing isometrics, especially at long muscle lengths, are potent muscle builders . Here’s how to do it:
Remember, you can bend your legs further to make the exercise easier. As you get stronger, work your way to almost straight legs.
Lying Leg Curl
The lying leg curl is a bodybuilding staple. It’s one of the few leg curl movements you can load heavy and for high reps. Because you are stable and locked into the machine, it's easy to focus on the hamstrings doing the work. Here’s how to do it:
Swiss Ball Leg Curl
The Swiss ball leg curl is an excellent option for when you are training hamstrings at home. You can even do it in your living room while watching TV to get those hamstrings popping. Here’s how to do it:
Seated Leg Curl
I prefer the seated leg curl over the lying leg curl if you have the option of choosing one or the other. It allows you to place the hamstrings in a more extended stretched position resulting in a stronger muscle-building stimulus. Here’s how to do it:
Assisted Nordic Hamstring Exercise
The Nordic Hamstring Exercise is a super intense eccentric hamstring exercise. So intense that doing this as a beginner without assistance won’t provide the exercise benefits and will cause you to cramp almost instantly.
With assistance, it turns into a no equipment leg curl. It works by reducing the bodyweight load as the exercise gets more challenging. Here’s how to do it:
Hamstring Workout For Beginners
A1) Dowel Good Morning
4 x 10
B1) Bent Leg Isometric Hamstring Bridge
3 x 10 sec
C1) Lying Leg Curl
3 x 12
A1) Swiss Ball Leg Curl
4 x 10
B1) Romanian Deadlift
3 x 8
Start with the dowel good morning and machine leg curl variations as a beginner. As you build some base strength in the hamstrings, you can progress to the other exercises on this best hamstring exercises for beginners list.
Grow Enormous Legs That Won’t Fit Your Jeans
A leg specialization program to bust through muscle growth plateaus and finally throw away those skinny jeans.
1. Bourne, M. N., Timmins, R. G., Opar, D. A., Pizzari, T., Ruddy, J. D., Sims, C., ... & Shield, A. J. (2018). An evidence-based framework for strengthening exercises to prevent hamstring injury. Sports Medicine, 48(2), 251-267.
2. Oranchuk, D. J., Storey, A. G., Nelson, A. R., & Cronin, J. B. (2019). Isometric training and long‐term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 29(4), 484-503.