16 Best Hamstring Exercises For Mass (With Sample Program)

 best hamstring exercises for mass

Most people lack hamstring growth because they fail to pick the right exercises that target the hamstrings directly or use the incorrect technique that shifts the load from the hamstrings to other muscle groups, like the low back and quads. 

Below, I’ll cover the best hamstring exercises, as well as explain how to do them properly so that you’re getting the most hamstring activation possible. 

The 16 best hamstring exercises for mass are:

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Anatomy of the Hamstrings

The hamstring muscles are located along the entire backside of the leg. 

They attach at the base of the pelvis (under the buttocks) and to the back of the knee.

The hamstring muscles are responsible for both extending the hips (straightening) and flexion of the knee joint (bending). 

By acting at both joints (hip and knees), the hamstrings help to lift loads from the floor, bend the knees as we run, and even help us when we jump. 

Additionally, the hamstrings work to support the other lower body muscle groups, such as the glutes and quadriceps in most other forms of movement. 

When training hamstrings, we’re referring to three specific muscle groups: 

Biceps Femoris

biceps femoris

This is the largest part of the hamstrings muscle group and is found running vertically along the middle to the outer part of the back of the thigh.



This smaller muscle runs vertically along the back of the thigh but is found more along the inner regions of the hamstrings (inner part of the back of the thigh)



This muscle is tucked underneath the larger biceps femoris muscle, and runs vertically along the back of the thigh, down the middle.

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Best Hamstring Exercises for Bigger Hamstrings

Below is a list of 16 of the best exercises you should be doing to build bigger hamstrings. 

Note: Most of these exercises can be found within the Fitbod app.  You don’t need to incorporate all 16 into your training program.  You just need to pick 3-6 exercises and rotate them through your program over the long term.  If using Fitbod, you can select the muscle groups you want to work (i.e. Hamstrings) and the program will build itself accordingly. 

1. Barbell Romanian Deadlift

The barbell Romanian deadlift (RDL) is a great exercise to target the hamstrings and glutes. 

This deadlift variation has you only place a soft bend in the knee to put more loading on the hamstrings (especially the upper and middle areas). 

The key to this movement is to control the lowering phase and focus on placing the majority of the load in your hamstrings.

How To Do It

  • Stand with your feet at hip-width apart, hold the bar at arm’s length in front of you, and ensure that your arms are straight and your elbows are not locked.
  • Slowly lower the bar towards the ground by pushing your hips back, while keeping the bar close to your body. The goal is to feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
  • Lower the bar until it reaches your shins, and then reverse the movement by driving through your heels and extending your hips.
  • Return to the starting position by standing up straight, and repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip: You should feel the stretch in your hamstrings. If you cannot, (1) keep your back arched, (2) straighten your knees more, (3) lower the weight slowly to the floor, or (4) add load.

2. B-Stance Romanian Deadlift

This exercise is an RLD done with a staggered stance (referred to as the B stance). It’s a great option when training one leg at a time. 

Unlike the single leg RDL, which requires high amounts of balance (and can decrease the effectiveness of adding load and intensity), the B stance RDL provides you a way to train each hamstring individual without being limited by balance and coordination.

How To Do It

  • Stand with your feet in line, about shoulder-width apart. 
  • Take your left foot and slide it back so that the left toe is in line with your right heel (still shoulder width apart). 
  • With the majority of your weight on your right leg, lift the bar like you would in an RDL (see above). 
  • Your leg foot should be used as a “kickstand”, assisting only if you need some slight balance assistance. 
  • Perform for reps, then switch your stance and repeat.

Pro Tip: Remember, the foot that is moved slightly back is there just to help aid if needed, but should not be firmly planted and driving into the ground. 

3. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

The dumbbell RDL is done identically to the barbell RDL, with the only exception being that you are using dumbbells. 

There are times when selecting dumbbells for the RLD may be useful, such as if you don’t have access to a barbell. Additionally, some lifters find dumbbells offer more flexibility to learn proper hip mechanics as a barbell can force you into a rigid movement pattern.

Lastly, dumbbell RDLs may be better for higher rep training or when doing drop sets (which are when you quickly decrease the weights after doing a heavier set to get a few more reps).  

The only downside to a dumbbell RDL is that as the load gets heavier, the more awkward the movement is to get into the start position.  

How To Do It

  • Grab two dumbbells, one in each hand, and assume a standing position (like you would the RDL).
  • Lower the weights to mid-shin, just like you would with all RDL movements.
  • Unlike the barbell, you can hold the weights to the front of you or to the sides based on what allows you to feel the hamstrings more and keep your back in a neutral position
  • If you can’t bring the dumbbells to your mid shin without your low and mid back rounding, then stop before this happens and stand-up

Pro Tip: If you find it difficult to work with heavier weights due to the dumbbells getting in the way, try angling them slightly on a diagonal rather than keeping them straight across your shins. 

4. Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift

The barbell stiff leg deadlift (SLDL) is often confused with the RDL, as they are very similar. 

The two main differences are: 

  1.  The SLDL keeps the legs straighter compared with the RDL
  1.  In the RDL the barbell stays close to your thighs as you lower the weight.  In the SLDL the barbell comes off of your thighs.  

How To Do It

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and lower the bar towards the ground by pushing your hips back, while keeping the bar close to your body, but not touching it. 
  • Lower the bar until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, and then reverse the movement by driving through your heels and extending your hips.
  • As you lift the bar, keep it close to your body and ensure that it remains slightly away from your thighs, rather than dragging it up your legs.
  • Because the barbell is slightly off your body, you can typically go a deeper range of motion compared with an RDL.
  • Return to the starting position by standing up straight, and repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions.

Pro Tip: Depending on your level of flexibility, you might not be able to bring the bar down as far as other people.  That’s fine.  Don’t compare yourself with others.  The key is simply to lower the barbell into a position where you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings, and then reverse the movement.

5. Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift

This is the dumbbell variation of the stiff leg deadlift and is done identically to the barbell stiff leg deadlift.

The dumbbell version does not require you to have a bar and weight plates. 

This movement may also be easier for some beginners to grasp as the dumbbells allow a little more flexibility of the movement pattern (rather than the barbell forcing you into one main path).

While dumbbells do have their benefit, they can lack the ability to load it up with heavier loads, which is key as you progress. Taking heavier, larger dumbbells and getting them into place may be more difficult than simply loading a barbell.

This is why dumbbells may be best for moderate to higher rep range training, or when doing more advanced intensity techniques like drop sets.

How To Do It

  • Stand with a pair of dumbbells in your hands.
  • With your feet hip, keep the knees stiff as you push your hips back.
  • Your back should not round.
  • You may notice you cannot lower yourself down as much as in the Romanian deadlift, and that is OK.
  • You should feel an intense stretch in your hamstrings. If not, keep pushing your hips back while keeping the knees stiff.
  • You can play around with the level of knee bend, however, the stiff the knees the more hamstrings stretch you are getting.
  • Stand back up once you have gotten a deep hamstrings stretch.

Pro Tip: You may need to play around with the level of knee bend. You don’t want them to be fully straight, but you also don’t want to bend them too much to be an RDL. Try to keep them straighter than your RDL bend.

6. Barbell Low Bar Good Morning

The barbell good morning can be done with the bar placed at two different points on the back. 

This one, the low bar good morning, has the lifter place the bar lower on the upper back (in line with the rear deltoids), which allows a lifter to use more loading and go deeper into the movement. 

The low bar allows you to keep the weight closer to the hips than the high bar position (holding the bar higher on your traps vs lower shoulders), which takes less of the lower back and places more of the tension in the hips and hamstrings.

This is a great way to be able to use heavier loads and train for hamstrings strength and mass, however, it does require a barbell and rack.

How To Do It

  • Place a barbell on the back like you would a low bar back squat (bar placement is an inch or two lower than having it rest on your traps).
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and arch your back so that your chest stays up.
  • With a soft bend in your knees, push your hips back making sure your knees do not bend forward (just like you do in an RDL).
  • Once you go as low as you can without bending the knees (shins need to stay perpendicular to the ground) and without letting your chest collapse to the floor (rounding your back), stand back up and repeat.

Pro Tip: Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together to keep the bar from moving down the back during the lower bar positioning.

7. Safety Bar Good Morning

The safety bar is a specialty bar that some lifters have access to. 

This bar is great for good mornings as it allows you to place the weight on your back and have it be more secure in the good morning position than with a barbell. 

Additionally, your hands are down by your sides, rather than by your shoulders which minimizes stress on the shoulder joint.

This bar may be difficult to come by in some gyms, however, it is much easier to hold on your back when compared to the barbell low bar good morning and much more comfortable.

How To Do It

  • With the safety bar on your upper back, unrack the weight from the squat rack.
  • Keep your chest up and softly bend at the hips, making sure to keep the handles by your sides (don’t push them up too much as you lower yourself, but also don’t let them fall)
  • The elbows should be by your sides and slightly pushed upwards as you lower the weight to not let the upper torso collapse.
  • Stand back up like you would a good morning, and repeat.

Pro Tip: As you lower yourself down, be sure to keep your hands up by your chest. The weight will want to collapse your upper back as you descend, so be ready to lift the handles up.

8. Power Squat Good Morning

The power squat good morning is a variation on the good morning that uses a specialized machine. 

Note: not many gyms will carry this piece of equipment, but if you have access to it, then it’s a great exercise to throw into your rotation.

The power squat good morning allows you to focus less on stability and balance, and more on the isolation of the hamstring. 

By doing this machine variation, you can lock yourself into the proper position safely and load the hamstrings directly with a lot heavier load.

This is ideal for beginners looking to learn the good morning movement and more advanced lifters who want a comfortable and safe way to perform a heavier variation.

How To Do It

  • Stand facing the power squat, with your feet on the back part of the platform. 
  • With your shoulders on the pads, stand up and unlock the rack.
  • While keeping your chest up, softly bend the knees and push the hips back, allowing the pads to lower as you go into the bent-over position.
  • Make sure that your hips continue to move backward as you lower yourself.
  • You only need to lower yourself to where you feel the hamstrings and glutes the most.
  • Be sure to keep your knees back (shins should be perpendicular to the foot platform).

Pro Tip: Move your feet backward or forwards on the footplate to determine what allows you to get the most comfortable position and biggest hamstring stretch.

9. Machine Seated Leg Curl

The machine seated leg curl is a hamstring isolation exercise that allows you to target the hamstring directly without having other muscle groups compete for energy. 

This can be very helpful when you are training with a sore or fatigued low back, or if you want to add more direct intensity to the hamstrings without having to worry about lower back fatigue.

How To Do It

  • Sit down in the seat of the machine, and set the seat so that your knees are 2-3 inches hanging off the edge of the seat.
  • The foot pad should be under your lower calf.
  • Pull the heels towards your hips, making sure to keep the hips back in the seat (don’t let them slide forward).
  • Straighten your legs back out in front of you (straighten your knees), pause, and repeat for reps.

Pro Tip: Focus on training the knee through the full range of motion, and always control the lengthening (eccentric) phase.

10. Floor Lying Hamstring Raise

The floor-lying hamstring raise is a bodyweight movement that can be done at home.

Just because this is a bodyweight movement, doesn’t mean it’s easy.  

This is an advanced exercise and is similar to the hamstring curl machine at most gyms.  

The movement requires that your hamstrings are already pretty strong, and if you haven’t done several months of barbell training specifically training your hamstrings, then I would skip this exercise.

Additionally, you need something strong enough to hold your feet during the movement, or a partner to hold your ankles.  

How To Do It

  • Lie down on the floor with your chest facing the ground and the back of your ankles secured underneath something sturdy (or have a partner hold them down).
  • Use your hamstrings to lift your upper torso off the ground as you bend your knees to come upright to a kneeling position. 
  • Slowly lower yourself back down, allowing the knees to straighten as you feel the hamstrings working to resist your body falling towards the ground.

Pro Tip: This is a very difficult exercise, but you can make this easier if you need to by using your arms to initiate the liftoff phase by performing a slight push-up to get your body moving upwards, and then using the hamstrings to finish the movement.

11. Machine Seated Single Leg Curl

This is the single-leg version of the seated leg curl, and is helpful to address any muscle imbalances or when you want to really focus on training one leg at a time (to get a good muscle contraction and connection). 

How To Do It

  • Sit down on the machine like you would doing a two-leg machine curl.
  • Lift by driving one leg into the pad, making sure to not twist or use the other leg for assistance.
  • Slowly lower the weight down and be sure not to come crashing down, otherwise, you could hyperextend the knee that is not being bent (your resting leg).
  • Perform slow reps, and then switch.

Pro Tip: Depending on the machine you are using, you will need to determine the best placement of your nonactive leg.

12. Machine Lying Leg Curl

This is another machine hamstrings isolation exercise that is found in most commercial gyms. 

Unlike the seated version, this has you lying down (prone, which means chest down) on a pad. 

Typically, that pad will have an angle in it, which will help increase the range of motion of the knees and improve the hamstrings isolation of this exercise.

How To Do It

  • Lie down with your hips in line with the angle of the bench. 
  • With the pad on the back of your calves (lower part, just above the heels), lift the heels to your buttocks.
  • Make sure that your lower back is not arched, but rather that the front of your pelvis is pulled up towards your face.
  • Lift as far as you can upwards, pause, and then begin the lowering phase.
  • Straighten the legs all the way down without relaxing at the bottom, and repeat.

Pro Tip: At the bottom of the movement, do not allow the lower back to arch and the hamstring to release. By doing this, you keep more tension on the hamstrings and train them more to muscle fatigue.

13. Machine Lying Single Leg Curl

This is the single-leg variation of the lying leg curl and offers the same benefits as doing it with one leg, with the added bonus that it allows you to address any muscle imbalances.

How To Do It

  • Like the lying hamstring curl, you will want to lie down on your chest and use lighter weights.
  • Make sure to lift with only one leg. 
  • You will then keep one leg straight as you lift with the other, making sure to not round your lower back or twist your hips.

Pro Tip: Another way you can do this exercise is to use both legs to lift the weight up, then release one leg, and lower the weight slowly (3-5 seconds) using the other leg.  This would be an advanced variation that should only be considered after having mastered the variation outlined above.  

14. Machine Standing Single Leg Curl

The standing single-leg hamstring curl is sometimes found in gyms and allows you to train the hamstring standing up. 

By standing up, you can get a full range of motion than seated, which can improve muscle growth.

This can be a good option for lifters who have issues keeping the lower back flat in seated, lying, or bending-over positions (or people who may have back pain). 

This is best done with slow and controlled reps and with lighter loads.

How To Do It

  • Stand in front of the machine, with the pad resting on your thighs. 
  • You should be supporting yourself on one leg, with the leg that will be doing the curling motion not bearing your weight
  • Pull the front of the pelvis upwards so that you are not in a lower back arched position.
  • Lift the heel of the leg that is working towards the glutes, pause, and lower the weight slowly. 
  • Make sure that you do not let the lower back arch as you raise the leg.
  • Complete all reps with that leg, and then repeat on the other leg.

Pro Tip: You may even be able to lean forward some, which will help get a bigger range of motion than standing upright.

15. 45 Degree Back Raise

This is a hamstring and lower back exercise that can be found in most gyms.

The key to this exercise is to keep your chest up and lower using a flat black.  This will force the hamstrings and glutes to be stretched as you lower yourself down, rather than your low back taking over.

If you don’t have the body control to maintain proper technique, and you can’t feel your hamstrings in this movement, then I’d skip it.  

However, for those who have already mastered the RDL and want a similar variation, then this could be a good option.

How To Do It

  • Place yourself on a 45-degree angled back extension so that the top of the pads is on your thighs (but not at your hip level).
  • Secure your feet under the lip on the foot platform, and then lower your torso down as you make sure to stick your chest out in front of you.
  • Your back should remain flat as you do this.
  • Once you go as low as you can, you should feel a bit of stretch in the hamstrings.
  • Raise yourself, making sure to keep the shoulders in line with the hips (don’t just throw your head and shoulders backward, as that results in lower back extension).
  • Pause when your torso is back to 45 degrees (matching the same angle as the pads), and repeat.

Pro Tip: Focus on not letting the lower and middle back flex and extend as you do this. To do this, you need to slow down and really feel the hamstrings working instead of trying to move your upper torso up as fast as possible.

16. Glute Ham Raise

This is an advanced exercise that requires a glute ham raise developer machine. 

The glute-ham raise combines hip and knee extension, which better replicates the natural movement patterns of everyday activities and athletic movements. 

This simultaneous engagement sets the glute-ham machine apart from other hamstring exercises, such as leg curls or Romanian deadlifts, which primarily focus on either hip or knee extension.

As well, unlike exercises like good mornings, the glute-ham raise minimizes the load placed on the spine while still effectively targeting the hamstrings. 

This reduction in spinal loading can be beneficial for individuals with lower back concerns or those looking to minimize additional stress on the spine.

How To Do It

  • Secure your feet under the foot pads.
  • Your thighs should be on the thigh pad, but your knees should still be able to bend as you come upright (your lower thighs should be on the pad, but not your knees).
  • Start in the upright position, with your knees bent and your thighs pushing in the pads. Your knees will not be on top of the pads, but rather pushing into them.
  • Straighten your knees and lower your body out in front of you, by paying your feet through the platform.
  • Pull yourself back up by bending your knees and leading the chest, and resume the start position.

Pro Tip: Even though this is a challenging exercise on its own, there are still ways to incorporate progressive overload, such as adding bands holding weight, or focusing on a slower eccentric range of motion..

How Often Should You Train the Hamstrings for Muscle Growth?

how often should you train the hamstrings for muscle growth

I recommend you train the hamstrings directly 2-3 times a week. 

A study by Schoenfeld et al. (2016) found that training a muscle group twice per week resulted in significantly greater hypertrophy compared to training the same muscle group once per week. This study supports the notion that training the hamstrings at least twice per week can lead to increased muscle growth.

Research also indicates that muscle protein synthesis (MPS), a key driver of muscle growth, typically returns to baseline levels within 48-72 hours following a resistance training session. Therefore, training the hamstrings every 2-3 days (2-3 times per week) allows for optimal stimulation of MPS while ensuring adequate recovery time.

As a general guideline, you can start with a moderate volume of 10-15 sets of hamstrings per per week and adjust based on your progress and recovery.  

If you train twice per week, you should split the number of sets equally between those two workouts.  

How Many Reps and Sets Should You Do to Grow Your Hamstrings?

I recommend targeting the hamstrings with a combination of rep ranges (both high and low reps) and set volumes to maximize muscle growth. 

Here are some broad recommendations:

  1. Moderate rep range: A widely accepted recommendation for hypertrophy is to perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions with a load that corresponds to 65-85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). This moderate rep range allows for a balance between mechanical tension and metabolic stress, two key factors that contribute to muscle growth.
  1. Low rep range: Performing heavy sets of lower repetitions (3-6 reps) at 85-95% of 1RM can stimulate muscle growth. This approach primarily focuses on mechanical tension and can be effective for building strength, which can translate to improved performance in higher rep ranges.
  1. High rep range: High-repetition sets (15-20+ reps) at 30-65% of 1RM can also contribute to hypertrophy by inducing metabolic stress and muscle fatigue. This rep range is particularly beneficial for enhancing muscular endurance and promoting blood flow to the targeted muscles.

Sample Hamstring Routine For Mass

sample hamstring routine for mass

Below is a simple and very effective hamstring routine that you can do at any commercial gym. Ideally, you would train these two workouts in the same week a few days apart. 

Note: This exact hamstrings mass workout is just an example and won’t be found in the Fitbod app. You should use the below sample program for inspiration on how to build your own hamstring workout.

How To Warm Up Your Hamstrings

To warm up your hamstrings, you can simply do a few light warm-up sets with whatever your first movement is for that workout (first hamstring workout). You will want to be sure to do slow and controlled repetitions and work the fullest range of motion.

If you feel like your hamstrings are very stiff, you could do some light dynamic stretches like the hamstring stretches in this article.

Day 1: Hamstring Mass Workout

This day is all about lifting in the heavier rep ranges on the hamstring. You will want to work with a challenging weight, yet still can control the lowering phase of the movement.

  • Barbell Romanian Deadlift: 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets
  • Lying Machine Hamstring Curl: 4-5 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets
  • Back Squat: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets
  • Leg Press or Hack Squat: 4-5 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets
  • Walking Lunge: 2-3 sets of 20-30 steps

Day 2: Hamstring Mass Workout

This workout is high rep based, which will help you get an amazing muscle pump and growth.

  • Lying Machine Hamstring Curl: 5-6 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets
  • TEMPO (3 seconds lowering) Barbell Good Morning: 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets 
  • Leg Press or Hack Squat: 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets
  • Smith Machine Bulgarian Split Squat: 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps per leg, resting 2 minutes between sets

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercise videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Build Hamstring Mass?

Training your hamstrings for mass comes by training them 2-3 days a week, typically choosing one compound exercise and 1-2 isolation exercises per session. Every session, you will aim to do 6-12 total hard effort sets. You can do this up to three times a week for maximal growth (while also eating in a calorie surplus)

What Exercise Works the Hamstrings the Most?

The top 3 hamstring exercises everyone should do are: (1) RDLs, (2) Good morning, and (3) Machine Lying Leg Curls. With those three exercises, most people would see amazing results, especially if they did machine curls every session after compound lifts.

What Are Hamstring-Focused Exercises for Hypertrophy?

Hamstring-focused exercises are movements that target the hamstrings and limit the activation of other muscle groups. The key when training for hamstrings hypertrophy is that you want to choose movements that do not also engage other muscles (like the lower back and quads).

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.