Training the pulling muscles of the lower body can be done by performing hamstring and glute-based exercises.
Compound, multi-joint pulling exercises like Romanian deadlifts and good mornings are great choices, as are more isolated exercises like hip thrusts and hamstring curls. However, there are many more exercises to choose from when creating a lower body pull routine.
The 13 best lower body pull exercises are:
- Romanian Deadlift
- Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Landmine Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Stiff-Legged Deadlift
- Good Morning
- Stiff-Legged Good Morning
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Glute Bridge
- Hip Thrust
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Seated Hamstring Curl
- Lying Hamstring Curl
Below, I’ll cover the lower body pulling exercises you should do to develop your hamstrings and glutes, including how to do them and how to get the most out of them. I’ll also offer two sample workouts you can do to build muscle and strength.
If you want to build your hamstrings, let Fitbod help. On average, a new Fitbod user who trains 3 times a week for about 45 minutes will see a 34% strength increase after 3 months. Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
Muscles Involved in Lower Body Pull Movements
When training lower body pulling movements, you primarily target the hamstrings and glutes. Both of these muscle groups work to extend (straighten) the hips. The hamstrings also work to flex (bend) the knee.
In addition to the glutes and hamstrings, lower body movements work the erectors (lower back muscles), as the erectors support the hamstrings and glutes during hip extension and become very involved in the movement.
The glutes are a muscle group that runs across the back of the hips. The muscle group is made up of three smaller muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and gluteus medius.
All three gluteal muscles work together to extend the hips and pull the femur (thigh bone) out. They are also responsible for internally rotating the femur (moving your thigh bone inward).
To develop these muscles, you want to include exercises that extend the hip, such as Romanian deadlifts and hip thrusts, and ones that challenge the smaller stabilizer glute muscles (minimus and medius), such as the Bulgarian split squat.
Related Article: How To Grow Your Glutes (The Most Science-Based Method)
The hamstrings run along the backside of the leg and are primarily responsible for bending the knees and assisting the glutes while extending the hips.
Because the hamstrings work at both the knee and hip joint, you will want to train both knee flexion (bending) and hip flexion (bending) movements.
RDLs and good mornings will train the hamstrings primarily at the hip attachment, whereas machine hamstring curls will train them at the knee attachment.
The erectors are technically part of the torso and run along the lower back. While they are not typically thought of as a lower body muscle, the erectors work together with the hamstrings and glutes to extend the hips during many of the same exercises used to target the glutes and hamstrings.
However, if you feel a lot of muscle activity and tension in the erectors during lower body pull workouts, you may need to adjust your technique or exercise selection to better isolate the hamstrings and glutes.
For example, while some lifters may feel their hamstrings and glutes during Romanian deadlifts, they may feel more of their lower back as they progress in their workouts. Eventually, they’ll get to a point where they are limited not by their hamstrings or glutes but by their lower back muscles.
If a lifter’s goal is to target the hamstrings and RDLs are not cutting it, they may want to also choose more isolated exercises like hamstring curls to further strengthen the hamstrings without allowing the lower back to become involved in the movement.
3 Benefits of Lower Body Pull Exercises
Below are three benefits of including lower body pulling exercises in your workout program.
Improved Athletic Performance
The glutes and hamstrings are powerful muscles used in many human movement patterns. Running, jumping, and sprinting, for example, all depend on the lower body muscles to forcefully contract and produce energy to allow us to move.
By training the lower body pulling muscles, you will provide your body with the ability to generate more force to run faster and jump higher.
Decreased Lower Back Pain
Low back pain is often associated with weak glutes and tight hamstrings. While you will want to address tight hamstrings (try these stretches), you will need to strengthen them and the glutes, as they will be powerful muscle groups to aid the lower back during exercise and everyday life.
Additionally, when the glutes and hamstrings are weak, people tend to use their lower back to lift loads rather than the bigger, stronger muscles of the lower body. This can lead to an overuse injury of the lower back and poor form.
If your lower body pulling muscles are weak, you will tend to overcompensate by either arching or rounding your lumbar spine. This can happen both at rest and during exercise.
Developing the glutes and hamstrings will help you maintain a better posture because they will help you properly extend the hips without using your lower back.
13 Best Lower Body Pull Exercises
Below is a list of the 13 best exercises you should be doing to target the lower body pulling muscles (hamstrings, glutes, and erectors).
Note: All of these exercises can be found within the Fitbod app. You don’t need to incorporate all 13 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.
The deadlift is a potent muscle-building exercise that targets the hamstrings, glutes, and back. While it can be done with a variety of equipment (dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells), the barbell deadlift often allows you to load significant amounts of weight necessary to induce muscle growth as you advance.
Ideally, you would train this exercise in the 5-10 rep range for muscle growth, focusing on slowly lowering the weight to a 2- to 3-second count with a flat back. For more strength-focused workouts, train this exercise in the 2-5 rep range.
How To Do It
- Stand in an upright position, with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forwards or slightly outwards, and a barbell an inch or two away from your shins.
- Hinge at the hips by pushing them back while slightly bending the knees. This will allow you to drop down to grab the barbell with a flat back.
- With your arms straight, grab the barbell with a double overhand grip (both palms down) or mixed grip (one palm up, one palm down) just outside the lower legs.
- Maintain a braced core by breathing into your stomach and flattening the back.
- Pull the bar up vertically and extend the hips until you are upright.
- Lower the weight slowly (2-3 seconds) in the same vertical path you lifted it, and repeat.
Before you lift the weight, try to apply pressure into the ground with your legs driving into the floor while simultaneously pulling upwards on the bar. This will help you build tension so that you do not have any muscles relaxed at the onset of the lift.
2. Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift is similar to the deadlift and stiff-legged deadlift. However, it places more emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes than regular deadlifts and less on the hamstrings than the stiff-legged deadlift.
This is a great way to target the hamstrings and glutes yet still train with heavy loads to help improve overall lower body pulling muscle strength.
How To Do It
- Place a loaded barbell 1-2 inches in front of your shins.
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed forward or slightly outwards.
- Brace your core by breathing into the stomach and hinge at the hips, pushing them back as you keep the knees slightly bent.
- Grab the bar, making sure your back is flat and your shins are not angled forward. They should be perpendicular to the ground.
- Push through the heels as you extend your hip by putting all the weight in your hamstrings until you are vertical.
- Once you have reached the top, slowly lower the weight to a count of 2- to 3 seconds by pushing the hips back and not allowing the knees to bend too much. The shins should not be angled forward.
- Return to the starting position, then repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Ideally, you will lower the bar all the way to the ground, but you should at least aim to lower it until it’s 2-3 inches off the ground. Moving through this range of motion will allow you to feel the hamstrings and glutes more effectively.
Related Article: Leg Day Workouts for Weight Loss
3. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
The single-leg Romanian deadlift is a variation of the dumbbell Romanian deadlift that targets the same muscle groups as the two-leg version, with the added benefit that it can help address muscle imbalances and weaknesses you may not be able to address by training both legs at once.
This is also a good option for lifters who do not have access to a lot of weight but want to have all the loading placed on one leg at a time, which can be a great way to build muscle without access to heavier weights.
How To Do It
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes forward, holding dumbbells by your sides or in front of your legs (whichever feels best for your balance).
- Brace your core by taking a deep breath and filling your stomach with air.
- Shift your weight to one leg without leaning, then hinge your hips back while softly bending the knees.
- Lower the weights down in a vertical path, keeping the arms straight and back flat, as you straighten one leg behind you.
- Pull yourself back up with your hamstrings and glutes on the grounded leg, and then repeat for all reps before switching legs.
When hinging, the leg that is extended behind you often wants to rotate upwards, and that hip also will rotate upwards and out. This can create stress on the lower back and hips and not properly load the hamstrings. Make sure to keep the hip of the non-working leg pointed toward the ground.
4. Landmine Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
The landmine single-leg RDL is another one-leg RDL variation that uses a barbell in a landmine position. By doing these, you can develop the hamstring and glutes on one leg at a time (like the single-leg RDL). However, you’ll have more stability and won’t be limited by your balance.
This is ideal when you want to attack one leg at a time and address muscle imbalances but are unable to train hard enough due to poor balance when doing dumbbell single-leg RDLs.
This is also a great way to help beginners learn the proper movement patterning, as the landmine allows them to maintain balance and keep their back flatter due to not having to control two weights independently.
How To Do It
- Set up a landmine so that you are facing the barbell. You should be perpendicular to the barbell with your shin touching the end of the bar and your toes pointed forward.
- Grasp the end of the barbell with the hand closest to the bar, and stand up in a vertical position.
- Shift your weight to the leg closest to the end of the barbell, and slightly bend your knee.
- Brace your core by taking a deep breath into the stomach, hinge at the hips by pushing them back, and lower the bar down your thigh while keeping your back and arm straight.
- Your other leg can be extended straight back behind you. Make sure you do not turn your outer hip out or upwards.
- Pull yourself back upright by using the hamstrings and glutes of the side of the body closest to the weight, repeat for reps, then switch legs.
It can be helpful to slightly lean your body towards the landmine, just enough to use it as a balance support. This will ensure you are not limited by balance and are able to keep the emphasis on working the muscles of the support leg.
Related Article: Best Landmine Exercises
5. Stiff-Legged Deadlift
The stiff-legged deadlift is similar to the RDL. However, it requires an even smaller amount of knee bend, which will increase the emphasis on the hamstrings.
Most lifters will be unable to lower themselves as low as they can in the RDL, which is perfectly normal. The key is to feel the hamstrings getting stretched and keep the back flat.
How To Do It
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed forward or slightly outwards.
- Grab a barbell with a shoulder-width grip, palms facing you, with the bar resting on the thighs and your arms straight.
- With minimal knee bend, push your hips back and keep your back flat, making sure to feel the stretch in the hamstrings. If you do not feel this in your hamstrings, your back is not flat enough, or you have too much knee bend.
- Lower the weight as low as you can until you lose flexibility, pause for 1-2 seconds, and then pull through the heels using the hamstrings to get upright.
This is an exercise that is best done with moderate loads rather than extremely heavy weights. Doing this with moderate loads allows you to focus on using the hamstrings and glutes and not having to rely on pulling up on the bar or using your lower back for assistance.
6. Good Morning
The barbell good morning is a hamstring, glute, and lower back exercise. This is a good exercise for lifters who want to also train the middle back muscles to help keep the back straight when doing squats, deadlifts, and bent-over rows.
When doing these, you can place the bar higher on the back to target more of the middle back. Or you can place the bar lower on the upper back to train the upper back to a lesser degree and keep most of the emphasis on the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles.
How To Do It
- Set a barbell on top of the trap muscles in the upper back (or lower if you don’t want to involve the upper back muscles as much). Squeeze your shoulder blades to add stability to the upper back in this position.
- With your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed forward or slightly out, softly bend the knees and push the hips back, shifting weight to your heels. Keep your toes down.
- Hinge at the hips, making sure to feel a stretch in your hamstrings and tension in your upper back.
- Lower yourself on a 2-3 second pace until you are bent over roughly 70 degrees, then pull through your heels and hamstrings to come back upright.
Most people struggle to feel the hamstrings because they try to turn this into a squat-like movement. Keep the knees almost straight, and lower the weight by stretching the hamstrings. When doing this, you will feel your hamstrings and glutes working to move the load, with your lower back stabilizing your torso.
Related Article: The Best Bulking Leg Workouts
7. Stiff-Leg Good Morning
The barbell stiff-leg good morning is similar to the regular good morning exercise. However, you do not bend your knees as much, which increases the stretch placed on the hamstrings.
When doing this, it is important not to bend at the lower back but rather push the hips back and feel the deep stretch in your hamstrings.
You may not be able to go as low as you could in the regular good morning, and this is totally fine as the goal here is to stretch the hamstrings and place the majority of the loading on them.
How To Do It
- Set a barbell on your upper back and walk out of the rack, ensuring your shoulder blades are squeezed together.
- Keep your feet hip-width apart with your toes pointed forward or slightly out. The knees shouldn’t be completely locked out but should be less bent than a regular good morning.
- Hinge at the hips, making sure to feel a stretch in your hamstrings and tension in your upper back. Your shins should be angled backward rather than perpendicular to the ground.
- If you do not feel your hamstrings working, your knees are too bent, and you may also be rounding your back.
- Lower yourself on a 2-3 second pace until you cannot go any lower, and then return to the starting position by pulling with your hamstrings.
Think of this as an exercise that aggressively stretches the hamstrings with light loading. You do not need to load this up heavy, but rather think about feeling the tension in the hamstrings the entire time, and try to increase your range of motion with each rep.
8. Trap Bar Deadlift
The trap bar deadlift is a deadlift variation that uses the trap bar to train all the major pulling muscles of the lower body, as it requires you to extend (straighten) the knees and hips. It also works the quads, upper back, and arms.
This exercise is a good one to build pulling strength without adding a lot of stress to the lower back, which may be something you want to do if you have issues performing traditional deadlifts.
How To Do It
- Stand in the middle of a trap bar with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes slightly pointed outwards.
- Hinge at the hips and push them back, bending the knees as you grab the handles.
- Breathe deeply into the abs and brace the core, then maintain a rigid spinal posture as you lift the load.
- To lift the weight, push through the foot and pull the bar upwards in a vertical path, making sure that your knees and hips straighten at the same time.
- Stand up tall at the end, then lower the weight slowly by pushing the hips back and returning to the start position.
You can bias this exercise to be more hamstrings and glutes vs. quads and glutes by changing the amount of knee bend you start with.
If your hips are higher and knees are bent less at the start, you will feel more hamstrings and glutes. If they are more bent and your hips are lower, you will use more quads and glutes.
9. Glute Bridge
The glute bridge is a great exercise to develop glute strength and learn how to properly extend the hips (straighten) without arching your lower back. To do this, you can use bodyweight, dumbbells, or a barbell.
When doing glute bridges, you will typically start by performing holds at the top for 30-60 seconds to learn how to activate the glutes and control the position. From there, you can then perform multiple repetitions in a set.
How To Do It
- Lie on the floor face up with your feet 6” in front of your buttocks and hip-width apart. You can have a barbell or dumbbell resting in the crease of your hips.
- Contract your glutes by pulling the front of the pelvis upwards towards your chest (called posterior tilt), making sure to feel the lower back flatten into the ground.
- Drive through the heels and lift the hips, making sure not to lose the tension in the glutes.
- If you feel it in your lower back, make sure you are pulling the front of the pelvis towards you and not allowing the lower back to arch.
- Hold this position at the top and squeeze the glutes and hamstrings for 30-60 seconds, then slowly lower yourself back down. You can also perform repetitions after you do the hold.
Try pairing this with another glute exercise and doing it first to help you engage the glutes. Then, when you go into the second exercise, you already feel the muscles working.
10. Hip Thrust
The barbell hip thrust is a progression of the glute bridge. With this exercise, you perform repetitions in a wider range of motion to add strength and muscle mass to the glutes and hamstrings. Before trying this movement, make sure you have already mastered the glute bridge.
This exercise can be a great option for lifters who want to isolate the glutes and build stronger hips.
This is also a great way to add extra glute work without placing additional stress on the lower back, which may be key for lifters who train lower body many times a week or individuals who struggle with lower back pain during RDLs and deadlifts.
How To Do It
- Sit upright on the floor with the back of your shoulder against a bench and a loaded barbell across your hips.
- Grab the barbell and roll it into the crease of your hips using a shoulder-width grip, making sure to bend your knees and plant the feet 6” in front of your buttocks.
- Flatten your lower back by pulling the front of your pelvis up towards your chest. Make sure not to round your lower back, and lift the hips upwards by driving through the heels.
- As you lift upwards, drive your upper back onto the bench, ending with your hips up at the same level as the bench.
- Hold this position squeeze your glutes for 2-3 seconds, then slowly lower yourself down and repeat.
I sometimes tell clients not to lower the weight the entire way down but rather focus on the top ½ or ⅔ of the movement, especially if they feel their lower back during this exercise.
I also like doing pauses at the top for 10-15 seconds before I start the lift to engage the glutes.
11. Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is a unique exercise, as it can be classified as both a lower body pull and push exercise. Depending on your stance and torso angle, you can shift more weight into the glutes and hamstrings vs. the glutes and quads.
When looking to add more emphasis to the hamstrings and glutes, you will want to take a bigger split stance with the lead leg further out in front and allow more of a forward torso lean. This will result in more hip flexion (bending at the hip) and, in turn, target more glutes and hamstrings.
This is a great option for lifters who want to train the push and pull lower body muscles in one movement.
How To Do It
- Stand upright with your right foot in front of you and your left leg elevated on a bench behind you.
- Your legs should be as far apart as possible but at a distance where you can still lower yourself into a full split squat with the back knee touching the ground. There should be no hip rotation or twisting.
- While maintaining a mostly upright position, lower yourself until the back knee touches the floor. You should have little weight on the back leg.
- Your chest should be over your lead thigh, with the heel of the lead leg down as well. You should feel the glute and hamstrings working together to help you in the movement.
- As you touch the back knee to the floor, push through your front foot and stand up using the lead leg, then repeat for reps. Switch sides.
This can be a tricky exercise, especially if you have tight hips. I find it helpful to add some light couch stretches before doing this if you struggle with hip flexibility.
12. Seated Hamstring Curl
The seated hamstring curl is a machine exercise that isolates the hamstrings. It is a great exercise to add more muscle mass to and activate the hamstrings without adding extra stress to the hip and lower back.
How To Do It
- Sit down in the seated hamstring curl machine with your hips on the seat and the back of your ankles on the pad. You want to make sure your knees are off the seat so that they can bend freely.
- Lower the handlebar or pad so that it is now resting across your thighs and you are locked in, and then pull the pad under your ankles down towards the floor.
- Make sure you are not arching your lower back or allowing the hips to slide forward in the seat.
- Pull the heels to the buttocks, and then slowly straighten your knees (2-3 second tempo) and repeat.
I often recommend doing these prior to RDLs and good mornings if someone has trouble engaging the hamstrings. You can also do these after heavier movements to end a workout to get a little more hamstring training if you struggle to gain hamstring size.
13. Lying Hamstring Curl
The lying hamstring curl machine is a variation of the seated hamstring curl machine and can be used to train the hamstrings in a wider range of motion.
Both machine hamstring curls isolate the hamstrings, but the lying variation may be better for lifters who struggle to heel the entire hamstring muscle group engaging in the seated variation.
How To Do It
- Lie face down on a lying hamstring curl machine with the lower pad just above the back of the ankles.
- Your knees should be off the end of the pad support so that they can bend freely.
- Grab a hold of the handles for additional support and brace the core by breathing into the abs.
- Bend your knees by pulling the heels up through the pad and towards your buttocks.
- Pause at the top for 1-2 seconds once your heels get to your buttocks, and then slowly lower the weight by straightening your knees on a 2 to 3-second lowering tempo.
If you struggle to feel your hamstrings, make sure you are not letting your lower back arch too much. Think about pulling the front of your pelvis up towards your chest to minimize anterior tilting of the pelvis (arching the lower back).
Sample Lower Body Pull Routine
Below is a sample 2-day routine you can do to train the lower body pull muscles.
The workouts below use lower rep ranges (5-10 reps) to help build strength and muscle and moderate to higher rep ranges to build muscle without adding too much additional stress to the erectors (lower back). This program can be done weekly, with 2-3 days between workouts.
Note: Although this exact workout cannot be found in the Fitbod app, all of the movements below can. You should use this sample routine as an outline to construct your own workouts based on the information discussed above.
- Deadlift: 3 sets of 6-8 reps, using as much weight as you can without rounding your back or losing tension. Rest as long as you need to recover between sets and put your best effort into the next set.
- Hip Thrust: 3 sets of a 10-second hold at the top, followed by 12-15 reps. Rest 90 seconds between sets.
- Good Mornin’g: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 90 seconds
- Lying Hamstring Curl: 3 sets of 10-12 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets.
- Hip Thrust: 3 sets of a 10-second hold at the top, then 15-20 reps, with 45 seconds between sets
- Landmine Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift: 3 sets of 12-15 reps per leg, resting 90 seconds between sets
- Bulgarian Split Squat: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets
- Seated Hamstring Curl: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 90 seconds 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 exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is a Pull Leg Workout?
A pull leg workout is a workout that primarily targets the hamstrings and glute muscles. Exercises that typically are included in pull workouts are deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, hip thrusts, hamstring curls (seated or lying), and good mornings.
Is an RDL a Push or a Pull?
The RDL is a pull exercise, as it targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. These muscle groups work to extend (straighten) the hips. Unlike squats, which primarily emphasize knee extension (straightening of the knees) and target the quads, the RDL uses the posterior muscles of the body to lift the weight.
Are Bulgarian Split Squats a Push or a Pull?
The Bulgarian split squat can be either a push or pull exercise, depending on your setup. With a narrow stance and upright torso, you target more of the quads, making it a push exercise. If you take a wider stance and lean forward more, you target more hamstrings and glutes, making it a pull exercise.
About The Author
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.