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The Best Exercises For Stronger Hamstrings

05/26/2015 04:49 EDT | Updated 05/26/2015 04:49 EDT
Form Body Lab

Unless you've experienced a hamstring injury, chances are you are ignoring this muscle group during your workout.

The hamstrings play a major role in leg function and stability. Located right under your butt and the back of your thigh, their role is to move your leg by flexing the knee and extending the hip. And just like any other muscle group in the body, you want to keep them strong, healthy and flexible for everyday movement.

"It is important to keep the hamstrings flexible because tight hamstrings can be a major cause of lower back pain," says Jessica Slonski, Pilates instructor and owner of Form Body Lab in Vancouver. "Often hamstring injuries occur when we're trying to lift too much weight or when participating in high intensity exercise without being properly warmed up."

Slonski says you're also more prone to injured hamstrings if your hamstrings are particularly tight — you can solve this issue by making sure you stretch out. And as Web MD notes, always stop exercising if you feel any type of pain in this muscle group.

Below, Slonski shows us nine ways to not only strengthen our hamstrings, but increase flexibility as well.

  • Prone Leg Extension
    - Lie on your stomach. Place a stability ball between your ankles and a cushion under your pelvis to support your lower back
    - Engage your abs by pulling your belly button towards your spine
    - Squeeze the ball between your ankles and keep your legs extended (avoid bending your knees)
    - Reach your legs long and lift them up towards the sky
    - Pulse and squeeze the ball three times
    - Lower your legs
    - Repeat 10 times
  • Bridging with Leg Lift
    - Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor
    - Squeeze your abs, engage your hamstrings and glutes to lift your pelvis off the floor and up to the sky (don’t let your abs pop out or your ribs pop up)
    - Extend one leg (keep thighs parallel)
    - Pulse your pelvis up to the sky five times
    - Bend your knee
    -Repeat on the other side (keep hips lifted and even from hip to hip)
    - Lower your pelvis
    - Repeat five times
  • Hamstring Pulse with Resistance
    - Tie a resistance band around something stable, like a table or bench
    - Put your ankle through the strap so the resistance is on the back of your ankle
    - Stand up tall and engage your abs
    - Engage your hamstring to pull your leg further behind you (keep leg straight and don’t let knee bend)
    - Replace foot to parallel
    - Repeat 10 to 20 times each side, do three reps
  • Kneeling Hamstring Lift #2
    - Start on your hands and knees (hands under shoulders, knees under hips, neutral spine); put small stability ball behind your knee and squeeze it between your calf and hamstring
    - Engage your abs (spine doesn’t move); lift heel to sky, keeping leg parallel (knee faces floor)
    - Replace your knee to start position but do not let knee touch floor; repeat 30 times, then do other side
  • Reverse Lunge Part 1
    - Start standing with feet parallel
    - Reach one one leg behind you
  • Reverse Lunge Part 2
    - Bend knees (front knee never passes the toes) to lower your pelvis towards the floor
    - Squeeze hamstrings and glutes to press up straight and bring legs back to parallel
    - Repeat 30 times, then do the other side
  • Side Kick Part 1
    - Start lying on your side with the bottom leg turned out (knee faces towards the floor) and toes supporting you on the ground
    - The top leg is parallel (knee faces forwards). Lift your waist line off the ground and keep your abs engaged
  • Side Kick Part 2
    - Flex your top foot and reach leg behind you as far as you can without letting your pelvis move (stays neutral)
  • Side Kick Part 3
    - Reach leg through centre to the front (keep pelvis still and neutral)
  • Side Kick Part 4
    - Point toes this time and reach leg behind you again
    - Repeat 15 times, then do other side
  • Squat with Pilates Ball
    - Start with your feet under your sitting bones and keep them parallel
    - Place a stability ball between your knees and gently squeeze it
    - Push your butt behind you as you bend your knees and keep the spine neutral. The knees should never pass the toes
    - Engage your hamstrings, glutes and abs to straighten your legs
    - Repeat 30 times rest and repeat
  • Ball Bridge Part 1
    - Use an exercise ball under your heels for this one
    - Start on your back and keep your spine straight
  • Ball Bridge Part 2
    - Lift your pelvis up to the sky, keeping your ribs connected to your hips (make sure you are not popping your ribs)
  • Ball Bridge Part 3
    - Reach your legs out long (the ball will roll with your feet)
    - Bring your feet back towards your pelvis
    - Repeat leg reaches five times, then lower pelvis to the floor
    - Repeat the entire sequence five to 10 times
  • Hip Press Part 1
    - Start seated with your hand on the floor behind you, fingers facing your pelvis, legs long in front of you
  • Hip Press Part 2
    - Curl your tailbone up the the sky (by using your pelvic floor) all the way until your front body is a long extended line (pelvis is lifted as much as you can)
    - Keep knees supported and soft
  • Hip Press Part 3
    - Either hold here for 10 to 60 seconds or lift one leg towards the sky. Hold for an inhale then exhale as you bring your hip down. Switch legs
    - Repeat as many times as you can, but be careful not to put too much pressure on your knees


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