When it comes to powerlifting training, few muscle groups play as important of a role as the hamstrings do. In order to squat and deadlift world-class weights, a lifter must take the training of their hamstrings seriously. Too often, hamstring-specific accessory work is neglected, which will eventually result in a hamstring pull or tear, leading to unnecessary time off from the gym. By implementing sound hamstring exercises into your lower body accessory training you will not only reduce the chance of direct injury to the hamstring muscles, but you will also develop added structural stability to the knee joint. Below, we will go over a few of the exercises we use at westside Barbell to reduce the rate of hamstring and knee injuries.
A staple hamstring movement at Westside Barbell, RDLs are one of the best ways to develop and strengthen the hamstrings and glutes. This is accomplished due to two factors, added stretch reflex in a deadlift movement and overall time under tension. This movement is also a great option to develop glute strength, along with lumbar spine stability.
When performing RDLs, it is very important to be mindful of your form. You want to take in enough air to brace your trunk properly, that way your lumbar spine is avoiding any unnecessary shearing forces while performing the exercise. For this reason, we recommend a belt be used when you work up to 8 reps or less. Once you have mastered Romanian deadlifts with barbell weight, you can add band tension to increase the difficulty and effectiveness of the exercise. The Romanian deadlift will have immediate carryover to posterior chain strength and will help increase your deadlift and squat strength.
If you have been a follower of Westside Barbell for any amount of time, you will know that a great deal of our posterior chain work lives and dies by good mornings. This exercise is probably the most effective posterior chain movement outside of the squat or deadlift and has an incredible effect on hamstring strength. The two bars we recommend most when performing good mornings are the Safety Squat Bar, and the Giant Cambered Bar. As we mentioned with RDLs, when done improperly good mornings can put a great deal of shearing force on the lumbar spine discs, and they can overstretch the hamstrings.
To avoid those issues, you will want to perform good mornings “powerlifting style”. What this means is you will maintain a slight bend in the knees to reduce the pressure felt by the lumbar spine, allowing the glutes and hamstrings to absorb the tension. Think of it similarly to a squat, you want to break at the knees and hips simultaneously, except with the good morning you will allow your chest to drop. Once you are in motion you will go down to the same level you would begin a deadlift from, then use your posterior chain, trunk, and upper back to lift the weight.
Glute Ham Raises
One of the more difficult hamstring exercises to perform for some, but an extremely beneficial hamstring exercise to all, glute ham raises reign supreme as the best bodyweight exercise you can use to develop the glutes and hamstrings. This exercise is extremely simple and effective when performed properly. To be sure you are performing this exercise properly, you want to have the glute-ham machine set up to accurately match your leg length. Improper setup can lead to the workout being completely ineffective, or you will place too much pressure onto the hamstrings resulting in injury.
For those who do not have the strength to perform a typical glute ham raise, we recommend starting from the floor using a band or a rope to give yourself something to stabilize against and pull yourself up as the reps get difficult. The best option would be to invest in an Inverse Curl Machine, which can accommodate lifters of any strength level, providing a safe way to implement glute ham raises into your training.