Hamstring development is essential for maximizing lower body aesthetics, strength, and function. Many times, exercisers will focus only on the quads or not do any movements to target the hamstrings. But that’s a big no-no.
Now, we understand that right now, the gym just isn’t an option for most of us. Not to mention, if you don’t have exercise equipment, you’re most definitely limited to bodyweight exercise options. So, we made a list today with our top hamstring exercises, bodyweight-only.
Most people don’t need equipment to build the hamstrings especially if you’re up to date with current training techniques. And don’t worry, you don’t have to go searching for exercises as we’ll show you the best options and how to do them.
First, though, let’s briefly go over hamstring anatomy…
The hamstrings are part of the posterior chain (backside of the body) located opposite the quadriceps. It’s composed of three muscles which include the…
- biceps femoris
The hamstrings are highly involved during walking, squatting, jumping, and similar movements (hip and knee movements). It’s important to note that all hamstring muscles cross both the hip and knee joints. Except for the short head of the biceps femoris which only crosses the knee joint.
Therefore, you have to utilize exercises that involve purely knee flexion to sufficiently train this muscle. But you want to focus more on exercises involving movement at both the hip and knee joint. That’s because the hamstrings generate the biggest amount of force when decelerating knee extension and hip flexion prior to ground contact during the gait (walking and running) cycle. (1)
The hamstrings are especially susceptible to injuries due to many reasons. So strengthening them in different positions is also the best thing you can do to help prevent injuries.
Alright, now that you’re better acquainted with the anatomy and function of the hamstrings, it’s time to show you our list of best hamstring exercises, bodyweight variations only.
Note: We’ve provided movement instructions and video examples under certain exercises while others have a link inside that contains instructions.
10 Bodyweight Hamstring Exercises
1. Glute bridge
The glute bridge is one of the most basic lower posterior chain exercises. But it doesn’t only involve the glutes as the name suggests. Your hamstrings are also working and most people can do this exercise. It’s definitely a beginner exercise when doing two legs at a time since it doesn’t provide a whole lot of resistance.
Don’t worry though, you can do the single-leg variation as a more advanced option. The single-leg glute bridge is extra challenging as you have even more weight to work against. But it does require a little more stabilization compared to the two-legged version.
This exercise is also unilateral in nature which means you can identify a weak side and then correct it.
To do it:
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Arms should be down by your sides.
- Tighten your core.
- Lift your hips off the floor into full extension while squeezing your glutes and hamstrings, then lower back down. If doing the single-leg variation, hold the non-working leg out straight. Everything else remains the same.
2. Sliding hamstring curl
The sliding hamstring/leg curl is truly an amazing exercise and a genius idea for working the hamstrings. It engages both the hamstrings and glutes and it’s a difficult exercise when done through a full range of motion. But even if this exercise gets too easy, there’s always the single-leg variation which is much harder.
To do this exercise, you’ll need to be able to slide your feet across the surface that you’ll be lying down on. So you can wear socks on tile or wood, or you place two slidable items under your feet.
To do it:
- Lie on your back so your knees are bent with feet flat on the floor. Place your arms down by your sides for balance.
- Tighten your core and keep your pelvis straight.
- Lift your butt off the floor and slide your feet until your legs are extended.
- Slide your feet toward your butt while keeping your butt off the ground and squeeze your hamstrings.
Not everyone will be able to perform this exercise through the full range of motion. That’s completely fine. Use a shorter range of motion at first, and gradually increase the range of motion.
3. Nordic ham curl
The Nordic ham curl is one exercise we definitely recommend for strengthening and building your hamstrings. It provides more of a challenge than most other ham movements. Not to mention, it’s very effective for preventing injury as you’re strengthening your muscles in an elongated state.
One 2020 study found the Nordic ham curl reduces hamstring injury incidence. Although, it does not reduce the severity of injuries. (2)
In a 2019 review and meta-analysis of 8459 athletes, researchers found that doing the Nordic ham curl regularly, actually reduced hamstrings injuries by 51%. It was concluded that this is an accurate representation of the effectiveness of the Nordic ham curl across multiple sports. (3)
Now, how most people would perform this movement is to focus more on the eccentric (lowering) portion of the exercise. Now, it definitely helps to have a partner to hold your ankles down to the floor. But you could also secure your ankles under a bed, table, barbell, or anything else that’ll work.
To do it:
- With your ankles secure, place your hands in front of your chest with palms facing away from you.
- Slowly lower yourself down to the floor and as you descend close to the ground, extend your arms out to stop yourself from hitting the floor face first.
- Absorb the fall and slowly lower yourself down. Do not just allow yourself to drop down but control the descent.
- Use your arms to help push yourself back up to the starting position while also flexing your hamstrings to assist.
If you cannot perform this exercise in its most basic form, use an elevated platform in front of you so that the range of motion is shortened.
Read: Nordic ham curl guide
4. Single stiff-legged deadlift
Few exercises will have your hamstrings sore the next day like a stiff-legged deadlift variation. The great thing about the bodyweight-only version is that there’s a lot less stress on the lower back compared to if you were to use a lot of weight with this exercise.
Doing it on one leg also challenges the muscles much better which is more conducive to building muscle.
To do it:
- Stand with feet together and extend your arms out for balance.
- Keeping the working leg straight and then hinge forward at the hips as low as you can go. Your non-working leg should lift up behind you.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
If you lack the balance to do this exercise in its basic form, hold onto a solid object with one hand for balance. This will also allow you to perform the movement with a larger range of motion to get an optimal stretch in the hamstrings.
5. Forward-leaning Bulgarian split squat
One of our absolute favorites, the forward-leaning Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral (affecting one side) exercise that allows you to load the hamstrings. It does require balance and if you do have access to weights or bands, you can increase the difficulty of the movement.
To do it:
Note: if you have dumbbells you can use them as shown in the video. If not, that’s OK. Just use your own bodyweight.
- Stand facing away from a bench and place the top of one foot on top of it.
- Hop your other foot forward several feet away from the bench so that your shin remains vertical.
- Lean forward and squat down to parallel or slightly below.
- Drive upward through your heel and midfoot into a standing position then repeat for reps.
- Don’t forget to switch sides and work your other leg, alternating legs for sets.
Also, check out our complete guide to Bulgarian split squats.
6. Skater jumps
The only exercise on our list that involves joint impact due to jumping side to side, skater jumps are also a more functional hamstring developer. Besides working your hamstrings, this exercise requires and improves stabilization and balance.
We do suggest you have healthy joints before doing this exercise though. It requires ankle and knee mobility while the hips are also involved in a more dynamic fashion than other hamstring exercises.
To do it:
- Hop side to side, keeping your shins relatively vertical. The non-landing foot should follow behind the working leg as shown in the video. You can squat down as low as you find suitable to be able to perform the exercise efficiently.
7. Swiss ball leg curl
If you don’t have a Swiss/exercise ball then skip this exercise. They’re not too expensive though if you want to invest in one and it’ll also provide you with more exercise options. The Swiss ball leg curl is a good option for those who don’t have as much mobility since your legs are elevated and you can progress easier with this movement.
To do it:
- Lie on your back and place your feet on the ball. Arms should be out to your sides for balance.
- Lift your hips and curl the ball toward your butt by flexing your hamstrings.
- Slowly extend your legs forward and repeat.
8. Cossack squat
The cossack squat is an advanced lower body bodyweight exercise. Therefore, you should already be able to perform similar exercises that require you to be in a deep squat position. The range of motion required really places significant stress on the hamstrings. But the glutes, quads, and core are also engaged due to the nature of the exercise.
This isn’t the movement for those with limited joint mobility or bad knees so just keep this in mind. There are other effective variations that you can do instead.
You can also use a progression to work your way up to doing the exercise most proficiently.
Check out our Cossack squat exercise guide for proper exercise instruction.
9. Lateral lunge
The lateral lunge is an easier variation of Cossack squat that most people can comfortably and safely perform. It works all muscles of the legs and challenges stability simultaneously.
To do it:
- Stand with feet together and tighten your core muscles.
- Take a big step to the side and bend your knees until your upper legs are parallel to the floor.
- Step your foot back to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
10. Lying single straight-leg extension
The lying single straight-leg extension is a slightly more difficult variation of the single-leg hip bridge (see the second exercise on the list).
The difference being, your legs are extended and elevated on an object and then you’ll lift your hips off the ground. You can do it using one or two legs depending on your level of training.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What's the function of the hamstrings?
The hamstrings are located on the lower posterior opposite the quadriceps. They play a big role in helping us to walk, run, squat, and bend at the pelvis.
What are the best bodyweight exercises for the hamstrings?
We’ve put together a list of our best bodyweight hamstring exercises.
- Glute bridge
- Single-leg glute bridge
- Sliding hamstring curl
- Nordic curl
- Single stiff-legged deadlift
- Forward-leaning Bulgarian split squat
- Skater jumps
- Swiss ball leg curl
- Cossack squat
- Lateral lunge
- Lying single straight-leg extension
Can you build strength with bodyweight hamstring exercises?
Absolutely! However, certain exercises are better than others for building strength. But, depending on your goals, there will come a point when bodyweight exercises will not be sufficient for progressing in building maximal hamstring strength.
How many sets and reps should I do for bodyweight hamstring exercises?
There’s no perfect answer to this question. But we recommend doing at least two hamstring exercises per workout, with no more than 4 sets of varied rep ranges between 5-25 reps.
How often can I do bodyweight exercises for the hamstrings?
This depends on the amount of training volume that you do for your hamstrings. The more overall sets and reps you do, the less frequently you should train and vice versa.
You don’t want to overtrain but you don’t want to undertrain either. This isn’t something that we can accurately guide you on so you’ll need to experiment and learn how to listen to your body.
Does training hamstrings prevent injury?
Research shows that working your hamstrings does, in fact, reduce hamstring injury. This was determined when testing the Nordic ham curl exercise in athletes over several different studies.
We hope that you’ll utilize these very effective bodyweight hamstring exercises. The awesome thing about the options on our list is that you don’t need equipment which means they’re also pretty convenient. There are also exercises for individuals of all experience levels too.
So, try out some for yourself next time you train the lower posterior chain and we promise you’ll see big benefits.
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