Hamstrings (leg hamstrings, hams) are very large muscles in the back of the leg. Hamstrings consist of four heads; hamstrings Femoris – long head, hamstrings Femoris – short head, Semitendinosus, and Semimembranosus. A lot of the exercises that work the hamstrings also might work the quads, the glutes and lower back and vice versa. For that reason, it might be a good idea to do all these muscle groups on the same day.
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Stiff-Leg Deadlifts (Straight-Leg Deadlifts) are a core exercise for hamstring development. The name is misleading. The legs should never be perfectly stiff or straight on any pulling exercise. Locking the knees is an invitation to injury and is not at all necessary. You can work the hamstrings, glutes and lower back very effectively with a slight break in the knees. Don’t let the bar stray away from the body when doing this exercise.
Place the bar very close to your body, against the shins. It should move up and down so close that it will leave red marks on your thighs. From a position right over your shoe tops pull it up only to mid thigh. You don’t need to bring it to a full locked-out position at the top, but you can if you want to. Locking your shoulder blades during the exercise will help you maintain a flat back.
Good-mornings are a long forgotten exercise, very rarely will you see someone do it. However, this is an invaluable technique if you want to develop strong, muscular hams. You must do this difficult exercise very carefully, following the directions precisely. Otherwise, you are risking a very serious injury. Don’t get scared out of doing it though, nothing good is easy to achieve (especially good hamstrings) and this is definitely worth your while.
The good morning comes in several variations. You can do them with a flat back, a rounded back or while sitting on a bench. The easiest and the safest is probably flat back, but you should experiment and find the style which serves you best. Position the bar on your back exactly the way you do when you squat. Lock it securely in place because the most uncomfortable part of this lift for many is the bar moving around on their backs. As in the stiff-leg dead-lift, lock your shoulder blades tightly together.
Your stance should be narrower than shoulder width with your toes pointed slightly inward. Bend your knees and hold that same bend throughout the exercise. Once you start going down with the bar, you don’t want your hips to drop any lower. The sensation is like having a hinge in your hips, below your hips no movement should occur (even though it will). If you are using the rounded-back version, try to place your chest on your thighs. If you prefer the flat-back version, go below parallel position with your back. Do the motion rhythmically, more slow than fast. Avoid any herky-jerky movements. Reset after each rep.
A Deep Squat (Full Squat) is a squat where your upper leg breaks the parallel to the ground plane and you drop as low as possible, going all the way down.
Leg Press works the quads very effectively, but what people don’t realise is that it also stresses the hamstrings. To hit the hamstrings you gotta use a wide stance. Wider than conventional stance will reduce undue stress on your knees. In addition to that, wider stance allows for an increased range of motion, and the lower you go, the more your hamstrings get involved. Except for that, the rest of the exercise is performed exactly as described on the quad page.
Lunges develop the whole leg and the glutes. However, to shift the emphasis from quad to hamstring development, use this variation of the lunge. The key to hamstring involvement is to keep the trailing leg as straight as possible. Merely dipping the rear knee to the floor is less effective because this easier action does not activate the hamstring nearly as much. This is the only change from the lunges as described in the quad section. You should go there and read the proper lunge technique.
Finally, an exercise that doesn’t work the quads, only hamstrings. They can be done seated, or lying face down on a machine. Both, hammer strength machine and cables, are equally effective. If you are doing these on a machine, it is important not to restrict your range of motion. Extend to lock out on the negative part of the movement. When lifting the weight, try to reach your buttocks with your feet, come as close to it as possible. This exercise should never be used as a core exercise for the hamstrings. It’s a good warm up exercise and a good finishing movement to overload already fatigued hams.
For more effective information on how to effectively work your hamstrings, consult this article from Men’s Health.