Training the Hamstrings for Maximum Size Gain – Part One

Since we’ve already covered the quads for legs, let’s now jump in to training the hammies for the full-effect leg explosion.

The back of the upper leg in the human body consists of a group of tendons known as the hamstring which is contracted by four muscles: the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus, the biceps femoris – long head, and the biceps femoris – short head.[i]

The term “ham” used to refer to the muscle and fat tissue behind the knee and the term “string” refers to the tendons. Accordingly, the hamstrings are the tendons you feel on either side of the back of your knee.[ii]

If you want to grow huge hammies to match your massive quads, you’ll need to know what they do, how they work, and how best to work them.

Location and Function of the Hamstrings Muscles

The hamstrings muscles are responsible for flexion (bending) and extension (straightening) of the knee and hip joints.

The semitendinosus inserts at the medial surface of the tibia and is involved in both knee flexion and extension, and hip extension.

The semimembranosus inserts at medial tibial condyle and is also involved in knee flexion and extension, and hip extension.

The long head of the biceps femoris inserts at the lateral side of the head of the fibula is also involved in knee flexion and extension, and hip extension.

Here’s a couple different looks at it…

The short head of the biceps femoris only crosses the knee joint and is therefore not involved in extension of the hip.

The exercises we discussed in “Training the Quads for the Most Size Gain” will also work the hamstrings. The development of your hamstrings depends on the exercises you do and the position in which you hold your feet. Read on to find out how to effectively target your hamstrings for optimum growth.

How to Work the Hamstrings

The hamstrings are an oft-neglected muscle group; however, a swooping posterior thigh will create a far more well-rounded leg as opposed to solely focusing on developing the quadriceps at the front of the thigh. The muscle separation that comes with well-developed hamstrings and quadriceps will also create the illusion (or reality) of a leaner leg.

Hamstrings exercises can be grouped into those that are hip-dominant movements and those that are knee-dominant. Implementing both types of movement will ensure greater development in both size and strength.

Examples of hip-dominant movements include Stiff-Legged Deadlifts (SLDL) and Romanian Deadlifts (RDL). These deadlift variations stretch the hamstrings at the bottom of the movement.

Knee-dominant movements include seated leg curls, lying leg curls, and sumo leg press. With the leg curl variations in particular, think of your hamstrings as the biceps of the legs – hence the name biceps femoris – these exercises will enable you to squeeze and contract the hamstrings against heavy resistance.

Other moves to work the hamstrings include glute-ham raises and sumo squats. I would recommend working your hamstrings with a knee-dominant movement prior to training quads. In this case, sumo squats may be redundant in comparison to a slightly narrower-stance squat that will hit the pre-fatigued hamstrings and glutes anyway. We will explore this concept in greater detail in part two.

Volume, Work Load, and Tension for Massive Hamstrings

Hamstrings respond well to a variety of rep-ranges and intensity techniques such as drop sets and partial reps. Just as with the quadriceps, it is not just about hammering the muscles into oblivion and hoping for the best.

Training volume can be kept slightly lower than that of the quadriceps; however, the hamstrings will respond well to a cyclical approach. With the intensity techniques we will explore in Part Two, volume can be kept relatively low for the first few weeks, gradually increasing until we reduce the workload to enable the body to recover with a deload phase.

Drop sets and partial reps are highly-effective ways of working the hamstring muscles beyond failure but hip-dominant exercises are simply not safe to take to complete failure as the lower back will begin to compensate as the hamstrings and glutes fatigue. With an exercise such as stiff-legged deadlift we can still apply intensity techniques such as reverse drop sets. We will talk about this in greater detail in Part Two.


So far we have discussed the muscles of the hamstrings, the insertion points of each muscle, and the function of the hamstrings. You also learned about some of the best exercises to perform to best develop mammoth hamstrings. In Part two, you’ll see a routine developed for gaining mass in the hamstrings, how to properly stretch and prevent injury, and what to do to grow horse-like hamstrings.



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