Hamstring Training Tips for Hypertrophy
by Dr. Mike Israetel, Co-founder and Chief Sport Scientist |
Mar 03, 2017
Here are some helpful tips for your hamstring training. Please note that these are averages based on my experience working with lots of clients and my own training. The recommendations here should be food for thought or places to start, not dogmatic scriptures to follow to the letter.
If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out the Training Volume Landmarks for Muscle Growth article. It discusses the theoretical and practical bases on which the upcoming recommendations are made. And if you love this info but want a bit of help in building your own workouts from the expert scientists at RP, check out the super popular Male Physique or Female Physique Templates. For a deeper dive into the science and logic of hypertrophy training, give our hypertrophy book a read. If you have questions about how to apply these recommendations, please give some thought to joining our online community on our YouTube Channel, where Dr. James Hoffmann and Dr. Mike Israetel answer your top questions every week, and informative videos on muscle growth, fat loss, and strength enhancement are posted regularly!
If you’re choosing the heavy variants like good mornings and stiff legged deadlifts, most hamstring gains can be conserved well with just 4 hard and heavy ham sets per week.
The minimum effective volume for most individuals seems to be about 6 working sets a week. Much less than that is unlikely to grow anyone but the most untrained. You’ll notice that this is quite low, but I’ve in fact myself grown on such low training volumes for a long time. The hamstrings take on so much disruption from the heavy hip hinge movements (such as stiff-legged deadlifts) that even low set number can bring lots of stimulus.
Most people respond best to between 10 and 16 weekly sets on average.
Most people seem to encounter serious recovery problems above 20 sets per week. Now, if your hamstrings don’t get very sore and you’re doing everything else right (which is not likely as properly done hip hinge movements get almost everyone), maybe you can do more than this, but in the first couple of mesocycles of trying to fine-tune your hamstring training, I’d recommend avoiding much more than 20 working sets per week.
Frequency: 2-3 times per week.
The hamstrings are large, often more fast-twitch muscles. They can produce lots of force and are anatomically positioned to be exposed to great stretch under heavy loads, which means that especially if you’re doing hip hinge movements, it’s not likely that you’ll be able to overload your hams more than three times a week.
For hip hinge movements, going heavier works best as you’re literally trying to damage the muscles via loaded stretch. 70-85%1RM is good here. This is especially effective because higher rep ranges with lighter weights tend to fatigue your back before your hams get insufficient work, and then it’s just a back exercise at that point. For curling movements, too much weight can be dangerous and the forces aren’t high enough to do much anyway without that stretch, so lighter loads and higher reps work best (60-75%1RM), or 10-15 reps per set.
Within the microcycle, you can use just one exercise and vary just the rep range if you train hams only twice a week (something like sets of 8 one day and sets of 12 another). But for 3 sessions, you are best served by using two exercises and performing one exercise per session. Especially for the intermediate and advanced lifter, doing one or two days of curling and one or two days of hip hinging is likely ideal for full hamstring development. Pick one hip hinge and one curl and stick to those for a whole mesocycle.
Between every mesocycle or two mesocycles (4-12 weeks total), you should swap out old exercises and replace them with new ones.
Range of Motion:
In the hip hinge movements, you should bend at the hips (while keeping your lower back from bending into kyphosis) and keep the knees just shy of lockout. You should bend deeply enough to cause a painful (but not overbearingly so) stretch in the hams on each rep. Come all the way up to reset and hit it again for the next rep. On the leg curls, you should always start from a fully extended knee and always bring the pad to touch your butt with each rep. If you can’t touch the pad to your butt, it doesn’t count as a rep!
Please make sure to do both exercise types with careful technique and under control. Bouncing out of reps can spell disaster for the hams.
Special Metabolite Techniques:
Because hamstrings tend to be more fast twitch, they don’t really seem to benefit from lots of metabolite work. But, they can benefit from high concentrations of volume and SOME metabolite work. A method I’ve found to be effective on occasion is the “giant set” or “marathon set” as some have called it. Get on a seated or lying leg curl and put your 25RM on the stack. Do as many reps as you can about 1 shy of failure and then rest 45 seconds. Repeat until you hit a certain sum total of reps over however many sets it takes. Start with 50 total reps and add 10 reps and 5lbs to the workout with each microcycle (week) of training and see how that feels. Oh and… sorry about the cramping!
Just like with most bodyparts, your first mesocycle should be moderate weights and reps. The next mesocycle can be more of the same with perhaps slightly different rep ranges and exercises, OR it can be a higher volume block that incorporates lighter weights (closer to the 60%1RM mark) and more metabolite training. After that meso, a shorter (3-4 weeks) mesocycle of strength training (70-85%1RM) with lower volumes is likely a good idea to resensitize your muscles for more growth, at which point you repeat the process.
Leg curls are great, but a reliable ticket to big hamstrings is to get strong for reps in the heavy hip hinges. I haven’t met too many people that could stiff legged deadlift 405 for strict sets of 8 (I use that term reflexively with RDLs by the way) or high-bar GM 225 for 8s deep and didn’t have very impressive hamstrings. So yes, curl for high reps and high volumes, but keep your eyes on the heavy rep hip hinge prize and your hams will grow.