Bodyweight Hamstring Exercises: How To Gain Strength & Fix LBP

Picture of an athlete stretching his hamstrings

If you want to train your hamstrings anytime, anywhere, then these bodyweight hamstring exercises might be a good fit for your leg workout.

And you deserve them.

You are on your way to becoming a real athlete. Not just a dabbler.

How do we know it? You are willing to train your leg muscles. We commend you for it!

Most people do not even know the real benefits of strengthening and stretching their hamstrings. And if you don’t either, you’re in for a good treat. These stubborn muscles are among the main causes for lower back pain - throughout the entire world population!

More on that in the benefits section. Let’s check out those exercises, shall we?

Bodyweight hamstring exercises

In the table below, we have presented our take on the best bodyweight exercises for your hamstrings. They are also sorted based on difficulty.

Some of the exercises only work on the hamstring strength, others only on the flexibility, while others help with both.

Furthermore, apart from the hamstrings, the exercises also target the glutes and quadriceps. In the table we will note which exercise targets which muscle. This will help you doing too many exercises on one single muscle group.

Exercise name

Strength

Flexibility

Glutes

Quads

Good Mornings (easy)

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Squats (easy)

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Crab Walks (easy)

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SL Romanian Deadlift (interm.)

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Bulgarian Split Squat (interm.)

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Glute Bridge (interm.)

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Natural Leg Curls (advanced)

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In one of the subsequent sections, we have broken down each and every exercise. You will find out how to perform the exercise and what muscles it focuses the most.

Why train the hamstrings

The hamstring is a three-muscle group on the anterior part of the thigh. If we go into detail, all three muscles have slightly different origin and insertion points. However, for the purpose of this article, we only need a rough idea.

The three muscles originate from the bottom part of the pelvis and run down all the way to the knee joint. With this in mind, you can imagine how weakness in this area can have effects that alters the quality of your life.

These muscles are:

  • Biceps femoris (with its two heads)
  • Semitendinosus
  • Semimembranosus

If we look at the statistics, lower back pain is the second most common cause of disability in the United States, according to this study.

When it comes to back pain…

  • 1% is serious (cancer, fracture, etc.)
  • 5% is nerve compression related
  • 95% non specific low back pain

The majority of people who have pain in their lower back have non specific pain. This is mostly caused by sitting down and a lack of movement in general. And your weak hamstrings are part of the problem. Because they are weak, they can no longer properly support your pelvis and lower back.

Along with stiff back muscles, it easily leads to pain.

Do I say that all you need is to strengthen your hamstrings and your back is as good as new? No. A combination of strength and flexibility is needed for both your hamstrings and back muscles (including lower and upper back). 

But working on your hamstrings with the above mentioned bodyweight hamstring exercises is a good starting place.

Benefits of strong & flexible hamstrings

If you’ve made it all the way to this part of the article, then you may not need any more reasons to start strengthening and stretching those hamstrings. However, just for the sake of it, we’ll present the four main advantages.

P.S: We cannot stress enough the importance of having strong and flexible hamstrings. Having only strength is not enough. Having only flexibility is not enough. As an athlete you need both.

Fix lower back pain

Not only is the origin point of the hamstrings in the pelvis, but the lower back muscles and the hamstring muscles are intimately connected. Therefore, having weak hamstrings will greatly affect your lower back.

Personally, after starting to work on the pike flexibility (bringing my face to my knees) I got rid of the lower back pain for good. I had strong enough hamstrings, but their flexibility was very limited.

Once I’ve started stretching them in my training for the pike press to handstand, a world of pain-free movement opened right before my eyes.

Stabilize your knees

The hamstring runs from the pelvis down to the knee joint. Therefore, they also have a role in protecting the knee joint. In this regard, their main role is to counter the action of the quadriceps, which are the opposite muscles.

Think of a workout program that only focuses on pushing strength, while you do zero pulling exercises. How long do you think you’ll last without injury?

The same applies to the leg muscles. By countering the quadriceps, hamstrings help your knee by decreasing the chances of anterior cruciate ligament injuries.

Improved posture

The anterior pelvic tilt is a posture issue caused by an imbalance. It manifests itself through a forward tipped pelvis, to the point where there is a big arch in your lower back and a bulging abdomen.

Again, this is not an issue that can be solved through hamstring training alone. You will also need stronger glutes, stronger abdominal muscles, as well as relearn the correct posture by ingraining good habits.

Even so, hamstring training will help tremendously. The stronger the muscles are, the better they can pull the pelvis, slightly tilting it to its natural position.

Run faster

There are two actions of these muscles: knee flexion and hip extension.

These are two important actions in the running process. The more force you can exert in these actions, the faster you will run.

Therefore, strengthening your hamstrings will allow them to exert enough force to propel you faster and more explosively. 

Exercises breakdown

Whenever you are working the hamstrings, some other muscles will activate too. This is especially true for bodyweight exercises. Therefore, when structuring your workout, you should take this into account.

If you feel like the workout is too specific for a given muscle group - say quadriceps, adjust accordingly.

Instead of a squatting variation for your hamstrings, choose one that works the glutes. Such as the glute bridge.

1. Good mornings

Woman doing good mornings

Image source: POPSUGAR

The good morning is one of the simplest and easiest bodyweight hamstring exercises. It mainly works in conjunction with the lower back muscles. However, it also engages the erector spinae in its entire length, as well as the glutes.

If done unweighted, it is mostly used as a stretching exercise. Nonetheless, it can be used as a strengthening exercise for very beginners.

How to do the exercise:


To start, stand up straight with the hands on the hips. Begin hinging at the hips, driving them backward. Keep the back slightly arched and the cervical spine aligned properly.

Depending on your hamstring flexibility, you may need to bend the knees. Try to practice with straight knees as much as possible.

Once your body is parallel to the ground, extend through the hips. Use your glutes and hamstrings to extend back to the starting position.

Muscle focus:


  • Hamstring
  • Glutes
  • Lower back
  • Erector spinae

2. Squats

Man doing unweighted squats in a commercial gym

The squat is one of the most popular exercises for leg development. This exercise focuses on the strengthening of the hamstring, rather than the flexibility part.

However, the dominant muscle in this exercise is the quadriceps.

How to do the exercise:


Start with your feet shoulder width apart, or narrower/wider if it feels more natural. Keep a straight back and start to lower yourself by hinging at the hips, and bending the knees. Do not let your knees move inward or outward. Rather, keep them lined with the foot.

To focus the exercise more on the hamstrings and glutes, start the movement by hinging at the hips and driving them backward. To focus on the quadriceps, start by bending the knees.

Check this article for an in-depth look at the bodyweight squat.

Muscle focus:


  • Hamstring
  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes

3. Crab walks

Athlete doing the crab walks exercise

The crab walk is not a bodyweight hamstring exercise but rather a full body conditioning exercise. Aside from the hamstrings, your glutes, shoulders, triceps, and core will also get a good workout.

Crab walks focus more on developing strength rather than flexibility.

The exercise requires some room. And it may feel weird. However, it is one of the best beginner exercises. Especially if you are just starting out on your fitness journey.

How to do the exercise:


Start in a supine tabletop position. Drop the hips until they are close to touching the floor. Begin walking by moving your left foot and left hand forward, followed by the right foot and right hand. Form a belly-up, all four walking pattern.

Muscle focus:


  • Hamstrings
  • Triceps
  • Glutes
  • Shoulders

4. Single leg Romanian deadlift

Woman training single leg Romanian deadlifts - one of the best bodyweight hamstring exercises

Whether you have access to barbells or not, Romanian deadlifts can still be part of your workout. Shifting the weight on one of the legs increases the intensity enough to result in strength gains. Furthermore, it also improves balance.

The single leg Romanian deadlift is a strength building exercise.

However, you can also focus on flexibility by leaning more and strengthening the front leg in the top position. Doing so will make the exercise a single legged good morning.

How to do the exercise:


Start with the left knee up in front of you, standing only on your right leg.

Bend the right knee while at the same time hinging at the hip and moving the left leg towards the back. Fully extend the left leg as you keep hinging. Your body should be parallel to the ground.

Avoid one of the most common mistakes by keeping your hips facing the floor. Do not open up the hips. Keep them facing the floor and keep the toes on the left leg pointing at the floor.

Muscle focus:


  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

5. Bulgarian split squat

Man performing Bulgarian split squats with one of his feet on a bench

If you don’t find bodyweight squats effective enough, you can easily increase their intensity with this progression.

You will need a bench, chair, or anything on which you can elevate one of your feet.

The Bulgarian split squat only focuses on the strength aspect of the hamstring. This exercise will not affect its flexibility in any way.

Additionally, it will improve your balance; you will have to constantly micro-adjust the position of your body to do the exercise. This stabilization comes from the core; therefore, it is also a great core engager.

Since it is a progression of the squat, it will target pretty much the same muscles. The intensity will be higher; however, the quads and glutes are still worked along with the hamstrings.

How to do the exercise:


Place the back leg on an elevated surface, about knee-height. The leading leg should be about two feet (60 cm) apart from the bench. Keep your torso upright. At this point you should be in the top position of a lunge, with your back foot elevated.

Start lowering, focusing all the strain on the leading leg.

You should go down until the thigh of the front leg is parallel to the ground or so.

Push back up through the heel of the leading leg and repeat as many times as you want. Don’t forget to do equal work on each side. This will prevent imbalances.

Muscle focus:


  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Core

6. Glute bridge

Woman doing glute bridges on a stepper to increase difficulty

The glute bridge is one of the most specific bodyweight hamstring exercises. It is also very convenient. All you need for this exercise is enough room to lay on your back with your knees bent.

The glute bridge improves the strength of the hamstrings. It does not help with flexibility.

You can increase the difficulty of the exercise by placing your feet on an elevated surface; steppers and chairs work best. However, they are not a necessity. The exercise can be done on the floor. Even then, you can still increase the intensity by doing it using one leg, with the other extended in front of you.

As the name suggests, this exercise is meant to strengthen your glutes. However, with the right setup, we will be able to make those hamstrings of yours do the heavy lifting.

How to do the exercise:


Lay on your back with your knees bent and the feet flat on the floor. The further away your heels are from your butt, the more the hamstrings will engage.

Keep your feet planted on the floor at all times. When bridging up, drive through the heels. Do not drive through the toes. Do not arch the back trying to compensate. The only movement is your pushing through the heels and your hips naturally lifting off the ground.

In the top position, only your upper back should be in contact with the floor.

As a general guideline, if you feel your lower back working, you are not doing the exercise properly. You are thrusting your hips up through the lower back. Instead, try to push through the heels to lift them off the ground.

Muscle focus:


  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

7. Natural leg curls

Picture of a man training natural leg curls while his workout partner is holding his legs in place

One of the most difficult bodyweight hamstring exercises is the natural leg curl. You will need a small setup before you can do this exercise. Namely, something to hold your feet in one place while supporting most of your weight.

Additionally, you may need something soft to kneel on. This can be a yoga mat, blanket, or something to act like one. It’s optional but the skin on your knees will thank you for it.

The natural leg curl is a highly hamstring-dominant exercise. If done properly, your hamstrings and glutes will be on fire.

How to do the exercise:


Start by kneeling, and have a partner hold your feet in place. If you don’t have a workout partner, you can place a barbell (with weight plates on) at the back of your ankles. Hold the barbell in place with some heavy dumbbells on either side. 

This is how I used to do it in a commercial gym.

Hold your torso tight and setup in as much hip extension as you can. Start lowering slowly until your chest almost touches the ground. From there you can either go back up through the sheer strength of your hamstrings (YOU BEAST!), or push back up with your arms - like you’d do in a push-up.

When you come back up, reset your hip positioning to stay honest with your form.

Muscle focus:


  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

Conclusion

There are lots of benefits associated with stronger and more flexible hamstrings. And the bodyweight hamstring exercises presented in this article are exactly what you need to achieve both strength and flexibility.

Strengthening that area of your body has never, in the history of mankind, been more beneficial than now. Your quality of life will increase tremendously by simply being protected from non specific low back pain - which is increasingly prevalent in today’s society.

Time to put those hammies to work.

Over to you.