Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Developing the Undeveloped - Hamstrings

Whenever you're doing any kind of exercise (in particular, weight lifting), it's important to work not just the primary mover (for instance, biceps), but the opposing muscle group as well (triceps). Thing is, if you only focus on those impressive visible muscles (like quads and biceps), without working their opposing muscles groups, then you create an imbalance in your body which can lead to injuries. We see this a lot with people who go nuts on their ab muscles to try to sculpt through a sixpack, but then never work their back muscles, which in turn creates back problems.

But still, there's an impetus to focus on the cool muscles, the ones that create a sculpted figure, that you can show off (whether it's in class or in a tank top or bathing suit). Like the biceps, abs, quads, and secondarily the triceps and calves. Back when I was doing the 100 pushups program, I got some shoulder definition that was awesome, and I was nearly jumping up and down when I first got a little tricep definition line. I have a body type that doesn't really lend well to muscle definition, so I celebrate every last little line.

But just as important as lifting weights for strength and improved health is to lift a total body workout, to keep your body in balance and strong all around. So here I am, focusing on one of the muscles which normally doesn't get a lot of play time: hamstrings.

So here are some exercises you can do to work your hamstrings (opposing muscle group to quads). I wish I had pics for all of them, but my camera's on the fritz so I'm relying on the web.

With a ball (and a mat)

1. Single Leg Roll - lie on your back with one heel up on the ball, the other foot planted flat on the floor. Lift your butt up in the air until your back is only halfway on the ground (perhaps a little higher). Squeeze your abs tight to protect your lower back. Extend your foot out on the ball (don't let it roll onto your ankle), then pull it back in. Focuses on the hamstring of the leg that's on the ball
  • Challenge Up! Lift the foot that's on the floor into the air, keeping your hips off the floor, hands down on the floor by your sides, pulling abs in tight as your extend and contract your leg.
  • Challenge Up! From either the basic level (foot on the group) or level 2 (foot in the air), lift your hands up off the ground and extend them above you. It adds a bigger balance challenge and targets the muscles more heavily.
2. Double Leg Roll - lie on your back with both heels on the ball, lift your hips up off the floor, contracting abs. Extend legs out and in.
  • Challenge Up! Lift your hands in the air.
With a ball (and no mat)

1. Ball Squat - lift one leg up onto the ball in front of you. Sit back like you're sitting in a chair (squat). Your knee stays right over your ankle on the floor (be sure not to let your knee come forward or you can risk knee injury). As you sit back in your squat, press down into the ball with your heel, activating the hamstrings. Switch legs.

With a bosu (and a body bar)

1. Ham touch in - stand on top of the bosu. To make this exercise easier, hold onto the body bar (and make sure it's a padded body bar and not a basic metal bar which will slip on the floor) to add a contact point on the floor, since the bosu is unstable. Step back with the same foot as the hand holding the body bar into a straight leg lunge position. Balance on your front foot and the bar, tap your back foot in to the bosu. Focuses on the hamstrings of the leg on the bosu.
  • Challenge Up! Extend your leg back and in without tapping the bosu (but coming close).
  • Challenge Up! Lift the body bar off the floor as you do the motion.
  • Challenge Up! As your foot comes in to the bosu, lift the bar up towards you (parallel to the ground), skimming your side with your elbow (back exercise).
With gliders (and a mat)

1. Alternate hamstring glides - lie on your back on the floor with both feet on the gliders. Lift your hips up off the floor to about mid-back (bra-line if you're a woman), keeping your hands on the floor. Extend one leg out and in, then alternate to the other leg. Focuses on the extended leg hamstring.
  • Challenge Up! Lift your arms in the air.
  • Challenge Up! Extend both legs out at the same time, then pull back in. This can be challenging if you extend too far and end up having trouble pulling back in. Just get a feel for it and keep those abs tight.
  • Challenge UpUpUp! Extend one leg out at an angle (the straighter the leg is, the harder it will be) and hold it there. Now take the other leg and glide it out and in while the other leg balances out on the glider. Switch legs. Focuses on the hamstring of the leg which is extended and held.
Do you have any other great hamstring exercises?


Gopi said...

Nice. Don't forget the Glute Ham Raise off the floor. Tough one!

JeffG said...

Squats, going "ass to calves" work better than one would think ;)

Plus, despite a lot of misinformation stemming from a flawed study decades ago, it's arguably healthier for your knees than stopping parallel (or even above parallel as I see most people do). I know that when I (back when I used to work out, hah) switched to doing squats in this manner that my chronically bad knees had never been better (of course, this post was about hamstrings and not knees, but ...)