When you stand in front of the mirror, do you also turn to the side to check out your hamstrings?
I didn't think so, and I'll tell you why.
Your hamstrings probably suck. Don't get mad, don't get defensive -- just stay with me. The rarest of bodyparts ever seen properly developed isn't the back or even the dreaded calves. It's the hamstrings. In a contest lineup or in the gym only an elite few display hamstrings that match their quads. The problem is, most of us are in denial. We can't or won't see that our hamstrings are weak. We chalk it up to bad genetics when the real culprit is lack of intelligent training.
For years I had done what most bodybuilders do, hammering the living shit out of my quads with heavy squats, leg presses, hack squats and leg extensions, then finishing with a few sets of leg curls and maybe stiff legged deadlifts. Most of my energy and intensity went into the quad training that preceded hams. Since the quads are the show muscles of the legs, the discrepancy was easy to ignore. At least it was until I tore my right hamstring, then three months later my left. The imbalance had previously been just a cosmetic nuisance. Now it was a liability for viable training longevity.
Most of you are like me whether you admit it or not. You think you're training your hamstrings as hard as your quads. You think their development is "okay." Be honest, be truly objective, and you'll discover it's time for a change. What I'm about to propose may seem radical, but please read on. The solution to situation is to emphasize hamstring training and virtually ignore your quads for as long as it takes you to bring the two halves of the thigh into balance. Here's how to do it.
You've read about training hamstrings on a separate day, but I don't know many people who have actually done this. Legs are trained on leg day. Physically and psychologically, this plan simply works best for most trainers. The one factor that will be different is the emphasis. I suggest these key points to follow:
1) Always train hamstrings first.
You'll be amazed at how much stronger your hams become in just the first few weeks when you train them first. They're like the player on the bench who's been dying to get in the game and show you what he's got. Let them in first, and you'll soon be using almost double the weight you were before your brutal quad training had depleted most of your energy reserves and your ability to focus. Normally that psych-up was reserved for the big squat or the half-ton leg presses. When you apply it to leg curls and stiff legged deadlifts, the pump will be twice as intense as ever before, the weights will keep climbing up and up, and your hamstrings will be on the way to growth you never thought possible.
2) Use a variety of hamstring exercises.
So many trainers do 3 sets of lying leg curls and call it a day for their hams. Ironically, they would feel robbed if they only did 3 sets for quads. That's not nearly enough. Somehow an unspoken myth pervades our consciousness that hamstrings don't require much work. If you want them to grow, they sure as hell do. Each workout should consist of two types of leg curls, plus stiff legged dadlifts, er, deadlifts, done for 3 or 4 sets each. Since most gyms have lying, seated or standing leg curl machines, you should be able to mix it up and avoid getting bored. You can also do still-legged deadlifts with a barbell, dumbbells, or even on a T-bar platform.
3) Utilize perfect form
Think of hamstrings as leg biceps. Imagine them peaking like biceps as you curl the weight up and squeeze it for a burning contraction. Each rep should start with a full stretch and end with a full contraction. You can't do this with fast, bouncy reps. On stiff legged deadlifts get the most out of the exercise by keeping your lower back straight, not rounded. To achieve this position, simply stick your butt out as far as possible when lowering the weight. You don't have to lower the bar to your toes. In fact, if your back is straight, you should hit a full stretch just below your knees.
After each set flex the hamstrings; then stretch them by putting one foot at a time up on a bar or piece of equipment and leaning forward. You might fell like a ballerina, but the soreness in your hamstrings the next day will more than make up for your embarrassment.
Another technique is to vary your reps. Try sets in the 6-8 rep range, the 12-15 range, even the 35-50 rep range. Your hamstrings will be so shocked and confused that they will have no choice but to adapt and grow.
4) Do only maintenance work for quads.
This will be the hardest part for most of you. It was for me. But building a great body -- not just above average -- requires you to leave your strong points alone while you bring up the weak ones. You'll find that 2 sets of leg extensions and 3 sets of some kind of press are all your quads need to maintain their mass. Trying to do your full quad workout after the hamstrings will have you exhausted an overtrained. Put your ego and your fears aside, and make the hamstrings the stars of the show they need to be for now so that they can catch up. Your quads aren't going anywhere, and you can always give them equal attention when your hamstrings have grown. Until then, you'd only be perpetuating the imbalance by continuing to blast your quads all out.
Balanced hamstrings and quads are a rarity, but the certainly don't have to be. If you have always wanted impressive hamstrings but buried that desire under a mountain of exercises and sets for quads, the time to do something about it is now. You don't have to settle for legs that look good only from the front.
Try the changes outlined here and there's no way you won't be seeing a huge improvement in your hamstrings. When you have great thighs and hams, you'll be one of a very select group of bodybuilders who can stand next to anyone else -- at any angle.
Enjoy Your Lifting!