How to Separate Hamstring & Quad Workouts

Treadmills and other cardio machines work the quads harder than the hamstrings.

Treadmills and other cardio machines work the quads harder than the hamstrings.

A strength imbalance between your quadriceps and hamstrings can lead to knee pain, and in the worst case, debilitating knee injury. Most cardio machines work the quads more than the hamstrings. Because many standard lower body exercises such as squats, lunges and leg presses work both the quads and the hamstrings, it's not surprising that many people end up with an imbalance between these two muscle groups. To get them back in balance, you'll need to do exercises that work these muscles separately.

Items you will need

  • Ankle weights (optional)
  • Exercise bands (optional)


Step 1

Strengthen the hamstrings on a leg curl machine at your gym. While some of these machines also work the calf muscles, they do not work the quads. The most common machines work your hamstrings while you are sitting or lying face down on a bench, however, some require you to stand. The lying and standing versions should be avoided if you have back problems. In each case, you will flex your knee(s), bringing your heels as close as possible to your buttocks and return to the starting position with a smooth and controlled motion.

Step 2

Tie an exercise band around your ankles and stand behind a chair for support with your feet about hip-width distance apart. Shift your weight to one leg and while keeping your knees aligned, flex your foot on the non-weight bearing leg and lift your lower leg behind you until you bend your knee to 90 degrees. Control the return to the starting position against the resistance of the band. Change legs after your desired number of repetitions.

Step 3

Isolate your hamstrings with stability ball leg curls. Lie on the ground on your back with your calves on a stability ball so that you are on a decline with your shoulders, back and pelvis aligned. Roll the ball toward you by flexing your knees so that your heels are eventually on the ball. Keep your back and pelvis aligned the entire time by rolling up onto your shoulders. This exercise requires a certain amount of core strength to execute it properly.


Step 1

Sit in a leg extension machine with your knees flexed at 90 degrees and the lever pad just above your shoe laces. Press your back against the back of the seat and extend your legs by pressing against the foot pad. Stop just before your knees lock or sooner, if you feel pain. Control the return to the starting position.

Step 2

Wrap ankle weights around one or both ankles and sit in a chair so that your feet are flat on the floor, your knees are bent at 90 degrees and your back is pressing against the chair. Grip the seat with both hands and, extend either one leg or both together as in Step 1. Control your return to the starting position.

Step 3

Use your foot to anchor one side of a looped exercise band to the floor and loop the other end around your ankle. While sitting in a chair with your knees bent at 90 degrees and both feet flat on the floor, slowly extend the leg in front of you with the band around the ankle until your leg is straight, but your knee is not locked. Control the return to the starting position.


  • Choose resistance against which you can do eight repetitions easily, with 12 being difficult and 15 causing muscle failure. Try to complete at least two sets of eight to 15 reps for each leg.
  • To balance muscles, work the stronger muscles with no more than 5 pounds more resistance than you use for the weaker muscles and concentrate on stretching the stronger muscles until the opposing muscles are in balance.
  • While there are fewer exercises that only isolate the quads, the hamstrings tend to be weaker of the two muscle groups.
  • If you do most of your cardio on machines, and you notice your quads fatiguing easily when you climb stairs, for example, consider skipping quad resistance exercises and concentrate on strengthening your hamstrings.


  • When doing standing hamstring exercises, it is extremely important to contract the abdominals to prevent back strain.
  • Serious muscle imbalance may require working with a trained physical therapist.
  • Consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.


About the Author

Nancy Cross is a certified paralegal who has worked as an employee benefits specialist and counseled employees on retirement preparation, including financial and estate planning. In addition to writing and editing, she runs a small business with her husband and is a certified personal trainer with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA).

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