The Best Compound Exercise for Strengthening Hamstrings

The squat is a compound hamstring exercise that also engages your glutes and quads.
i Mike Powell/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Isolation exercises strengthen specific muscle groups; but name one sport or daily activity that uses an isolated movement pattern. You can't. Every movement you make requires various muscles to play together as a cohesive team. Sadly, they don't always feel like doing that. For example, your quadriceps, that strong frontal thigh muscle that straightens your leg, likes to work harder than your hamstrings, its rear leg counterpart that bends the knee. To even out the playing field, some coaches suggest a hamstring exercise method called compound training.

About Compound Hamstrings Exercises

    A compound hamstring exercise targets the back of your legs in conjunction with other muscles, such as the quadriceps, glutes, inner and outer thighs, and core. This type of training particularly benefits active women, whose hamstrings aren't always prepared to work with surrounding muscle groups. Coaches often notice that during jumping activities, female athletes tend to land with their legs relatively straight, a flaw that compromises technique and leaves you vulnerable to injury. Hamstring isolation exercises, such as the leg-curl, simply strengthen your muscles, but compound hamstrings workouts teach this group how to work with their muscle teammates.


    Compound hamstrings exercises fall into the “closed chain” category, which means that your feet stay in a fixed position. Closed chain exercises exert compression forces on your joints, which builds joint stability and protects you from injury. You can perform various types of these close-chained compound exercises. Plyometric compound exercises use a jump-training method designed to increase power and explosiveness and improve the efficiency of your landing mechanisms. The results of a 2011 study published in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” indicate that plyometric training improves the hamstring/quadriceps strength ratios in female athletes. Other types of compound hamstring exercises use balance equipment, weights and barbells. As weight-bearing activities, they help you maintain your bone density and prevent osteoporosis, advises the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Box Jumps

    The front box jump is a plyometric compound hamstring exercise, which also engages your quadriceps and gluteal muscles. Stand behind a 12- to 18-inch box with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees, pull your arms behind you and perform a squat to load your jump. As you jump, swing your arms forward, extend through your ankles, hips and knees, and jump up onto the box. Absorb the impact of the jump by landing with your knees bent. Jump or step down from the box, and repeat for six to eight repetitions. Ground reaction forces increase by jumping down. If you're not used to plyometric training, build your hamstring strength before adding the jump down phase to the exercise.

Stability Ball Leg Curl

    The stability ball leg curl is one of the primary exercises in the hamstring rehabilitation and injury prevention program at the University of Delaware Sports and Orthopedic Clinic. Your hamstrings, butt muscles and deep core stabilizers come out to play during this fun and effective compound exercise. Lie supine, with your knees bent and feet on top of the ball, separated hip distance. Peel each vertebra from the floor, until your spine assumes a bridge position. Remain in the bridge as you bend and extend your legs. Perform 12 repetitions, then roll each vertebra back to the floor. Perform three sets. Progress the exercise by performing while holding a weighted medicine ball.

Walking Lunges

    The walking lunge excels as a hamstrings strengthener and an anti-boredom exercise. Its effectiveness was tested in a 2009 study of junior soccer players. The results of the study indicated a significant increase in hamstring strength after six weeks of walking lunge practice. If you enjoy winter sports such as Telemark or cross-country skiing, the walking lunge will get your hamstrings set for the season. Your quadriceps, butt and calf muscles play starring and supporting roles in this exercise, along with your core muscles, which keep your spine in an upright position. Meanwhile, your inner and outer thigh muscles stabilize your knees, making sure they track in correct alignment. Step forward with one foot, bending both knees and lifting your back heel from the floor. Extend your legs by pushing your front heel into the floor. Perform 15 repetitions on each leg. Progress the exercise by holding a dumbbell in each hand when lunging.

the nest