Leg curls and good morning exercises are tremendous for boosting hamstring strength, but they can do a real number on your joints. If your knees or hips start kvetching, give them a break and turn to isometrics. Unlike dynamic strength moves, isometric exercises -- or static contractions -- don't involve bending and straightening the joint. To the uninformed, it won't look like you're doing much, but if you use proper form, you'll work your hamstrings plenty hard. If you're skeptical, just reach underneath your thigh mid-contraction -- you'll feel your hamstrings bulging.
Perform isometric exercises at least three times a week. If you're healthy, hold each contraction for three to five seconds and repeat each contraction 15 to 20 times. Alternatively, hold the squeeze for 10 seconds and reduce the number of repetitions. If you're unsure about which approach is better for you, ask a trainer to analyze your current fitness level and particular needs.
Warm up as you would for dynamic strengthening exercises. Perform 10 minutes of cardio work to increase blood flow and raise your core body temperature. When you break a light sweat, do some light dynamic stretching for the lower body. One or two sets of 12 to 15 walking lunges will prepare your hamstrings for more intense activity.
Stand 12 to 18 inches from a solid, stationary surface, such as a wall or heavy couch. Face away from the surface and grasp the back of a chair for support. Bend your right knee slightly and raise the leg directly behind you. Maintain a straight, upright spine and tighten your core as you press your heel firmly into the surface. Hold for up to five seconds. Release briefly and then repeat as desired. Switch to your left leg.
Sit or lie on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Bend your right knee to 45 degrees. Digging your right heel into the floor, tense the muscles behind the thigh. Hold for up to five seconds, and then relax. Repeat for the desired number of reps, and then continue with your left leg.
Lie on the floor with your feet extended in front of you and your calves resting on a stability ball. Rest your arms on the floor, extending them outward from your shoulders. Raise your hips into a glute bridge, bend your knees and draw the ball toward your pelvis. Drive the balls of your feet into the ball, holding for up to five seconds. Relax briefly, and then repeat the exercise for the desired number of reps.
Lie on the floor with your feet extended in front of you and your heels resting on a large medicine ball. Raise your hips into a glute bridge, bending your knees and drawing the ball toward your pelvis. Press the sole of your right foot firmly into the ball and extend your left leg, keeping your knees together. Hold, relax and repeat for the desired number of reps. Switch legs.
- Because there is little or no joint action associated with isometric exercises, you should work your hamstrings with the knee bent at various angles to get a thorough workout.
- Maintain tight abs during all exercises to help stabilize your spine and isolate the hamstrings.
- Stretch your hamstrings thoroughly after working them to prevent soreness and preserve flexibility.
- If you have high blood pressure or a heart condition, discuss the appropriateness of isometric exercises with your doctor. The increase in muscle tension can cause your blood pressure to soar. Even if you don't suffer from hypertension or cardiovascular disease, it is critically important to breath evenly and continuously throughout every exercise.
- Failure to warm up sufficiently before your workout can result in injury. Isometric exercises subject the muscles to stress for long periods of time; your hamstrings will be more vulnerable to tearing if they're cold.
- University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: Dynamic Vs. Static Exercise
- Designing Resistance Training Programs; Steven J. Fleck and William J. Kraemer
- Stellar Health Centers: Isometric Hamstring Sets
- YouTube: Top 3 Hamstring Exercises to Improve Vertical Power
- MayoClinic.com: Isometric Exercises -- Good for Strength Training?
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images