When you're sweating your way to physical fitness, it's easy to focus solely on burning calories or shaping problem areas. The hamstrings, which are at the back of the thigh and connect the knee and hip, aren't usually targets for weight loss. But a healthy exercise routine works all major muscle groups, and healthy hamstrings can reduce leg, knee and hip pain. The hamstrings stabilize your movements during a forward lunge, and you can directly target the hamstrings by trying variations on a forward lunge.
The hamstrings are actually a group of tendons, rather than muscles, and they're controlled by a group of four thigh muscles, to which the hamstrings connect. Your hamstrings are at the back of your thigh and act on both the knee and hip. The hamstrings counteract the motions of the quadriceps, so exercises that require your quadriceps typically require your hamstrings to return you to your starting position.
Importance of Hamstrings
Like other tendons, the hamstrings are susceptible to pain and tension, particularly when the surrounding muscles aren't regularly stretched or exercised. Loosening up the hamstrings can alleviate tension in the thighs, back, knee and hips, according to the textbook "Mosby's Essential Sciences for Therapeutic Massage." A tear or tendinitis in your hamstrings can be excruciatingly painful, but regular exercise can strengthen the surrounding muscles and reduce your risk of hamstring injuries.
A forward lunge works your hamstrings as you step backward out of the lunge. To do this lunge, position your feet shoulder-width apart and then take a large step forward. Your front foot should be 2 to 3 feet in front of your back foot. Then bend your knees and lower yourself to the ground until your back knee almost touches the floor. Straighten your knees and move your front foot to its original position to work your hamstrings, then repeat on the other side.
A backward lunge works your hamstrings more effectively than a forward lunge. Simply take your first step backward instead of forward, then lower yourself to the ground as if you're performing a standard lunge. To make the exercise even more challenging for your hamstrings, add hand weights. To maximize your thigh workout, try alternating between backward and forward lunges.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.