How to Strengthen the Hamstrings & MCL

Strengthening exercises can help prevent injuries.

Strengthening exercises can help prevent injuries.

When a hamstring or medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury catches you off guard, it can instantly stop you in your tracks and turn your model-like walk into a painful limp. Your hamstrings, located at the back of your upper legs, and your MCL, which stabilizes your knees and connects your thigh and shin bones, are often hurt during sports. Instead of giving up on the workouts that keeps you in tip-top shape, strengthen these areas with a variety of targeted exercises.

Hamstring-Strengthening Exercises

Incorporate the bridge exercise into your hamstring-strengthening routine. Lie on your back, bend your knees 90 degrees and place your feet on the floor. Slowly raise your hips and back off the floor. As you rise, squeeze your tush and hamstrings. Your body should form a diagonal line from your knees to your shoulders. Pause for two seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat the exercise eight to 12 times, completing three sets total.

Strengthen your hamstrings with a resistance band. Tie the ends of a resistance band together around the leg of a sturdy table. Wrap the band around your left ankle and lie on your stomach on a mat. Bend your left knee and raise your left foot toward your left butt cheek against the resistance of the band. Your left hamstring should contract. Slowly lower your foot back to the starting point. Repeat the exercise eight to 12 times before switching legs. Complete three sets.

Lunge your way to stronger hamstrings. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, extend your arms forward and hold a dumbbell or medicine ball in your hands to help you balance. Engage your abs to stabilize your torso and take a big step forward with your right leg. Bend your knees and lower your hips straight down until your back knee is about 2 inches above the floor and your front thigh is close to parallel to the floor. Push off on your right heel and return to the starting position. Alternate lunges or do one set on lunges with your right leg before switching sides. Complete three sets of eight to 12 repetitions

Engage your hamstrings when doing cardiovascular exercise. Transfer most of your weight to the back of your feet and push off on your heels while using an elliptical machine, stationary bike or stair climber. Alternatively, pedal backward on the elliptical to emphasize your hamstrings.

MCL-Strengthening Exercises

Contract your quadriceps at the front of your upper legs to strengthen your MCL. Sit on the floor with your legs extended forward. Roll up a towel and place it on the floor under your left knee. Push your knee down onto the towel while contracting your quadriceps. Look at your upper leg or touch it with your hands to see or feel your muscles work. Hold the contraction for five counts before releasing the tension. Repeat this exercise eight to 12 times before switching sides.

Perform calf raises while holding onto a wall or the back of a sturdy chair. Stand in a shoulder-width stance and come up on the balls of your feet, raising your heels as high as you can off the floor. Slowly return your heels to the floor, repeat the exercise eight to 12 times and do three set.

Incorporate knee raises into your strengthening routine. Put on ankle weights and come to a hip-width stance. Engage your abs to help keep your back straight. Bend your right knee and raise it up toward your chest. Pause one second and slowly lower it back to the starting position. Do this eight to 12 times and switch sides. Complete three sets.

Complete three sets of half squats. Spread your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, tighten your tummy to support your back and face forward. Bend your knees, push your tush back and lower your hips down about 45 degrees. Pause for one second and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat eight to 12 times.

Items you will need

  • Resistance bands
  • Dumbbell or medicine ball
  • Ankle weights


  • Start the strengthening exercises with little to no resistance. As you get stronger, gradually increase the weight or repetitions.
  • Do the exercises in front of a mirror so you can monitor your form.
  • Do the strengthening exercises on non-consecutive day so your muscle have enough time to recover.


  • Consult your doctor before doing strengthening exercises, especially if you have an injury or medical condition.

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About the Author

Kimberly Caines is a well traveled model, writer and licensed physical fitness trainer who was first published in 1997. Her work has appeared in the Dutch newspaper "De Overschiese Krant" and on various websites. Caines holds a degree in journalism from Mercurius College in Holland and is writing her first novel.

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