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Hamstrings, along with calves and legs in general, are probably the most neglected muscle groups when it comes to bodybuilding and weight training. This is unfortunate as well developed hamstrings not only add to the aesthetics of a physique but also contribute significantly to strength and power in the common compound exercises such as the squat and the standing military press. Similarly to how hamstrings are neglected, deadlifts are also similar in that they are not often performed by many weight trainers and bodybuilders. Again this is very unfortunate as deadlifts are a great exercise for developing overall mass in the legs and back, as well as the arms and core muscles. People often cite fear of injury as the reason for avoiding deadlifts. With patience, dedication and proper form however, there is no need to be afraid. Deadlifts, while targeting a great deal of muscle groups, are a great mass builder for the hamstrings muscle complex. This will be the focus of this article.

Watch Our Training Video On Deadlift Technique

Hamstring Anatomy

The hamstring muscle complex consists of three separate muscles; the semitendinosus muscle, the semimembranosus muscle and the biceps femoris muscle (which is made up of a long and short head). The hamstring muscles (with the exception of the short head biceps femoris) originate from the lower back/pelvis and attach to the lower leg (tibia) just below the back of the knee. As a result of their origin and attachment points, the hamstrings are responsible for extending the hip and flexing the knee joint. Importantly, hip extension and knee flexion are two motions that occur when deadlifting.

The Deadlift

As mentioned above, the deadlift is one of the best compound exercises for developing overall, balanced mass and for developing strength. The deadlift is unique in that it virtually targets all the major muscles in your body. Deadlifts target the core muscles (i.e. the lower back, the gluteal muscles and the abdominal muscles), the back muscles (i.e. the erector spinae muscle group, the trapezius muscle and the latissimus dorsi muscles to some extent ) as well as the arms and shoulder muscles. In addition to all these, deadlifts also target the posterior chain (i.e. the hamstrings and calves), as well as the hip flexors, adductors and quadriceps to a lesser extent. The directions on how to perform a conventional deadlift are detailed and complex enough that entire books have been written on the topic. Thus, this article will not discuss how to perform deadlifts due to fear of simplifying such a complex issue. Keep in mind however that just like every exercise, probably even more so with deadlifts, form is vital!! The risk of injury when performing deadlifts with incorrect form is almost guaranteed. You should always perform with light weight until you have your form perfected. Only then is it safe and advisable to add weight slowly to your lift. Conventional dedlifts target all three muscles of the hamstring complex, both in the concentric and eccentric phases of the deadlift motion. There are however different variations of deadlifts that can be utilised to increase the activation and stimulation of the hamstrings to promote growth. The most effective of these however is without a doubt the stiff-legged deadlift.

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts

Stiff-legged deadlifts are the best exercise for training hamstrings. Unfortunately, they are also one of the hardest exercises to perform and can easily result in serious injury when performed wrong. The guide to performing stiff-legged deadlifts is just as complex as the guide to performing conventional barbell deadlifts. To keep it basic however, a stiff-legged deadlift is performed almost identically to a conventional deadlift with one major difference. As its name suggests, the legs are kept stiff and the knees do not bend throughout the motion. This places constant strain on the hamstrings as well as the lower back. Thus, this is why the stiff-legged deadlift is so effective in developing the hamstrings. Conversely, it is also the reason why it can cause easy injury when performed wrong. If you wish to include stiff-legged deadlifts to your routine be sure to research on proper form and technique. Furthermore, start of light so that your form is not an issue when you increase the weight.

Training Hamstrings

The direct training of hamstrings and the performance of deadlifts are two things which are commonly neglected. The training of hamstrings and the inclusion of deadlifts to a routine are two things which should ideally be thought about by all weight trainers. The ability of the deadlift to target the hamstrings is unparalleled and can add so much, not only to the weight trainer’s physique but also to their performance in the gym as well.

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