7 Best Barbell Hamstring Exercises to Build Athletic Legs

Whether you want to enhance your lifting or athletic performance, training your hamstring is crucial for strong, flexible, and powerful legs.

The hamstrings are located on the back of the thigh and play a key role in various activities, such as running, jumping, sprinting, and squatting. They usually work when you bend and extend your hips and knees.

You can bolster your hammies with numerous exercises using multiple equipment, such as dumbbells, kettlebells, and machines. However, if you’re looking for specific barbell exercises to develop hamstring muscles, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, I’ve shared some of the best barbell hamstring exercises that can help build firm and flexible legs, minimize the risk of injuries, and enhance your overall performance.

But before I share those exercises, let’s understand a little about hamstring muscles.

Muscles of The Hamstrings

Hamstring Muscle Anatomy
Muscles of Hamstrings Lined with Black Colour

The hamstring is located on the rear side of your thigh, between your hips and knees. It comprises three muscles:1 Rodgers CD, Raja A. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis, Lower Limb, Hamstring Muscle. [Updated 2021 Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan

  • Biceps Femoris: The primary muscle of the hamstring.
  • Semitendinosus: The upper muscles of the hamstring located under the bicep femoris.
  • Semimembranosus: The smallest inner part of the lower hamstring muscle.

These muscles are responsible for extending and flexing the hips and knees. You can reinforce your entire hamstrings with the barbell exercises outlined below.

8 Best Barbell Hamstring Exercises to Build Sturdy Legs

The Best Barbell Exercises for Hamstrings
  1. Romanian Deadlift
  2. Single-leg Deadlift
  3. Hip Thrust
  4. Stiff-Leg Deadlift
  5. Good Morning
  6. Reverse Lunges
  7. Barbell Step-up

Let’s see how to do these hamstring barbell exercises with step-by-step instructions.

It would be good to do some dynamic warm-up exercises, such as leg swings, Nordic curls, and unilateral deadlifts, to activate your hamstring muscles before starting resistance training. You can also perform bodyweight ham exercises before weight training.

1. Barbell Romanian Deadlift

Barbell Romanian Deadlift
LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment Needed
BeginnerHamstrings, Glute, and Lower BackBarbell and Plates

The Romanian deadlift is an excellent exercise for strengthening the hamstrings and glutes.2McAllister MJ, Hammond KG, Schilling BK, Ferreria LC, Reed JP, Weiss LW. Muscle activation during various hamstring exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jun;28(6):1573-80. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000302. PMID: 24149748 It provides decent stretches to the posterior chain muscles and makes your lower body firm and flexible.

How to do it: Grab a loaded barbell with an overhand grip (hands outside the hips) and stand upright with your back straight and feet shoulder-width apart. Pushing your hips back, lower the bar until it reaches your shin level. Now, slowly extend your hips until you’re in the standing position.

2. Barbell Single Leg Deadlift

LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
IntermediateBiceps femoris and Gluteus MediusBarbell and Plates

If you want to improve your balance while strengthening your hamstring and glute muscles, you won’t find any better exercise than a single-leg deadlift.

The single-leg deadlift is a unilateral hamstring exercise that requires you to hold your entire body weight and barbell on just one leg. The position of this exercise puts decent stress on the hamstrings and helps improve lower body strength and mobility.3Diamant W, Geisler S, Havers T, Knicker A. Comparison of EMG Activity between Single-Leg Deadlift and Conventional Bilateral Deadlift in Trained Amateur Athletes – An Empirical Analysis. Int J Exerc Sci. 2021 Apr 1;14(1):187-201. PMID: 34055137; PMCID: PMC8136577

How to do it: Holding an empty barbell firmly with an overhand grip, stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your hips and raise your right leg behind simultaneously until your torso and leg are parallel to the floor. Hold in that position for a few seconds, then return to the start.

If you find it difficult to perform a single-leg deadlift with a barbell, you can do it with dumbbells. You can find it in this dumbbell deadlift exercise list.

3. Barbell Hip Thrust

Barbell Hip Thrust exercise for hamstring and glute
LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
BeginnerHamstrings, Gluteus maximus, and HipsBarbell, Plates, and Bench

The barbell hip thrust simultaneously activates the gluteus maximus and biceps femoris and increases strength, hypertrophy, and overall performance.

So, if you want to strengthen your hamstrings with barbell exercises, you can combine hip thrust with deadlift exercises to build a solid posterior chain.

How to do it: Place a loaded barbell on your hips and your upper back on a flat bench. Keep your knees bent and feet firmly on the ground. Brace your abdominal muscles and glutes, and thrust your hips upward as high as possible. Pause for a moment, then return to the start.

4. Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift

LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
AdvancedHamstrings and Lower BackBarbell and Plates

The stiff leg deadlift is slightly more challenging than the Romanian deadlift.

It requires you to keep your legs stiffer and lower the barbell close to the ground.

The stance of the stiff leg deadlift increases the stretch on the hamstrings and lower back, making your lower body more flexible and less prone to injuries.

How to do it: Grab an empty barbell and stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Hinging at your hips, lower the bar until it is close to the floor. Keep your knees as straight as possible (a slight bend is acceptable if you lack flexibility). Pause for two seconds, feel the stretch, and return to the start.

This stiff leg is an excellent hamstring strengthening exercise, but if you do it with the incorrect form or use more weight than your ability, you’ll end up hurting your lower back. So, make sure to perform this exercise with more focus, maintain a proper form, and pair it with other barbell hamstring exercises to achieve greater results.

5. Barbell Good Morning

hamstring exercise with barbell
LevelTarget MusclesEquipment
IntermediateHamstrings, Glute, and Lower BackBarbell

The Barbell Good Morning is an easy and effective exercise to increase hamstring and lower back strength and mobility.

It can also be used as a warm-up exercise before doing compound exercises like squats and deadlifts.

How to do it: Place a barbell on the back of your shoulder and stand straight in the hip-width stance. Brace your core and hinge at your hips without bending your knees until your chest is parallel to the floor. Pause for a moment, then slowly extend your hips to return to the standing position.

6. Reverse Lunges

Reverse Lunges, a Barbell Hamstring Workout,
LevelTarget MusclesEquipment
IntermediateQuads, Hamstrings, and GluteBarbell

The reverse lunge is an excellent exercise to hit the entire leg muscles, including the hamstrings, and enhance overall lower body strength and mobility.

How to do it: Holding a barbell on the back of your shoulders, stand upright with your feet together. Lunge backward with one of your feet until your knee touches the floor. Pause for a second, then return to the start. Perform each side.

7. Barbell Step-up

LevelTarget MusclesEquipment
AdvancedQuads, Hamstrings, Glute, and AbsBarbell and Box/Bench

The barbell step-up is a unilateral exercise that bolsters the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, increases strength, and improves balance.

It is also great for those whose one leg is dominant over the other because of muscle imbalance; they can perform the step-up and its variations to fix this issue.

How to do it: Place a bar on the back of your shoulders and stand in the normal stance. Lift your right foot off the floor and put it on an elevated object to step up. Once you step up, bring both your legs together on that object. Repeat on the opposite side.

Final Words

The hamstrings play a crucial role in running, walking, deadlifting, squatting, cycling, jumping, and hiking. The stronger the hammy, the better you’ll be at these activities.

You can train your hammies with multiple pieces of equipment, including the barbell.

The barbells provide a great range of motion, allow you to lift heavy, and help build strength and mass.

You can integrate the above barbell hamstring exercises into your training program to shape your legs and enhance lower body health.

Perform those exercises interchangeably and make your hammies stronger and more flexible than before.

Here’s how a balanced barbell hamstring workout may look:

  • Romanian Deadlift: 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Reverse Lunges: 2 sets x 10 reps/leg
  • Barbell Hip Thrust/Step-up: 2 sets x 10 reps
  • Single Leg Deadlift: 2 sets x 10 reps/leg

Alternatives to Hamstring Barbell Exercises

Related Barbell Exercises:


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Murshid Akram
I'm an online personal trainer, fitness blogger, and fitness enthusiast. I love researching and writing about exercise and nutrition. I share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you achieve your desired fitness goal.
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