The Only 8 Dumbbell Hamstring Exercises You Need to Build Muscle

In this article, I’ve shared eight of the most effective dumbbell exercises, which particularly focus on strengthening hamstring muscles and will help you build athletic legs over time.

Here is a quick list of all those exercises I’m going to discuss in this blog:

  • Leg Curl
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Stiff-Legged Deadlift
  • Hamstring Bridges
  • Good Morning
  • Hamstring March
  • Single-Leg Deadlift
  • Dumbbell Swings

Whether you are a male or female, beginner or advanced, train at home or in the gym, you can use these dumbbell exercises to target your hamstrings from all angles.

Besides hamstrings, they also engage the quads, glutes, calves, and lower back and help you build robust legs.

Before I go into details of each exercise, let’s understand why you should bolster your hammies and how dumbbells can help you do that.

Why You Should Train Your Hamstrings

From lifting an object off the floor to climbing stairs, the hamstring muscles are involved in multiple activities in our daily lives.1 Afonso, J., Rocha-Rodrigues, S., Clemente, F. M., Aquino, M., Nikolaidis, P. T., Sarmento, H., Fílter, A., Olivares-Jabalera, J., & Ramirez-Campillo, R. (2021). The Hamstrings: Anatomic and Physiologic Variations and Their Potential Relationships With Injury Risk. Frontiers in physiology, 12, 694604. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.694604

The hamstrings, also known as the rear thigh, are a group of three muscles: semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris.2 Rodgers CD, Raja A. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Hamstring Muscle. [Updated 2023 Apr 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546688/

These muscles primarily work when you flex your knees backward or lean forward.

Here are 5 crucial reasons to train your hamstrings:

  1. Take Your Athletic Performance to The Next Level: Strong hamstrings help improve performance, whether you lift weights in the gym, run on the track, or jump on the box.
  2. Reduce The Risk Of Injuries: Strengthening the hamstrings can reduce the risk of injuries, such as hamstring strains and lower back pain.3 Wan, X., Li, S., Best, T. M., Liu, H., Li, H., & Yu, B. (2021). Effects of flexibility and strength training on peak hamstring musculotendinous strains during sprinting. Journal of sport and health science, 10(2), 222–229. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2020.08.001
  3. Build Proportional Legs: Training the hamstrings helps create balanced and proportional legs, improving muscle symmetry and aesthetics.
  4. Improve Balance and Flexibility: Some hamstring dumbbell exercises, such as Romanian Deadlifts and Single-leg DL, involve bending forward and standing on one leg, which helps promote balance and makes the lower body flexible.
  5. Supports Other Muscles: The hamstrings also provide stability to your glutes and lower back, improving overall lower body health.4 Are your hamstrings working double duty? – Harvard Health Publishing

Benefits of Training Your Hamstrings with Dumbbells

  1. Strengthening the hamstring is much easier with dumbbells because they are easy to carry and provide a full range of motion so you can target your muscles efficiently.
  2. Dumbbells provide a mechanical and metabolic overload that leads to muscle growth. Mechanic overload happens when you lift heavy dumbbells, and moderate-weight dumbbells combined with high reps provide metabolic overload.5 5 Benefits of Dumbbell Training by Pete McCall – American Council of Exercise (ACE)
  3. Dumbbells put less stress on the joints compared to the barbells. When you perform the barbell hamstring exercises, you’ll feel slightly more stress on the lumbar spine. In that case, dumbbells can be a great alternative.
  4. Dumbbells allow you to do unilateral exercises so that you can focus more on your weaker hamstrings if you have any. For example, you can do the single-leg deadlift and hamstring march that focuses on one leg at a time.

8 Best Dumbbell Hamstring Exercises to Build Robust Legs

Best dumbbell exercises for hamstrings

1. Dumbbell Leg Curl

The dumbbell lying leg curl is an isolation workout that specifically targets and strengthens the hamstring muscles and is an excellent alternative to a leg curl machine.6 Snarr, Ronald MEd, CSCS1; Esco, Michael R. PhD, CSCS2. Lying Hamstring Curl With a Dumbbell. Strength and Conditioning Journal 36(2):p 82-84, April 2014. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000038

About Exercise:

  • Experience Require: Beginner
  • Movement Type: Bilateral
  • Other Engaged Muscles: Glutes
  • Additional Equipment: You can use a bench to train your hamstrings more effectively.

Steps to do it:

  1. Lie prone on a flat bench with your knees at the end of the bench.
  2. Extend your legs behind and clamp a dumbbell between your feet. You can hold the sides of the bench for support.
  3. Keeping your hips fixed on the bench, smoothly lift your leg off the floor and curl toward your buttocks until your knees are fully bent.
  4. Hold for a moment and then return to the start.

Additional Tips

I suggest performing this exercise with a full range of motion, extending your legs fully at the bottom and curling the weight as close to your glutes as possible.

It would also be best to lower the weight deliberately, feel the stretch, and use the benefits of eccentric reps.

Those who don’t have a bench can do it on the floor.

How to Program

I recommend performing three to four sets of 12-15 reps using moderate dumbbells, preferably as your first or second hamstring exercise.

2. Romanian Deadlift

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift Form

The Romanian deadlift helps strengthen the posterior chain muscles, primarily the hamstrings, and makes the lower body strong and flexible.7McAllister 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.

About Exercise:

  • Experience Require: Intermediate
  • Movement Type: Bilateral
  • Other Engaged Muscles: Lower Back
  • Additional Equipment: Using a gym waist belt can protect your lower back and help you lift heavy dumbbells.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and stand upright in the hip-width stance.
  2. Keep your back upright and arms straight in front of your thighs with palms facing in.
  3. Pushing your hips back, bend your knees softly, and lean forward until the dumbbells are close to the shin.
  4. Pressing through your heels, return to the standing position.

Additional Tips

Keep the dumbbells close to your body and lower them slowly to feel a stretch in your hamstrings.

How to Program

Perform four sets, combining moderate and fewer rep sets. 6-8 reps with heavy dumbbells will increase your strength, and 8-12 will help you work on improving proportion.

3. Stiff-Legged Deadlift

The stiff-leg deadlift is an advanced exercise. It is slightly different than RDL because during the SLD, you lower dumbbells until they reach your toes instead of the shin. Hence, it stretches your hamstring more and improves balance. So, if RDL is easy for you, you can try this deadlift variation.8 Kawama, Raki & Takahashi, Katsuki & Wakahara, Taku. (2020). Effect of Hip Joint Position on Electromyographic Activity of the Individual Hamstring Muscles During Stiff-Leg Deadlift. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Publish Ahead of Print. 1. 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003442

About Exercise:

  • Experience Require: Intermediate
  • Movement Type: Bilateral
  • Other Engaged Muscles: Glute, Lower Back, and Abs
  • Additional Equipment: Waist Gym Belt

Steps to do it:

  1. Hold one dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip and stand upright in the hip-width stance.
  2. Keep your arms straight in front of you with your palms facing inward.
  3. Keep your core tight and bend at your hips until your torso is parallel to the floor.
  4. Hold for a second, and then slowly rise up by squeezing through your heels. That is your one repetition.

How to Program

Perform three sets of 6-12 reps. I recommend substituting the Romanian DL with this stiff-leg deadlift because they work similarly.

Additional Tips

If you want to feel more stretched in your hammies, avoid bending your knees. Also, ensure the dumbbells are close to the body, and the back is flat throughout the movement.

4. Hamstring Bridge

The feet-elevated bridge primarily bolsters the hamstring and glute, improves hip flexibility, enhances lower back strength, and builds a resilient lower body.9 Tsaklis, Panagiotis et al. “Muscle and intensity based hamstring exercise classification in elite female track and field athletes: implications for exercise selection during rehabilitation.” Open access journal of sports medicine vol. 6 209-17. 26 Jun. 2015, doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S79189

About Exercise:

  • Experience Require: Beginner
  • Movement Type: Bilateral
  • Other Engaged Muscles: Glute, Lower Spine, and Abdominals
  • Additional Equipment: Bench/Box/Bed

Steps to do it:

  1. Lie against a flat bench and place your legs on it, knees bent (90 degrees), and heels facing away.
  2. Grab a dumbbell, keep it on your lower abdomen, and brace your abdominal muscles.
  3. Now, thrust your hips upward, squeezing your glutes and hamstrings until your knees, hips, and chest are aligned.
  4. Pause for a moment, feel the contraction, then lower your hips back on the floor.

Additional Tips

Press through your heels and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips off the floor. Slowly return your hips to the ground, feeling the full contraction in your targeted muscles.

How to Program

Perform three sets of 10-15 reps, preferably after the hamstring deadlift and leg curl. If you want to train your entire legs on the same day, you can do it at the end because it is a low-impact exercise that can be done even when you have low energy.

5. Good Morning

The Good Morning involves bending forward at your hips, reinforcing your hamstrings and glutes simultaneously, and improving hip mobility. It provides a good stretch to hamstring muscles and helps build defined legs.10 Vigotsky AD, Harper EN, Ryan DR, Contreras B. Effects of Load on Good Morning Kinematics and EMG activity. PeerJ. 2015 Jan 6;3:e708. doi: 10.7717/peerj.708. PMID: 25653899; PMCID: PMC4304869.

About Exercise:

  • Experience Require: Intermediate
  • Movement Type: Bilateral
  • Other Engaged Muscles: Lower Back and Core
  • Additional Equipment: None

Steps to do it:

  1. Hold a dumbbell and place it in the crook of your elbows with the support of your front deltoid.
  2. Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart, back straight, and core tight. That’s your starting position.
  3. To begin the next step, bend your hips and lean forward until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings or your chest is parallel to the ground.
  4. Hold for a couple of seconds in that position, and slowly bring your torso to the upright position. That’s one rep. You’ll feel the good stretch in your hams when returning to the start.

How to Program

You can do the Good Morning exercise as your first exercise to effectively stretch your hamstring muscles and prepare for compound lifts, such as RDL and step-ups. Perform three sets of 8-12 reps with a light dumbbell.

Additional Tips

When doing good mornings, focus on hinging at your hips rather than bending your spine. Plus, don’t lower your torso too much, especially if it causes your back to round.

6. Hamstring March

The hamstring march involves two concurrent movements: walking and deadlifting, making it an excellent exercise for hammering hamstrings and other lower body muscles simultaneously.

It is not as popular as dumbbell leg curl or hamstring bridge, but it can be as effective as those exercises for activating the posterior thigh and improving your leg’s muscularity.

About Exercise:

  • Experience Require: Beginner
  • Movement Type: Unilateral
  • Other Engaged Muscles: Lower Back, Quads, Abs, and Glutes
  • Additional Equipment: None

Steps to do it:

  1. Holding a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip, stand upright with your feet together.
  2. Take a short step forward, and bend your torso forward, hinging at your hips, until the dumbbells are close to the floor.
  3. Pushing through your heels, return to the upright position, take a step with another foot, and repeat the same steps.

How to Program

You can start your hamstring workout with this exercise. It will activate your hammies and increase blood flow around your posterior leg, preparing you for intermediate and advanced exercises. Perform three sets of 30 seconds using light dumbbells.

Additional Tips

Take a little step forward and focus on engaging your hamstring muscles. Perform more reps on your weaker side and try to even out muscle imbalance if you feel one side dominates the other.

7. Single-Leg Deadlift

The single-leg deadlift is a unilateral exercise, allowing you to train every leg individually and helping you correct strength imbalance.

It primarily targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back while also improving balance, coordination, and abdominal strength.11 Diamant, Wiktor et al. “Comparison of EMG Activity between Single-Leg Deadlift and Conventional Bilateral Deadlift in Trained Amateur Athletes – An Empirical Analysis.” International Journal of Exercise Science vol. 14,1 187-201. 1 Apr. 2021

About Exercise:

  • Experience Require: Advanced
  • Movement Type: Unilateral
  • Other Engaged Muscles: Glutes, Quads, Abs, and Lower Back
  • Additional Equipment: None

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab one dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip and stand tall in the shoulder-width stance.
  2. Hold your arms straight in front of your thighs with palms facing your body.
  3. Pushing your hips back, lean forward (with a soft bend in your knee), and raise your right leg behind you until you feel a good contraction in your hamstrings.
  4. Hold for a moment, and then slowly extend your hips until you return to standing. Make sure to generate strength through your feet to get into the upright position, as it engages the hamstring muscles effectively.

How to Program

I recommend performing the single-leg deadlifts after your compound movements. This allows you to prioritize heavy, compound lifts while still giving attention to unilateral strength and stability. Aim for 3-4 sets of 6-8 per leg, focusing on quality movement and control.

Additional Tips

If you’re new to single-leg deadlifts or trying to improve your balance and stability, it’s best to start with light weights or no weights at all. This way, you can focus on your form and gradually work your way up to heavier weights.

Make sure to keep your body stable throughout the exercise. To do this, keep your non-working leg slightly bent and lifted behind you for balance. Engage your core muscles to keep your spine and pelvis steady.

8. Dumbbell Swings

The dumbbell swing, an alternative to the kettlebell swing, is a high-intense exercise that strengthens various muscles, including the hamstrings, core, and shoulder.

It involves hip hinge movement that contracts the hamstrings to extend the hip joint, making it a suitable exercise for limbering up your hamstrings.

Steps to do it:

  1. Holding a dumbbell with your hands, stand upright in the hip-width stance.
  2. Slightly bend your knees to hinge forward and keep your arms straight so the dumbbell is between your legs. That’s the start.
  3. Now, push your hips back and thrust them forward to swing the dumbbell in front of you until it reaches your face height.

How to Program

Perform this exercise at the start of your hamstring training. The dumbbell swings will help you focus on the explosive hip hinge movement and prepare your hamstrings for compound and isolation exercises. Do 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps with 45-60 seconds of rest between them.

Additional Tips

Focus on contracting your hamstrings throughout the exercise, especially when you lift and lower the dumbbell. Imagine pulling up the dumbbell with your hamstrings. Depending on your fitness level, you can perform both single-arm and dual-arm dumbbell swings.

How to Plan a Dumbbell Hamstring Workout?

Dumbbell Hamstring Workout

While designing a hamstring dumbbell workout, it’s crucial to pick a variety of exercises that target the focus muscles from different angles.

Here’s an example of a 30-minute dumbbell workout for building solid and flexible hamstrings:

  • Dumbbell Swings: 2 sets x 15 reps, 45-second rest
  • Hamstrings March: 2 sets x 30 seconds, 45-second rest
  • Romanian/Stiff-leg Deadlift: 3 sets x 10-12 reps, 2-minute rest
  • Leg Curl: 4 sets x 12-15 reps, 90-second rest
  • Hamstring Bridge: 3 sets x 10-12 reps, 1-minute rest

You can also design a program for yourself using the exercises I’ve mentioned above.

How Often Should You Train Your Hamstrings?

You should train your hamstrings at least once a week, considering you only want to maintain strong posterior thighs. However, you can train twice a week if you want to make your hamstring stronger.

Wrapping It Up

Training your hamstrings is crucial for achieving goals such as running longer, lifting heavier, or strengthening your legs.

You can bolster your hamstrings with multiple pieces of equipment, such as barbells, machines, and resistance bands.

However, if you want to do it with dumbbells only, you can do the following exercises: Leg Curl, RDL, SDL, Hamstring Bridge, Good Morning, Hamstring March, Single-leg DL, and DB swings.

These dumbbell exercises train your hamstrings from all angles and help you build strength, muscle, and flexibility.

Strong hammies improve leg aesthetics, balance, and flexibility, support the glutes and lower spine, reduce the risk of posterior chain injuries, and promote athletic performance.

References

  • 1
    Afonso, J., Rocha-Rodrigues, S., Clemente, F. M., Aquino, M., Nikolaidis, P. T., Sarmento, H., Fílter, A., Olivares-Jabalera, J., & Ramirez-Campillo, R. (2021). The Hamstrings: Anatomic and Physiologic Variations and Their Potential Relationships With Injury Risk. Frontiers in physiology, 12, 694604. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2021.694604
  • 2
    Rodgers CD, Raja A. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Hamstring Muscle. [Updated 2023 Apr 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546688/
  • 3
    Wan, X., Li, S., Best, T. M., Liu, H., Li, H., & Yu, B. (2021). Effects of flexibility and strength training on peak hamstring musculotendinous strains during sprinting. Journal of sport and health science, 10(2), 222–229. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2020.08.001
  • 4
    Are your hamstrings working double duty? – Harvard Health Publishing
  • 5
    5 Benefits of Dumbbell Training by Pete McCall – American Council of Exercise (ACE)
  • 6
    Snarr, Ronald MEd, CSCS1; Esco, Michael R. PhD, CSCS2. Lying Hamstring Curl With a Dumbbell. Strength and Conditioning Journal 36(2):p 82-84, April 2014. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000038
  • 7
    McAllister 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
  • 8
    Kawama, Raki & Takahashi, Katsuki & Wakahara, Taku. (2020). Effect of Hip Joint Position on Electromyographic Activity of the Individual Hamstring Muscles During Stiff-Leg Deadlift. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Publish Ahead of Print. 1. 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003442
  • 9
    Tsaklis, Panagiotis et al. “Muscle and intensity based hamstring exercise classification in elite female track and field athletes: implications for exercise selection during rehabilitation.” Open access journal of sports medicine vol. 6 209-17. 26 Jun. 2015, doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S79189
  • 10
    Vigotsky AD, Harper EN, Ryan DR, Contreras B. Effects of Load on Good Morning Kinematics and EMG activity. PeerJ. 2015 Jan 6;3:e708. doi: 10.7717/peerj.708. PMID: 25653899; PMCID: PMC4304869.
  • 11
    Diamant, Wiktor et al. “Comparison of EMG Activity between Single-Leg Deadlift and Conventional Bilateral Deadlift in Trained Amateur Athletes – An Empirical Analysis.” International Journal of Exercise Science vol. 14,1 187-201. 1 Apr. 2021
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Author
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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