If you’re one of the fitness enthusiasts who exercise at home with limited equipment like dumbbells, then this post will be helpful for you. In this article, I’ll share a complete list of dumbbell hamstring exercises with step-by-step instructions on how to do them.
Why Should You Strengthen Hamstring Muscles?
Hamstrings are three-headed muscles (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris) located on the back of your thighs, typically between the hip and the knee.
They are an essential muscle of the lower body responsible for myriad activities, such as walking, running, jumping, squatting, and deadlifting. However, it is also prone to injuries.1Dolman B, Verrall G, Reid I. Physical principles demonstrate that the biceps femoris muscle relative to the other hamstring muscles exerts the most force: implications for hamstring muscle strain injuries. Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2014;4(3):371-377. Published 2014 Nov 17.
Hamstring injury is ubiquitous among athletes, especially where running, sprinting, and jumping require. That’s why you should do exercises to strengthen your hamstrings.
The solid hams help improve your overall performance and reduce the risk of injuries.
Benefits of Doing Hamstring Exercises with Dumbbells
- Strengthening the hamstring is pretty easier with dumbbells because they are easy to carry and provide a full range of motion so you can target your muscles efficiently.
- Dumbbells provide mechanic and metabolic overload that lead to muscle growth. Mechanic overload happens when you lift heavy dumbbells, and moderate-weight dumbbells combined with high reps provide metabolic overload.2 5 Benefits of Dumbbell Training by Pete McCall – American Council of Exercise (ACE)
- Dumbbells put less stress on the joints compared to the barbells. When you perform the hamstring exercises with barbells, you’ll feel slightly more stress on the lumbar spine. So if you feel discomfort training your hams with barbells, you can use the dumbbells.
- Dumbbells allow you do unilateral exercises so that you can focus more on your weaker hamstrings if you have any. For example, you can do the cross-body Romanian deadlift and dumbbell swings using one arm or leg at a time.
- You can do various hamstring exercises with dumbbells at home or in the gym compared to any other workout equipment.
The Ultimate List of Dumbbell Exercises For Hamstrings
- Dumbbell Leg Curl
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
- Dumbell Stiff-Legged Deadlift
- DB Hamstring Bridges/Hip Thrust
- Dumbbell Good Morning
- Dumbbell Hamstring March
- Single-Leg Dumbbell RDL
- Lateral Dumbbell Step-up
- Dumbbell Reverse Lunge
- Dumbell Reverse Lunge To Romanian Deadlift
- Dumbbell Sumo Squats
- Dumbbell Swings
- Dumbbell Front Lunges
- Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
- Dumbbell Lateral Lunges
Best Dumbbell Hamstring Exercises
1. Lying 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.
How to do a DB leg curl:
- Lie prone on a flat bench with your knees at the end of the bench.
- Extend your legs behind and clamp a dumbbell between your feet. You can hold the sides of the bench for support.
- 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.
- Hold for a moment and then return to the start. That’s your one repetition.
2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift helps strengthen the posterior chain muscles, primarily the hamstrings3McAllister 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. Various athletes and fitness professionals widely use it to reinforce the hams, glutes, and lower back.
The RDL has several variations., such as the staggered-stance deadlift, Crossbody RDL, and many more – so depending on your fitness level, you can do the one that suits you the most.
Here’s how to perform a standard DB RDL:
- Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and stand upright in the hip-width stance.
- Keep your back upright and arms straight in front of your thighs with palms facing in.
- Pushing your hips back, bend your knees softly, and lean forward until the dumbbells are close to the shin.
- Pressing through your heels, return to the standing position. That is your one repetition.
3. Dumbell Stiff-Legged Deadlift
The stiff-leg deadlift is an advanced dumbbell hamstring workout. 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.
Steps to perform DB stiff leg deadlift:
- Hold one dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip and stand upright in the hip-width stance.
- Keep your arms straight in front of you with your palms facing inward.
- Keep your core tight and bend at your hips until your torso is parallel to the floor.
- Hold for a second, and then slowly rise up by squeezing through your heels. That is your one repetition.
4. DB Glute Bridges/Hip Thrust
How to do a glute brige:
- Grab one dumbbell with both hands and lie on the floor on your back.
- Bend your knees like you do while performing crunches and keep your feet flat. And hold the dumbbell on your lower abdomen.
- Now, raise your hips approximately 2 inches off the floor, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings and then lower your hips back on the floor. That is your one repetition.
- Suggested sets and reps: 2 x 6-10 reps on each side.
5. Dumbbell Good Morning
The Good morning is one of the many exercises that reinforce the posterior chain muscle group, such as hams and lower back.
It provides a good stretch to hamstring muscles and helps build defined legs.
You can also do the Good morning exercise with barbells and kettlebells.
How to do it:
- Hold a dumbbell and place it in the crook of your elbows with the support of your front deltoid.
- Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart, back straight, and core tight. That’s your starting position.
- To begin the next step, bend at your hips and lean forward until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings or your chest is parallel to the ground.
- 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.
6. Dumbbell Hamstring March
The hamstring march is one of the least known dumbbell exercises for hamstrings.
It is an excellent workout where you have to do two movements concurrently: walking and deadlifting.
It also works on the core and improves overall mobility when done correctly.
How to do dumbbell hamstring march:
- Holding a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip, stand upright with your feet together.
- Take a short step forward, and hinging at your hips, bend your torso forward until the dumbbells are close to the floor.
- Pushing through your heels, return to the upright position, take a step with another foot, and repeat the same steps.
- Make sure your back remains flat and your arms straight during the movement.
7. Single-Leg Dumbbell RDL
If you want to challenge your strength and balance, you can do the single-leg RDL. It is an advanced dumbbell hamstring workout that works on the glutes and the core.
How to do it:
- Grab one dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip and stand tall in the shoulder-width stance.
- Hold your arms straight in front of your thighs with palms facing your body.
- 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.
- 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.
- Perform an equal number of sets and reps on each side.
8. Dumbbell Step-up
The step-up is one of the best dumbbell leg workouts that forges quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Unlike squats, it is soft on the lower back but provides nearly the same benefits. So doing this exercise on your leg day can be pretty helpful.
How to do the DB step up:
- Holding one dumbbell in each hand, stand tall against a box or bench. Hold your arms straight at your side with palms facing inward.
- Step your right foot on the box, and driving through your heel, bring your left leg until your knees are fully extended.
- Reverse the movement to return to the start. Do as many reps and sets as you like.
9. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge
The reverse lunge isn’t primarily a hamstring workout but engages various lower body muscles. Therefore, you can combine it with other hamstring exercises to get the best results.
- Stand tall in the normal stance and grasp a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip.
- Hold the dumbbells at your sides with your arms straight and palms facing in.
- Take one big step backward with your right leg while keeping your right foot firmly on the ground.
- Lower your hips until your left knee touches the ground.
- You can continue lunging with the same leg for the desired number of repetitions, then switch to the other side.
- Do as many reps and sets as you like.
- Keep your core tight and maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement.
10. Dumbell Reverse Lunge To Romanian Deadlift
If you don’t feel the work on your hams during the reverse lunges, you can add RDL to it. The reverse lunges to RDL help you target nearly every muscle of the lower body and increase strength, mobility, and mass.
How to do it:
- Perform a reverse lunge, and then do a single-leg Romanian deadlift to complete your first rep.
- Repeat the same number of sets and reps on each side.
Additional Dumbbell Exercises For Hamstrings
1. Dumbbell Sumo Squat
The wide stance squat primarily builds up the inner and side thighs but also activates the hamstrings muscles to some extent. And to build sturdy hams, you should incorporate various exercises into your lower body workout routine.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip.
- Stand upright with your feet two times wider than hip-width apart with your feet pointing out.
- You can hold your arms straight in front of you (with the dumbbell) or bend your elbows and hold it at your chest level. Whichever suits you.
- Pushing your hips back to squat down until your hamstrings are parallel to the ground. And make sure your back is straight during the movement.
- Then push through your heels to stand straight and make sure your inner thighs are engaged as you return to the starting position. That is your one repetition.
2. Dumbbell Swings
The dumbbell swing, an alternative to the kettlebell swing, is a high-intense Crossfit workout that strengthens various muscles, including hamstrings, core, and shoulder. Moreover, it improves your speed and balance and burns many calories in a short time.
- Holding a dumbbell with your hands, stand upright in the hip-width stance.
- Slightly bend your knees to hinge forward and keep your arms straight so the dumbbell is between your legs. That’s the start.
- Now push your hips back and thrust it forward to swing the dumbbell in front of you until it reaches your face height.
- Repeat for the desired number of sets and reps.
3. Dumbbell Front Lunges
- Grab one dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip and stand tall in the normal stance. Keep your arms straight, and Hold the dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing inward.
- Take one big step forward with your left leg, and lower your hips to the floor until your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle or your right chin is parallel to the ground. Make sure your back is straight and chest up during the lunges.
- Squeezing through your right leg, bring your left leg back to the starting position. And then repeat with your right leg to complete one rep.
- You can also continue lunging with the same leg for the desired number of repetitions, then switch to the other side.
- Suggested sets and reps: 3 x 8-12 reps
4. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip and stand tall in the normal stance. Hold your arms straight at your sides so that your palms are facing inward.
- Place the instep of your left foot on a bench or bed and keep your feet about three feet apart.
- Now, lower your hips, so your left knee comes close to the ground, and then push through your right heel to return to the starting position. That is your one repetition.
- Suggested sets and reps: 2 x 12-15 reps on each side
5. Lateral Lunges With Dumbbells
- Grab one dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip and stand tall in the normal stance. Hold your arms extended at your side with palms facing inward.
- Take a wide step to the right side with your right leg while keeping your left foot firmly on the ground.
- At the same time, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower your body until your right thigh is parallel with the ground. And then press through your left foot in the ground to get back to the standing position. That is your one repetition.
- Recommended sets and reps: 2 x 12-15 reps on each side
FAQs Dumbbell Hamstring Workout
What are the three best exercises for the hamstrings?
Lying dumbbell leg curl, Romanian deadlift, and Good morning are the three best dumbbell exercises for beginners. However, leg curl, single-leg RDL, and hamstring march are the three best dumbbell hamstring exercises for intermediate and advanced.
How Often Should You Train Your Hamstrings?
You should train your hamstrings at least once a week, whether you train with or without the weight.
Can You Do Dumbbell Hamstring Exercises For Injury and Rehabilitation?
I couldn’t tell you whether you should train your injured hamstrings with dumbbells or not. It depends on the kind of injury you have or had. Therefore, it would be to consult your physician.
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- 1Dolman B, Verrall G, Reid I. Physical principles demonstrate that the biceps femoris muscle relative to the other hamstring muscles exerts the most force: implications for hamstring muscle strain injuries. Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2014;4(3):371-377. Published 2014 Nov 17.
- 25 Benefits of Dumbbell Training by Pete McCall – American Council of Exercise (ACE)
- 3McAllister 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