You're asking and I'm answering . . .
Last week you answered another reader's question about weak quads and how to strengthen them. Well, I have the opposite problem — weak hamstrings. Can you help me whip them into shape?
— How to Hamstrings
I am so glad you asked this question, because balance in the leg muscles is important for the health of your knees and hips. To see what you should do for your hamstrings, read more.
The hamstrings, made of three muscles on the back of your thigh, are primarily responsible for bending your knees and bringing your thigh behind you, also described as extending your hip. You want your hamstring to be strong in both those ranges of motion. One of my favorite ways to target the backs of my legs is hamstring curls on the ball, because this works both motions of the hamstrings. Weight machines target the hamstring beautifully. You should try the lying hamstring curl, but do not crunch your low back in that exercise and keep the range of motion small and the weights light in the beginning. A great exercise that targets the hamstring and requires no equipment is the Pilates bridge with kick.
Romanian deadlifts will work the hip extension function of the hamstrings, as will the hyperextension bench, which targets the entire back of your body and your hamstrings. Lunges, especially backward lunges will work the hamstrings even though the glutes will work more during lunges.
You can work your hamstrings too when working out on cardio equipment. Walk up stairs by pressing your heels into the step. Caution this doesn't work when you are wearing high heels. Same goes for how you use your feet on the elliptical, stair stepper, or exercise bike, press through your heels to engage your hamstrings. Also, working in the reverse mode on an elliptical will target your hamstrings.
You do want to make sure your hamstring stays flexible too. Nothing is worse than pulling a hamstring, so do stretch the backs of your legs when the muscles are warm and more elastic. Make sure your quads and hip flexors are loose too, so you can work your hamstrings through a full range of motion. Here are some great stretches for the front of your thighs.