Consider hitting an unassisted full range of motion rep to be the holy grail of hamstring training.
The hamstrings are my favorite muscle group. Hands down.
Maybe it's because it's my biggest and best muscle group, most likely from years of hip-dominant compensation when I was dealing with over a decade of knee pain and four knee surgeries by the time I was 22.
Or maybe it's because the hamstrings are a serious performance muscle.
In fact, most sprinting researchers believe that the hamstrings—which produce both knee flexion and hip extension—are the most important muscle group when it comes to sprinting.
That's also why you need to perform two types of hamstring exercises for complete development: ones that require movement at the hip (like hip hinges) and others that require movement at the knee (like leg curls).
Not to mention the fact that well-developed hamstrings make you look like a boss from a profile view. Nothing's worse than having killer legs from a front view but then you turn to the side and your thighs look like a reverse half moon.
So whether your goal is aesthetics or performance, it's in your best interest to start hammering those hamstrings.
Start with these 3 moves from natural bodybuilder Julian "The Quad Guy" Smith:
1. Toes-elevated stiff-legged deadlift
Julian calls this "the best mass movement for those hammies!" Be sure to keep your knees "stiff" with a slight quarter bend throughout the exercise. Plus, elevating your toes pre-stretches the hamstrings, making the exercise more difficult and more stimulating with the same load.
"I keep my sets around 4 to 6 and reps between 6 to 12, usually utilizing time under tension tempo work," says Smith. Use a smooth 3- to 4-second lowering phase (or negative) with a distinct pause at the bottom. Only go as low as you can while maintaining a flat back position.
2. Reverse decline bench dumbbell leg curl
No leg curl machine? No problem! Use this old school exercise as a hack to get that dedicated knee flexion work in for those lower hamstrings. Julian recommends "pointing the toes together and heels out creating an upside down V with your feet to properly hold the dumbbell in place."
Do 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps. Julian likes to go slow up and slow down on these to really increase the mind-muscle connection.
3. Nordic curl
This is without a doubt the hardest hamstring exercise on the planet and it uses nothing but your own bodyweight. "I call these the pull-ups of the hamstrings. It's just your bodyweight but they will crush your soul," says Smith.
Julian recommends 3 to 4 sets of max reps to failure. The key is to use slow negatives and to pause briefly at the bottom of the movement when the hamstrings are fully stretched.
Use as much assistance from your arms as needed to propel you back up. In the beginning that will most likely mean a full pushup but progress to using just fingertip assistance as needed. Consider hitting an unassisted full range of motion rep to be the holy grail of hamstring training.
And don't forget this key performance pointer from Smith: "Be sure to push the knees together on the contraction. It has helped me build a much stronger mind-muscle connection!"