Do Squats Work Hamstrings? 5 Squat Variations For Hamstrings

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A close up of a man performing squats to strengthen his leg muscles

squats and hamstrings | squat variations | hamstring muscle injuries | Tips | Exercises for hamstrings | Benefits

Hamstrings are biarticular muscles that cross two joints- the hip and the knee. As such, they serve two primary body movements- knee flexion and hip extension.

Although squats are great lower-body exercises, they don’t work on the hamstrings as much as they work other lower-body muscles. However, you can still target the hamstrings to some extent.

Do squats work hamstrings?

Yes, squats work hamstrings but not as a primary muscle. The primary muscles that squats work are the quadriceps, adductors, and glutes.

A study [1]PubMed: Effects of squat training with different depths on lower limb muscle volumes claims that in 10 weeks of squat training, there was no considerable impact on hamstrings, whereas quads, glutes, and adductors grew significantly.

Where is the hamstring muscle?

A study on the anatomy of hamstrings demonstrates that hamstrings [2]PubMed: Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Hamstring Muscle are a part of the thigh muscles and are located at the back of the thighs. It is a group of three muscles that includes:

  • Biceps femoris (inner hamstring)
  • Semimembranosus (middle hamstring)
  • Semitendinosus (outer hamstring)

Function of the hamstring muscles

As hamstrings cross both hip and knee joints, they play an essential role in physical activities like standing, walking, sprinting, climbing stairs, and jumping. Functions of the hamstring muscles include:

  • rotating the hip joint
  • extending the hip joint
  • bending the knee joint

Hamstring muscle activity in the squat 

Research [3]PubMed: EMG analysis of lower extremity muscle recruitment patterns during an unloaded squat claims that your hamstrings muscles get activated in two ways during squats:

  • The primary activity of the hamstring is to provide stabilizing force at the knee. 
  • The secondary activity is to direct force on the shin bone in opposition to the anterior (front) tibial force generated by the quads. 

However, another study [4]National Library of Medicine: Biceps Femoris Activation during Hamstring Strength Exercises: A Systematic Review on the biceps femoris muscle suggests that hamstring muscle activation during squats is less effective than other hamstring exercises.

5 Best squat variations for hamstrings

Here are the five best squat variations you can include in your workout routine to work on your hamstrings muscle.

1. Back squat

To work your hamstrings muscle, you can do a back squat with a barbell. This squat exercise is one of the best compound exercises to build hamstrings to some extent. The deeper you squat, the more you target your hamstrings muscle.

2. Sumo squat

Sumo squats activate the hamstrings and adductor magnus to a significant degree. When you perform deep sumo squats, you increase the muscle activity of the hamstrings. This is because of the extended range of motion involved in sumo squats.

3. Box squat

When you do box squats, your hamstrings work more than other squats. This is because box squats involve a greater range of motion and require you to use your hamstrings more to stabilize your body.

4. Pause Squat

Pause squats are another exercise that can help you work your hamstrings. This is because the pause in this squat form forces you to use your hamstrings more in order to control the movement.

5. Kang Squat

The Kang squat is a combination of good morning and back squat exercises. Towards the end of the movement, the hamstrings and the hips are at work when the back squat transitions into the good morning position. This movement gives a good stretch to the hamstrings and enhances hip mobility simultaneously.

Common hamstring muscle injuries during squats

Hamstrings control movement and help to stabilize your body when you squat. Thus, you may injure your hamstrings if you don’t maintain proper squat form or technique. There are three main types of hamstring muscle injuries:

  1. Biceps femoris tendon tear: When you perform a deep squat, the biceps femoris tendon can roll over the femur. This causes a microscopic tear within the tendon.
  2. Semimembranosus tendon tear: Excessive knee flexion during a squat can lead to a semimembranosus tendon tear.
  3. Semitendinosus tendon tear: Overstretching or overloading weight during squats can lead to a semitendinosus tendon tear.

Tips to target hamstrings in squats

Although squats do not primarily target the hamstrings, you can still activate them. Here are a few tips you can follow to target hamstrings safely during squats.

Focus on the involvement of hamstrings

As you rise from the squat position, drive your heels into the ground and squeeze your glutes to focus on your hamstrings. This movement will help to target the muscle and work it out more.

Know the muscle contraction

When you squat, your hamstrings work both concentrically and eccentrically. Concentric muscle contraction is when the muscle shortens, while eccentric muscle contraction is when the muscle lengthens.

For example, when you lower into the squat position, your hips flex, making your hamstrings contract eccentrically. And, when you rise into a standing position, your legs extend, making your hamstrings contract concentrically.

Don’t stress your knees too much

The hamstrings must be strong enough to counterbalance the force of the quadriceps, or your knees will move forward while you squat. To avoid knee injury, keep your knees in line with your toes. When the knee goes past the toes, it puts too much pressure on the joint.

Proper squat form

To target your hamstrings more, you need to have proper squat form. To improve your squat form, keep your chest up, your back straight, and your knees in line with your toes. When you lower into the squat, make sure to go as deep as possible. This will help you work your hamstrings more. However, go only as deep as you can without stressing your knees.

What other exercises are good for hamstrings?

If you are keen on building strong hamstrings, you must try specific knee flexion and hip extension exercises.

Here are targeted hamstring exercises to add to your routine.

  • Romanian deadlift
  • Seated leg curl
  • Lying leg curls
  • Barbell hip thrust
  • Barbell deadlifts
  • Single leg deadlift
  • Dumbbell swing
  • Reverse nordic curls

Benefits of working on hamstrings

There are many benefits of working on your hamstrings, especially if you are looking to develop hamstring strength. Here are the benefits of working on hamstrings.

  • Improves flexibility
  • Relieves back pain
  • Reduces risk of injury
  • Maintains good posture
  • Improves athletic performance

Conclusion

Squats will not work effectively on your hamstrings. If you want to build your hamstrings, try other hamstring exercises. However, if your goal is just to activate the hamstrings but not primarily target them, you can stick to squats. Talk to a certified personal trainer to assist you in picking the right exercises based on your fitness goals.

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