The hamstrings are easily one of the most under-trained muscle groups. One of the reasons the hamstrings are so neglected is most people aren’t aware of the best ways to train them for muscular size.
I’m going to solve this problem once and for all with the 9 best hamstrings workouts for mass!
- Workout #1: Nick Mitchell’s Posterior Chain Giant Set From Hell
- Workout #2: Dorian Yates’ Forced Reps Hamstrings Workout
- Workout #3: Origin-Insertion Supersets
- Workout #4: A Brutal Japanese Drop Set Workout
- Workout #5: Supra-Maximal Eccentric Training
- Workout #6: Charles Poliquin’s Tri-sets x 2 Hamstrings Workout
- Workout #7: Pre-Exhaust Posterior Chain Giant Set
- Workout #8: Rest-Pause Training
- Workout #9: A High Volume Straight Sets Workout
In this comprehensive guide I’m going to teach you 9 of the most effective hamstrings hypertrophy workouts of all time.
I have included detailed instructions on how to perform every routine as well as training videos showing you the exact form that you should use for every exercise.
If you have any trouble reading or interpreting these workouts then I recommend you check out my article on reading a workout program. It will teach you everything you need to know about this topic.
Now let’s get down to business…
Workout #1: Nick Mitchell’s Posterior Chain Giant Set From Hell
I started reading up on Nick Mitchell’s training ideas back in 2010. He is one of the world’s foremost body composition coaches and always has interesting things to say about training.
His ideas were mind-blowing to me back in 2010 and still are in many respects!
Through Nick Mitchell’s writings I learned how to manipulate all of the loading parameters within a workout and the importance of knowing your functional anatomy inside-and-out.
I cannot begin to tell you how much this information has improved the results of my clients.
Out of gratitude for my old mentor I would like to dedicate this posterior chain giant sets routine to Nick Mitchell.
Nick frequently designed giant sets workouts for his clients in order to help them build muscle and lose body fat as quickly as possible.
Giant sets work so well because they dramatically increase the time under tension of the set while still allowing you to use relatively heavy weights.
They also give you the opportunity to knock off as many motor units as possible and overload different points in the strength curve by using a wide variety of exercises. Check it out:
Nick Mitchell’s Posterior Chain Giant Set From Hell
- A1: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method, feet neutral)**, 4 x 6, 4/0/1/0, 10 sec rest
- A2: 90 degree back extension (holding DB), 4 x 6, 2/0/1/2, 10 sec rest
- A3: 45 Degree back extension (Barbell held in front w/ snatch grip), 4 x 6, 3/0/1/2, 10 sec rest
- A4: Bilateral lying leg curls ( Plantar Flexed, Feet Neutral), 4 x 6, 4/0/1/0. 10 sec rest
- A5: Stiff-legged deadlift, 4 x 6, 3/1/1/0, 240 sec rest
**to perform the Poliquin method on leg curls you will dorsiflex your ankles (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantar flex your ankles (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.
**See the corresponding video below for more information.
This workout calls for you to complete four total giant sets with five exercises per giant set. This means you will be doing 20 total sets for hamstrings! Talk about a tough workout!
If you are sticking to the correct rest-intervals then this workout should take you about 30 minutes to complete.
This should give you plenty of time to squeeze in some quadriceps work after the posterior chain giant sets.
If you are going to perform some quads work I recommend you stick to machines and other exercises that don’t tax the lower back.
After all, I don’t want you injuring yourself trying to do back squats with a fatigued lower back!
I am sure some of you are a little surprised by the relatively low rep ranges in this routine. After all, most giant set protocols tend to use reps in the 8-20 range to boost hypertrophy.
I can assure you that there are advantages to performing giant sets in the 6-rep range.
Nick Mitchell likes to call these “fast-twitch giant sets” because they are very effective for recruiting and fatiguing the fast-twitch muscle fibers.
This is definitely a good thing when it comes to training the hamstrings because they are composed almost entirely of fast-twitch muscle tissue!
Despite the relatively low number of reps per exercise you will still get a crazy strong pump and accumulate a TON of lactic acid from this routine.
You may even feel 2-3 inches shorter by the end of the workout due to the lower back pump!
Before moving on I will leave you with one of my favourite Nick Mitchell quotes:
“If you train like a beast you will eventually become a beast. If you train like a maggot…”
Workout #2: Dorian Yates’ Forced Reps Hamstrings Workout
If you are a fan of “high-intensity” training then you are going to love this workout! Dorian Yates was a 6 x Mr. Olympia winner and is widely regarded as one of the most dominant professional bodybuilders of all time.
Although his training style is traditionally called “low-volume” I have a hard time agreeing with this assessment.
After all, Dorian trained every body part using multiple exercises per workout. His hamstring routine alone included three separate exercises while his back routine included eight! Check it out:
Dorian Yates’ Forced Reps Hamstrings Routine
- A1: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing straight), 1 x 5-7***, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed
- B1: Romanian deadlift (to mid-shin), 1 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing straight), 1 x 5-7***, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed
***Perform 2 additional forced reps with the help of a spotter after reaching failure. To perform a forced rep your spotter provides assistance through the concentric range and you lower the weight on your own.
Dorian performed this hamstrings routine as part of his overall leg workout. He trained quads first, then hamstrings, and finally finished with calves.
This is a very well-designed hamstrings workout from the “mad genius of bodybuilding!” One of the things I like about this routine is the diverse group of exercises that Dorian trained with.
He includes exercises that address both the knee flexion function (leg curls) and the hip extension function (Romanian deadlift) of the hamstrings.
This is important because you need both of these types of exercises to fully develop the hamstrings.
One thing that does strike me as a little bit odd is his choice to perform a second variation of leg curls after performing his Romanian deadlifts.
I can’t say that I’ve seen another bodybuilder approach their training in this manner. Dorian does something similar on his triceps workout where he starts and ends his routine with some type of cable pushdown.
The bottom line is Dorian’s hamstrings routine is simply fantastic. You can read more about it in the following article:
If you are looking for a “high-intensity” hamstrings routine to shock your hamstrings into growth then I highly recommend you give Dorian’s routine here a shot.
Workout #3: Origin-Insertion Supersets
Supersets are one of the classic training methods for building muscle. They have been utilized sense at least the early 1900s and bodybuilders continue to use them today to pack on mass.
There is a simple reason for this: they produce results!
Of course an origin-insertion superset is a special type of superset. It involves supersetting two exercises that overload completely different portions of the muscle.
Leg curls emphasize the distal portion of the hamstrings near the knees. On the other hand deadlifts emphasize the proximal hamstrings near the hips.
When you superset two exercises together like this that emphasize different ends of a muscle you cause an unbelievable amount of muscular damage!
Of course your body responds to this increased muscular damage by building new muscle tissue. Check it out:
Origin-Insertion Supersets Hamstrings Routine
- A1: Back squat (heels narrow / flat), 5 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Walking lunges (holding DBs), 5 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing in), 5 x 6-8, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B2: Snatch grip Romanian deadlift, 5 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
Trust me, this workout is far tougher than it looks! You will be performing five supersets for quads followed by 5 supersets for your hamstrings.
All in all you will perform 20 gut-busting sets for legs in this workout. If you train like a beast then you will be absolutely shot by the end of this workout. If you train like a maggot…
It’s extremely important to monitor your performance during this workout.
It’s extremely normal to lose strength over the course of the workout. However, you do want to track how much strength you are losing from one superset to the next.
For this routine I recommend you use a 20% fatigue drop-off curve. In laymen’s terms this means it is acceptable for your strength to decrease up to 20% over the course of the workout.
If you lose more than 20% strength then you should stop that portion of the workout and move on. At that point you are just beating yourself into the ground for no real benefit.
For argument’s sake let’s say your performance on the seated leg curls from this routine looks like this:
- Set 1: 100 pounds x 7 reps
- Set 2: 95 pounds x 7 reps
- Set 3: 90 pounds x 6 reps
- Set 4: 80 pounds x 7 reps
On your first set you perform 7 reps with 100 pounds.
You know you are supposed to use a 20% fatigue drop-off curve for this workout so the least amount of weight you can use on leg curls is 80 pounds for 7 reps.
Your second set goes well but you are really starting to feel fatigued for your third set. You make a larger weight drop for your fourth set and only get 7 reps.
You wisely decide to skip the fifth superset for hamstrings because your strength would have dropped by more than 20%.
Don’t worry, you still got 4 very productive supersets in and you will still get awesome results from this routine. Remember, it is better to perform 4 great sets than 4 great sets and 1 lousy set.
If you want to learn more about origin-insertion supersets then check out the following article:
This article should give you plenty of ideas on how to design origin-insertion superset workouts for every body part.
Workout #4: A Brutal Japanese Drop Set Workout
Japanese drop sets are hell on earth. You have to be a real masochist to want to do this type of routine.
In fact, if you ever wake up and say “I can’t wait for my Japanese drop set workout this afternoon” then you should probably go ahead check yourself into a mental health clinic. You’ve clearly lost your mind!
If I ever get arrested I will use this as my legal defense:
- Me: “I look forward to performing a Japanese drop set workout later today.”
- The Judge: “I can’t send this guy to jail – he’s clinically insane! Quick, somebody get the psychiatric ward on the line…”
This training method was named after the team of Japanese researchers that invented it.
The start of a Japanese drop set workout is just like a classic 5 x 5 routine. You perform five sets of five reps in normal fashion.
The fifth sets is where all hell brakes loose. On the fifth set you are going to perform a quadruple drop set where five reps are performed on each portion of the drop set.
Here is what the drop set portion of the routine looks like:
- Perform 5 reps, rest 10 seconds while dropping the weight by ~10%:
- Perform 5 reps, rest 10 seconds while dropping the weight by ~10%:
- Perform 5 reps, rest 10 seconds while dropping the weight by ~10%:
- Perform 5 reps, rest 10 seconds while dropping the weight by ~10%:
- Perform 5 reps, DONE!
So the routine is five sets of five reps with the fifth set being a Japanese drop set as described above. Check it out:
Japanese Drop Set Hamstrings Routine
- A1: Front squat (heels flat / medium stance), 5 x 5**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (foot platarflexed / pointed out), 5 x 5**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Front foot elevated split squat (holding DBs), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1, 90 seconds rest
**The last set of five reps is performed as a Japanese drop set as described above.
Once again I have decided to include the quadriceps portion of this routine. This is just one of those hamstrings routines that works best when it is paired together with quadriceps work.
The heart and soul of this workout is clearly the massive drop set performed on the fifth set of five reps on the A1 and A2 exercises.
You need to be prepared to pour absolutely everything you have into these drop sets. I’m talking every ounce of your being!
If you fail to do this then you may not be rewarded with the hamstrings growth that you desire.
If you are serious about performing this workout then I recommend you have a “puke bucket” with you for the quadruple drop sets. You’ll understand why once you’re finished with your sets!
If you want to learn more about Japanese drop sets then this article is for you:
You may also enjoy my articles on using drop sets for hypertrophy and strength gains:
Workout #5: Supra-Maximal Eccentric Training
A list of some of the greatest hamstrings training routines of all time would not be incomplete without some eccentric training thrown in!
After all, the hamstrings respond extremely well to different types of eccentric training protocols.
As a general rule of thumb the more fast-twitch muscles such as the hamstrings and brachialis respond extremely well to accentuated eccentric training.
Many people seem to be of the opinion that eccentric training is only good for strength gains. Nothing could be further from the truth!
I promise you this eccentric hamstrings training routine will pack on muscle mass faster than you can say “mutated myostatin gene.” Check it out:
Supra-Maximal Eccentric Hamstrings Routine
- A1: Lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed straight)**, 5 x 4-6, 10/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Back squat (feet flat / medium stance), 5 x 8-10, 3/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: 45 degree back extension (holding DBs)****, 4 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Alternating drop lunge (2-inch platform), 4 x 10-12, 1/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
**Performed using the 2/1 method. Use 2 legs to lift the weight concentrically then 1 leg to lower the weight eccentrically over 10 seconds. That is not a typo, lower it over 10 seconds! Perform all 4-6 reps on one leg then perform all 4-6 reps on the other leg. See the corresponding video for more details.
****Hold the DBs at your chest during the concentric range, then extend your arms out straight during the concentric range. See the corresponding video for more details.
Again I have paired these hamstrings exercises together with exercises for the quadriceps.
Performing antagonistic supersets in this manner has many advantages including reducing the rate at which you fatigue during a workout and doubling your training density.
Three of these exercises can be considered eccentric exercises. The two hamstrings obviously place emphasis on the eccentric range.
However, the drop lunges are another eccentric exercise. Your leading leg has to absorb a tremendous amount of force when it makes contact with the ground.
If you want to learn more about eccentric training then the following articles are for you:
Workout #6: Charles Poliquin’s Tri-sets x 2 Hamstrings Workout
One of the challenges with maximally training the hamstrings is that the hamstrings perform two very different but important functions:
- Knee Flexion
- Hip Extension
If you want to maximally hypertrophy the hamstrings, then you must train BOTH of these functions of the hamstrings!
Don’t worry, Charles Poliquin has you covered.
Here is a hamstrings workout consisting of two separate tri-sets. The first tri-set trains the hamstrings as knee flexors while the second tri-set trains the hamstrings as hip extensors.
This creates an overwhelming amount of muscular damage and metabolic fatigue that is guaranteed to blow up your hamstrings! Check it out:
Charles Poliquin’s Hamstrings Times Two Routine
- A1: Bilateral lying leg curls (feet plantarflexed / pointing in), 4 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 10 sec rest
- A2: Bilateral lying leg curls (feet plantarflexed / pointing straight), 4 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 10 sec rest
- A3: Bilateral lying leg curls (feet plantarflexed / pointing out), 4 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 120 sec rest
- B1: Standing good mornings, 2 x 6-8, 4/0/2/0, 10 sec rest
- B2: Romanian deadlift, 2 x 10-12, 4/0/2/0, 10 sec rest
- B3: Reverse hyper extensions, 2 x 15-20, 1/0/X/0, 120 sec rest
If you are not a long-time reader of my work then you may be a little confused by the different variations of leg curls in this routine.
The leg curl tri-set uses three different foot angles to separately target all three of the hamstrings muscles.
When you do leg curls with your toes pointing in you are primarily targeting the semi-membraneous. This is a hamstrings muscle located on the medial side of the thigh.
When your feet are pointing straight ahead you are targeting the semi-tendinous, another medial hamstrings muscle.
Because most individuals exclusively perform leg curls with their feet pointed straight ahead the semi-tendinous tends to be very strong relative to the other hamstrings muscles.
Finally when you do leg curls with your feet pointed laterally you are targeting the biceps femoris muscle. This hamstrings muscle is located on the lateral half of your thigh.
The great thing about this leg curl tri-set is that all three of the hamstrings muscles receive equal attention. This is critical for maximizing muscular growth and preventing unwanted muscular imbalances.
If you are hungry for more information like this then I highly recommend you check out my comprehensive guide to leg curls. In that article I teach you how to get the most out of leg curls with 21 cutting-edge training tips.
You will probably have to decrease the weight by approximately 10% from exercise A1 to exercise A2, and from exercise A2 to exercise A3.
Likewise, you will not be using your typical loads on exercises B2 and B3, so wipe them from your memory banks.
If you are searching for a high-volume hamstrings workout then look no further. Actually this routine is great not only for hypertrophy gains, but fat loss as well!
Do not be surprised if you are limping out of the gym after this one…
If you want to learn more about using tri-sets to build muscle mass then you may enjoy the following article:
Workout #7: Pre-Exhaust Posterior Chain Giant Set
This is another extremely effective hamstrings giant set workout that you may want try.
On this workout you will pre-fatigue your hamstrings with an isolation movement before performing three compound exercises for the posterior chain.
This routine is extremely effective for developing not only the hamstrings, but the spinal erectors as well.
If you want to boost your deadlifting strength then a great option would be to run this routine for the first 2-4 weeks of a 12-16 week peaking cycle.
This accumulation-style workout will help prepare you for a huge deadlift PR at the end of your training cycle. Check it out:
Pre-Exhaust Posterior Chain Giant Set Routine
- A1: Bilateral seated leg curls (Poliquin method / feet pointing straight), 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 45 degree back extension (holding barbell w/ snatch grip), 4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Seated good morning, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: 90 degree back extension (holding DB at chest), 4 x 10-12, 2/0/1/2, 180 seconds rest
You may want to perform some additional exercises for the quadriceps to make this a more well-rounded routine.
If you go this route I suggest you perform the hamstrings portion of the workout first and stick to quadriceps exercises that are easy on your lower back.
For example, walking DB lunges and leg presses would be excellent choices. Back squats and front squats would not be good choices for this specific routine.
As a general rule of thumb I recommend you run this routine once every 3-5 days.
For example, you could train 3-4 days per week using an upper body / lower body split. You could also use a 4 days per week Poliquin-style split.
This routine is somewhat less taxing than many of the other routines in this article.
One of the reasons for this is you don’t have to perform any really demanding posterior chain exercises such as deadlifts or standing good mornings. This is on purpose!
Again, this routine works best for strength athletes who want to build a nice foundation of hypertrophy before starting a very demanding deadlift cycle.
Workout #8: Rest-Pause Training
Rest-pause training is by far one of the most effective training methods when your goal is increased hypertrophy.
In fact, Christian Thibadeau has gone so far as to call it the single greatest training method for rapidly boosting muscle mass.
The procedure for performing a rest-pause set is simple. Essentially you are performing three sets to technical failure on an exercise with 20-30 seconds rest in between sets.
For example, you could train to failure between 7-10 reps, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a second time (maybe you get 2-4 reps), rest 20-30 seconds, and finally train to failure a third time (maybe you get 1-3 reps).
Here is a fantastic rest-pause style workout routine that you can use to build up your hamstrings.
This workout was influenced by Dante’s DC Training system but it should not be regarded as a textbook DC-style workout. Check it out:
Rest-Pause Hamstrings Routine
- A1: Unilateral kneeling leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing in), 1 x 7-9**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
- B1: Machine hack squat (medium stance), 1 x 10-12**, 3/0/X/0, rest as needed
- C1: 45 degree back extension (bands), 1 x 7-9**, 3/0/X/1, rest as needed
**Performed as a rest-pause set as described earlier. Train to failure, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a 2nd time, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a 3rd time.
**You don’t have to literally fail three times on hack squats. Instead your last rep of each set should be an absolute grinder. You should train all the way to failure on the two hamstrings exercises.
This workout features three exercises that are guaranteed to thrash all the muscle fibers in both your hamstrings and quads!
If you were to perform similar rest-pause style workouts for your upper body then I highly recommend you give the classic push / pull / legs training split a shot.
I find the 4 days per week version of this split to be particularly effective for these types of low-volume, high-intensity workouts.
The training frequency comes out to about once every 5 days per body part. In my experience this type of training frequency works like MAGIC for many, many trainees.
I want to bring your attention to the hack squats performed on this routine.
Normally on a true DC Training routine these would be performed as “breathing squats.” In other words, you would have to perform 20 reps with your 10-rep max without racking the weight. That is an unbelievably productive way to train but on this routine I want you to do something slightly less difficult.
Instead I want you to treat the hack squats exactly like a regular rest-pause set. Bust out 10-12 reps, then rack the weight while resting 20-30 seconds, then bust out as many reps as you can, rack the weight and rest 20-30 seconds, then do a third attempt with as many reps as you can.
Although this isn’t as difficult as a true widowmaker set the training stimulus for hypertrophy gains is still enormous.
If you train like a beast and go to failure on every set (or just shy of failure in the case of the hack squats) then you will be limping out of the gym! Of course, if you train like a maggot…
If you want to learn more about rest-pause training then I highly recommend the following 2 articles:
They will teach you the basics of using rest-pause training to pack on slabs of muscle mass.
Workout #9: A High Volume Straight Sets Workout
I have to admit that I am not such a huge fan of straight sets when the goal is to build as much muscle mass as humanly possible.
Don’t get me wrong, straight sets work just fine. Many of the world’s top bodybuilders such as Ronnie Coleman trained exclusively with straight sets and its hard to argue with their results.
However, in my experience most trainees build muscle at a much faster rate using things like supersets, tri-sets, giant sets, mechanical advantage drop sets etc.
These training methods work so well because they prolong the time under tension of a set, fatigue more motor units, and let you get more work done in less time.
However, this does not mean straight sets are worthless.
One of the keys to making straight sets work when training for hypertrophy is to pick the biggest, baddest, most bang-for-your-buck exercises.
While it’s OK to use one or two “fluff” exercises during a giant sets routine you really have to stick to the “meat and potatoes” exercises when using straight sets if you care about your results.
With that in mind here is an awesome straight sets workout featuring the most bang-for-your-buck exercise that you can do in the gym. Check it out:
High Volume Straight Sets Workout
- A1: Deficit snatch grip deadlift, 5 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 240 seconds rest
- B1: Bilateral seated leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed out), 5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Front foot elevated split squat (holding DBs), 5 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
- C1: Reverse hyperextension, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
**To perform the Poliquin method on leg curls you dorsiflex your feet (point your toes towards your shins) on the concentric range and plantarflex your feet (point your toes away from your shins) on the eccentric range.
That’s right, the deficit snatch grip deadlift is by far the best exercise you can do for not only the hamstrings, but the entire body.
This movement is like a Frankenstein creation combining the best aspects of back squats with the best aspects of deadlifts.
The combination of the snatch grip and the lifting platform combine to dramatically increase the range of motion of this exercise.
In fact, the range of motion is increased so much that it actually does a great job of recruiting the vastus medialis!
This is a particularly demanding routine thanks to the five sets of deadlifts. I recommend you perform this workout no more than once every 5-7 days.
If you attempt this routine twice per week you will probably find that it is too much to recover from.
If you want to learn more about the deficit snatch grip deadlift then this article is your friend:
You are now equipped with 9 of the greatest hamstrings hypertrophy routines of all time. I have no doubt that many of these routines will work awesome for you.
Of course there is a downside to reading this article. You no longer have a legitimate excuse to explain away your pathetic hamstrings muscles!
At least before you could argue that you didn’t know how to train them properly. You no longer have that luxury!
So what’s it going to be? Are you going to play the victim card and whine about how your parents gifted you with meager hamstrings genetics? Or are you going to take one of these workouts and hammer it until you have a pair of hamstrings that would make Tom Platz jealous?
The choice is yours!
“No matter what you do, you first have to have a vision… to see your goal, to believe in it, have faith in it and chase it. And then it’s fun to chase it. If you don’t have a goal or a vision, then you have nothing.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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