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Build a Set of Pro-Quality Hamstrings
With a Maxed-Out Romanian Deadlift

Goal: Size, Strength, Detail
Bodyparts: Hamstrings

Take a look at any Mr. Olympia or Arnold Classic winner. While the physiques may boast different show-stopping qualities, one common bond that all champs share is a beefy, sickly-striated set of hamstrings. Believe it or not, none of those competitors earned those hamstrings by simply doing a few sets of lying leg curls at the end of their workouts. As with any other bodypart, hamstrings require a big-weight stimulus to reach their full potential. That's where the Romanian deadlift comes in. Here's a closer look at this overlooked move and a few tips on how to do it better.

The biggest weakness of the leg curl is that it only takes advantage of flexion at the knee. But the hamstring is a long muscle group that crosses both the hip and the knee, so training it across both joints is essential for maximizing fiber recruitment.

Stand upright holding a barbell in front of your upper thighs with a pronated (overhand) grip. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and a stand with a slight bend in your knees. Keeping your chest up, abs tight and the natural arch in your low back, lean forward from your hips, pushing them rearward until your torso is roughly parallel to the floor. As you lean forward, keep your arms straight and slide the bar down your thighs toward the floor until it reaches your shins. Flex your hamstrings and glutes and lift your torso while pushing your hips forward until you bring the bar back to the start position.

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  • One focus point for every lifter should be to maintain the arch in your back throughout the movement to keep the tension on your hamstrings and glutes. Those who have performed the stiff-legged deadlift, where rounding the back is encouraged, find this more difficult.

  • Lower only as deep as your flexibility allows. While a good, long stretch is encouraged, it doesn't benefit you to try to get the barbell to the floor on each rep. Flexibility will come with time and practice.

  • Unlike the stiff-legged deadlift, where the bar travels downward several inches from your body, the bar should be nearly in contact with your legs the entire way down on the RDL. This ensures that your hips stay back and that your hamstrings are engaged from top to bottom.

  • Because it involves large muscle groups, perform this exercise early in your routine when you are strong. Doing it earlier also ensures that fatigue in supporting muscle groups doesn't put you at risk for injury. Try doing these first on a hamstrings-only day or immediately following your squats on a quads-and-hams day. Three or four sets of 8-12 reps is a good place to start.

  • Follow this move immediately with walking lunges, which have been shown to trigger greater strength gains in the hamstrings than in the quads.

  • Need an advanced version? Try a single-leg RDL with dumbbells by allowing one leg to travel rearward during the descent, or by keeping both feet flat on the ground and simply placing one leg slightly in front of the other at the start.