If you ask the average gym-goer which type of training they’re most likely to skip or sub out for something else, they’ll probably reply, “Leg day.” And even those few brave souls that like to live in the squat rack usually favor compound exercises and completely neglect isolated hamstring work. In this article, we’ll explore why you should move hamstring-focused movements back onto your priority list and also get proactive about targeting your adductors. 

Whether you’re a pro, college or high school competitor, a weekend warrior, or somewhere in between, you’ve likely felt that awful twinge in the back of your thigh that signals a dreaded hamstring strain. Or at the very least, you’ve seen someone else sustain this injury and winced along with them. If you’ve hurt this particular part of your lower body before or have a persistent issue here, then it’s likely that you don’t want to overtax your hamstrings. 

Even if you haven’t had an injury in this area, if you’ve done isolated hamstring exercises in the past, you might still remember the soreness being more intense than what you’d feel after a quad- or glute-focused session. That might be another reason that you’ve steered clear of dedicated hamstring work ever since. 

Something else I hear from a lot of clients is, “My hamstrings are so tight even though I stretch them every day.” If this sounds familiar, I’m glad you’re seeing the value in mobilizing consistently, but doing so is unlikely to fix the issue unless you’re pairing soft tissue work with increasing the tolerance of your muscles and connective tissues by mechanically loading them. Otherwise, you’ll keep chasing an imaginary tail by searching for the “perfect” hamstring stretch that doesn’t actually exist. 

Proactively Protecting Your Hamstrings

Before we take a closer look at what you can do to make your hamstrings (and, a bit later, your adductors) more resilient, let’s explore their role in athletic activities. The hamstrings play an integral part in the rapid acceleration and deceleration involved in power-based sports like basketball, football, and rugby. Though speeding up and slowing down isn’t as dramatic in endurance sports like running, cycling, and triathlon, the hamstrings are also called into action as you speed up and slow down, and even when you’re at a continuous pace just flexing and extending your knees in a normal range of motion.

If you haven’t built up your tolerance and capacity in these muscles and the tendons, ligaments, and other tissues around them, it’s just a matter of time until they’ll be overtaxed and you’ll suffer an acute injury or a chronic complaint. When your quads and glutes aren’t sufficiently developed, you might place even more emphasis on the hamstrings, increasing the likelihood of a problem developing. 

There are also occasions when you’ll find yourself caught on a single leg, whether that’s coming down from a rebound in basketball, lunging to make a tackle in soccer, or cutting laterally in football. In which case, the hamstrings receive a different load from when you’re using both legs equally (like during a squat or two-footed takeoff). This is another reason that you should include a mix of eccentric, concentric, and isometric hamstring loading in your training as part of a well-balanced plan that also emphasizes other areas of your lower body like your foot-ankle complex and quads, IT band, and quad tendons – which we’ll discuss in part four of this series. 

Evidence suggests that loading your hamstrings rather than babying them will help you reduce the incidence of future injury and the recurrence of old issues. A study split 942 Danish soccer players into two groups. The first did a 10-week progressive eccentric hamstring training program, using the Nordic Hamstring Exercise while the second just continued with their normal training. Publishing their results in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the authors concluded that the hamstring training group suffered just 3.1 new injuries per 100 seasons, while the other participants had 8.1.1

There was an even greater disparity in re-injury rates, with the hamstring intervention group sustaining just 7.1 incidents per 100 seasons, while the other group saw 45.8 recurrent injuries. Interestingly, the players who participated in the 10-week program then reduced the number of sessions to only one per week, indicating that once you’ve increased the tolerance of your hamstrings for a while, you can then downshift to a minimum effective downshift to a minimum effective dose of the Nordic Hamstring Exercise to maintain those gains. 

The Nordic hamstring curl has become the gold standard for targeting this muscle group. While it is extremely effective – as multiple studies show – it’s quite demanding as you can see demonstrated with ease by Tyreek Hill from the Kansas city Chiefs:


If you have a low hamstring training age, have never done movements that are specifically for this area before, or are tall (a longer body puts you at a mechanical disadvantage), I like to start people off with isometric exercises, some of which are ground-based, like low bridge variations and slider hamstring extenders. 

As you move through a progressive eight to 12-week program, you can introduce various loads, tempos, knee angles, and types of resistance. Building on foundational isometric holds, you can also start to add in exercises that have more of a concentric and/or eccentric emphasis. Doing so will help expose your hamstrings to the varying demands of your sport. A good place to put such movements into your training plan is on a posterior chain day. Perhaps you do some hinging – like a deadlift and/or kettlebell swing, perform a few sets of ground-based hamstring exercises, and then go to your knees or a standing position and do some more. Regular exposure to such combinations will help you overcome the initial acute and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that you might experience. 

Another element that is missing from many people’s lower body plans is sprinting. One of the most common scenarios in which an athlete will strain a hamstring is when they have to go from standing or jogging to moving fast in an instant. If this is the first time they’ve been asked to do so in a while or they’re going into camp having not done any sprint work in the offseason, they’re asking for trouble. That’s why I include sprinting from a hamstring durability perspective. If you’re an endurance athlete, you might not need to reach maximum speed very often, but doing some longer intervals at 70 to 80 percent intensity will prepare you for a sprint finish or for when you need to upshift during a race. Speed intervals should also enable you to withstand the chronic loads of high mileage with a lower risk of injury. 

Here are some hamstring exercises to augment your regular lower body programming: 


1. Elevated 1-Leg Long Bridge Iso

2. Long Bridge Iso w/ Low March

3. Slider Hamstring Extension w/ 3s Ecc

4. Slider 1-Leg Hamstring Extension w/ 3s Ecc

5. Caterpillar Bridge Walkout

6. DB Kickstand Neutral Grip RDL

7. Nordic Hamstring Drop w/ 3s Ecc


Adding Durability to Your Adductors

The adductors are another frequently overlooked lower body muscle group. Most training programs emphasize the hamstrings, quads, and glutes, while the adductors are often an afterthought at best. While technically they’re a separate entity, I like to group the adductors with the hamstrings because they function like a medial hamstring. Even back in PT school, we primarily thought about the adductors in terms of their primary function from an anatomical standpoint: bringing the leg toward the body. But they’re also called upon anytime you decelerate, change direction, or move laterally. The adductors contribute significantly to hip extension (required during springing) and if you include the gracilis can even pitch in with knee flexion. The adductors are involved in knee flexion, too, as they run from the hip all the way down to the knee. 

These secondary demands mean that you need to train more outside of the sagittal/linear plane that the majority of athletes get stuck in when in the gym. A lot of sporting movements – such as taking penalties or free kicks in soccer and step-jumping into a spike in volleyball – are also motions that happen in the same plane over and over again. You’re more likely to get left-right asymmetries and repetitive strain injuries from them if you’re not also training your body to produce and resist force in the frontal plane. That’s why side-to-side exercises can be useful when it comes to the adductors. 

Just like the Nordic hamstring curl has achieved sainthood among hamstring exercises, the Copenhagen plank has become a go-to adductor movement. There is plenty of evidence to support its efficacy, including a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that found athletes who did Copenhagen planks three times a week for six to eight weeks as part of their preseason preparation were 41 percent less likely to report a groin injury during the season than those who didn’t train their adductors.2 

Going Beyond the Copenhagen Plank

That being said, the Copenhagen plank isn’t the be all and end all of adductor work, and there are other exercises that can help load this under-emphasized muscle group in different and beneficial ways. One of the easiest involves crossing one leg over the other and moving from side to side. Yes, it looks like you’re following the lead of Richard Simmons in an 80s aerobics video warmup, but it’s a good way to bring your adductors online before you progress to more demanding movements. Bridge patterns, including those that ask you to squeeze a medicine ball or yoga block between your inner thighs, can be helpful and are easy to do correctly. Side to side plyometrics like skater hops are also a great way to dynamically load the adductors, and staples like lateral lunges are effective too. 

Just like with the hamstrings’ role in sprinting, your adductors need to get used to you planting one foot and exploding in the opposite direction. When you’re required to cut or weave in your sport, it cannot be the first time you’re doing this at speed or you’re likely to run into trouble. That’s why I suggest you begin incorporating both lateral movements and single leg work in the gym one to three times a week. Even if you’re an endurance athlete who doesn’t need to explode laterally in your sport, you will be landing on one leg for a few seconds several hundred times in each session or race, so adding stability around your adductors will safeguard you from injury. 

Below are some exercises you can use to improve the durability of your adductors: 

1. Sidelying Bottom Leg Up & Over

2. Ecc Only 1-Leg Bridge w/ Squeeze

3. PVC Band Standing 1-Leg Adduction

4. DB Goblet Lateral Squat

5. Knees Bent Copenhagen Plank

6. Copenhagen Plank w/ Lift


Check back soon for part 4 in the Bulletproofing Your Lower Body series. 

Miss part 1? Click HERE to catch up.

Miss part 2? Click HERE to catch up.

1. Jesper Petersen et al, “Preventive Effect of Eccentric Training on Acute Hamstring Injuries in Men's Soccer: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial,” American Journal of Sports Medicine, August 8, 2011, available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21825112/. 
2. Joar Harøy et al, “The Adductor Strengthening Programme Prevents Groin Problems Among Male Football Players: A Cluster-Randomised Controlled Trial,” British Journal of Sports Medicine, February 2019, available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29891614/.

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Timothy DiFrancesco

Tim DiFrancesco, PT, DPT spent 6 seasons as the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and is the founder of TD Athletes Edge. He is nationally renowned for his evidence-based and scientific approach to fitness, training, nutrition, and recovery for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

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