You ask a lot from your hamstrings, from sitting all day at a desk to lifting heavy things off the ground. The stronger your hamstrings, says the American Council on Exercise, the easier you'll find those activities and the stronger your lower back will be. Using ankle weights while performing your hamstring exercises will intensify the exercise and help strengthen your hamstrings and thigh muscles. While some of the better hamstring exercises don't require a gym membership, the best ones do, since they use machines you likely don't have at home.
Three muscles make up your hamstrings, which originate near the bottom of your pelvis and stretch down the back of your legs -- the biceps femoris, the semimembranosus and the semitendinosus muscles. You engage your hamstrings each time you bend your knees or extend your legs, and these muscles support your weight when you are sitting. While these activities may not seem very high-impact, your hamstrings can shrink if compressed long enough and can also tear if overused, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Weighted exercise can help your hamstrings more easily handle how hard they work every day.
On Your Back
Exercising hamstrings from a supine position uses gravity to create strength-building resistance. The heavier your leg to lift, the harder the exercise will be. Begin lying down, bend one leg at the knee and keep that foot firmly pressing into the ground. With your hands behind your head, slowly lift your non-bent leg up. The slower you lift your leg, the better the results. Hold your leg in the air for between 15 and 20 seconds and then lower it. Repeat four or five times with the same leg before resetting and doing the same with your other leg.
Using a seated hamstring curl machine, press your knees under the knee bar and extend your legs so that your feet are on the footrest. With your legs fully extended, slowly bend your legs at the knee and curl your legs down. Your hamstrings engage to raise weights attached to the machine. Most machines will let you adjust the weight from as low as 20 pounds to as high as 300 pounds, depending on the machine. Hold the weight for between 10 and 20 seconds, according to SportsInjuryClinic.com before slowly extending your legs. Don't let the weight drop as you extend your legs. Before the weight fully comes to a rest, bend your legs again. Repeat between 10 and 15 times for three or four sets. When doing a seated hamstring curl, make sure the machine's footrest will accommodate the size and shape of your ankle weights, since some footrests have a barrier on one side into which you can press the backs of your ankles for added support.
Using a standing leg curl machine, grip the handrails and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Slowly bend the knee of one leg and raise that leg up until it forms a 90-degree angle to the ground. This exercise mostly works the biceps femoris, instead of targeting all of your hamstring muscles like other hamstring exercises will. Hold your leg as long as you and then lower it to the ground. Repeat between five and eight times before doing the same with your other leg. The heavier the ankle weights, the harder the exercise and the more your hamstrings will work.
If you're nursing sore or strained hamstrings, sometimes the best medicine is not sitting idle, says the American Council on Exercise. Instead, stick to your workout, just at a lower level of intensity. Stretching sore hamstrings will increase blood flow and oxygen to these muscles and help ease your pain. Hurt or not, remember to warm-up before beginning any type of exercise program, including one aimed at strengthening your hamstrings.