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Most people know the gym is the place to be to build muscle all over your body. But what are some gym machines specifically for stronger hamstring muscles?
It is possible to strengthen your hamstrings with the help of free weights or resistance bands but this is a muscle where gym machines can be very helpful.
These machines allow you to focus on the hamstring alone instead of a variety of muscles or at least more isolated than something like a squat or lunge.
Even though your injury risk is generally smaller when using these machines compared to using free weights, like any exercise, there is always some risk of injury. Implement a good technique to keep your injury risk low. When in doubt talk to an expert.
1. Leg curl machine
If you are looking for a gym machine made to only focus your hamstring muscles, the leg curl machine is what you need. On a curl machine you either take place in a seat or lie on your stomach with your legs stretched with your lower legs behind pads with added resistance.
To do the exercise you push against the pads by folding your legs at the knees. This movement mainly engages your hamstrings. By adding resistance with the machine you can build more muscle faster.
2. Cable machine
The cable machine is a type of gym machine where a steel frame holds weights and pulleys. Thanks to the cable going through these pulleys and attached to these weights you can do many types of strength training exercises for a wide variety of muscles.
If you only want to focus on your hamstrings you would use the cable machine to do leg curls. For this you need an ankle strap attachment and the pulley at a low setting. After that, you attach the strap to one ankle and lie on your stomach next to the cable machine with your feet toward it.
Next, slowly fold your leg at the knee as far as you can while keeping the rest of your body in more or less the same position. Lastly, stretch your leg again in a controlled motion.
Besides cable leg curls you can also do exercises like the good morning, Romanian deadlift, and pull-through to train your hamstring muscles. For these other exercises, you will need other grip attachments.
3. Glute ham raise
The glute ham raise machine is a setup where you lie horizontally. It consists of two main parts. The first is a place where you anchor your feet with one pad behind your heels on one pad on your upper feet. The second part is a rounded pad at the height of your upper legs.
To do the glute ham raise exercise adjust the machine for you personally and start with your body in one straight line. As a first step slowly lower your upper body down as far as you can while keeping your back straight. Keep your back straight through the entire exercise.
After that elevate your upper body until your body is in one straight line. For the second part, you fold your legs at the knees until your body is straight up from the knees to your head. The first part also engages your hamstrings but the second part is more focused on your hamstrings alone.
Lastly lower yourself back into a horizontal position.
The glute ham raise machine is the first and not the last option that is also part of the lower back gym machines. This is because the back-extending movement engages your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. If you want to isolate your hamstrings as much as possible you likely want to stick to leg curls.
4. Back extension machine
The back extension machine is a metal construction with a place you can anchor your legs behind and a pad to lean on with your hips. If you take place in it and keep your body straight you are at about 45 degrees to the ground. This machine is made to do the exercise with the same name, a back extension.
To do the exercise adjust the back extension machine setting for your height. Take place in it, make sure you are locked in place safely.
Slowly lower your upper body until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings by bending in the hips and keep your back straight.
After that raise your upper body in a controlled motion until your body is in one straight line.
If you are more experienced and you want to, you can hold external weights like a weight plate to do weighted back extensions. When done at the right time with the right technique this can lead to more and faster increases in hamstring strength.
An advantage of the back extension machine is that it is relatively inexpensive. If you plan on improving your hamstring, glute, and lower back strength you can consider investing in one so you don’t have to make the trip to the gym.
5. Roman chair
Many people confuse the roman chair for a regular back extension machine but they are different. They are the same in that they both have a pad for your hips and something to anchor your ankles behind. The difference is that the ankle anchor of the roman chair is adjustable in height.
This means that with the regular back extension machine you are limited to a 45 degree back extension. With the Roman chair you can go for a bigger range of motion up to a 90-degree angle. Whether you should make use of this bigger angle depends on things like the flexibility of your muscles.
At a high feet anchor setting the roman chair also looks like the glute ham raise machine. However, in the roman chair your feet are only anchored with one pad and the pad for your hips is flat. This makes it so you can’t do the second part of the glute ham raise. In turn this means less hamstring engagement.
There are a few different roman chair exercises but the back extension will generally be the best option for strengthening your hamstrings.
6. Reverse back extension machine
With the regular back extension machine you anchor your legs in place and your upper body does the moving. With the reverse back extension machine and the exercise you do with it you keep your upper body in the same place and your legs move.
One thing to pay attention to when doing reverse hyperextensions is keeping your movements slow and controlled. It is tempting to use the momentum of your swinging legs but this makes it so you use your hamstring muscles less.
There are specific reverse back extension machines where you can anchor your legs behind pads with weights. Unfortunately these are not that common in most gyms. You can use a glute ham raise bench to do reverse back extensions but it will be harder to make the exercise weighted this way.
7. Smith machine
The smith machine looks similar to a squat rack but there are a few differences which make the smith machine more of a machine.
First of all, the barbell is attached to a rail system. This makes it so it can only move up or down alongside these rails and not forward or backward. Secondly, it has a system where you can rack the barbell at any height. This can be helpful for individuals who lift without a spotter.
An example of a hamstring exercise you can do with the smith machine is that Romanian deadlift. For this exercise, you want to start with the bar just below where your barbell is if you stand up straight with the barbell in your hands.
Grab the barbell with a pronated grip which means with your hand palms pointing downward/backward. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
After that tilt your upper body forward as far as you can without bending your back. This means likely that the barbell will not hit the ground. Similar to other exercises you want the bending to come from your hips. Your knees can be bent a small amount.
Lastly raise back in the upright position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.