5 exercises better than deadlifts to strengthen your hamstrings

Don't get on with the deadlift? Here's five alternatives you can try instead to boost strength and power

Man Working Out in a Gym with Barbell and Weights
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Although the hamstrings may not be as large as your quads, or as aesthetically pleasing as the glutes, it’s a muscle you cannot neglect if you want stronger pins, or to improve athletic performance.

Our hamstrings help us flex our knee, but also extend the hips, pushing them under your spine. They’re key in helping us with everyday movements, such as walking and running, but if you’re an athlete they’ll help you jump, decelerate, and change directly quickly and powerfully. So, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a runner, powerlifter, CrossFitter, or weekend warrior, hamstring health is key.

The deadlift is a go-to exercise to help with this. But this compound movement isn’t the easiest to master. For starters, if you don’t have great hip mobility it can be difficult to get into the right position, which can lead to bad form and possibly injury. Not to mention they can place a lot of strain on the lower back.

As mighty as this exercise may be, there are plenty of other alternatives out there that can strengthen your hamstrings just as well, so don’t try battering your body if this move isn’t for you. Here are five of our favourites…

1. Romanian deadlift

Woman performing a barbell romanian deadlift

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Romanian deadlifts, also known as RDLs, are a great alternative for your hammies as they have a slightly similar movement pattern to the deadlift (in the sense that you extend your hips). But, unlike the deadlift, the main focus is on the hip hinge, sending your bum backwards and keeping a soft bend in the knee, which places more focus onto your hamstrings and glutes. It can be performed with so many pieces of equipment too, whether that’s a pair of dumbbells, an Olympic barbell, a kettlebell, or even resistance bands.

2. Trap bar deadlift

Woman doing trap bar deadlift

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If you’re adamant you want to deadlift still, then why not reach for the trap bar instead? The beauty of the trap bar is that it keeps your body in a far more upright position, removing excess pressure from your lower back and hips. The bar also keeps your form pretty much perfect and you can even lift heavier with it, so it’s a win-win in our eyes. If you need more convincing though, check out our deadlift vs trap bar comparison.

3. Kettlebell swings

Man doing kettlebell swings

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The kettlebell swing is an excellent ballistic exercise that’ll leave your hamstrings fired up for days, as well as your glutes, quads, upper body, and core. Plus, you get a sprinkling of cardio in there too. A study in the Strength and Conditioning Journal also found that 12 rounds of 30-second kettlebell swings (with a 16kg kettlebell) lead to a higher increase in testosterone and growth hormone, meaning more gains.

4. Single leg deadlift

Single leg Romanian deadlift with kettlebell

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Ok, so this may have all the same benefits as the RDLs, but with a few extras. Firstly, as you’re working one leg at a time, rather than together, this is an excellent way to iron out any muscle imbalances that you may have in your hamstrings. Secondally, your stability is also challenged far more, as your core will fire up while you lower your weight to the floor to help maintain your balance. Again, you can use a single dumbbell or kettlebell to do this movement.

5. Cossack squat

T3 Active writer doing cossack squat

(Image credit: Future)

Hamstrings may not be the full focus of this exercise, but this compound exercise will fire them up alongside the quads, glutes, adductors, and core. It will get you moving in the frontal plane (side-to-side movements) rather than the sagittal plane (front-to-back movements), which are all the exercises that we’ve included above. It’s important to include different movement patterns to reduce the risk of injury and improve balance and range of motion. Hold a weight to make this move harder!

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.