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The Best & Most Effective Hamstring Exercises With Dumbbells

Videos & Full Dumbbell Only Hamstring Workout Included

By: Zack Mathews

The best dumbbell exercises for hamstrings are going to be movements that you can perform correctly, will help build your posterior chain, and reduce the chance of injury.

Your hamstring muscles are made up of three major muscles; the bicep femoris, semitoneinosus, and the semimembranosus.

To target these hamstring muscles with dumbbells, you’ll want to do exercises that work both hip extension and knee flexion.  That’s what I’m going to show you today.

You’ll learn the most effective hamstring dumbbell exercises, get a full dumbbell workout for your hamstrings, and answers to the most frequently asked questions.

The 10 Best Hamstring Exercises With Dumbbells


Dumbbell Deadlift


Quick notes:  

The dumbbell deadlift is one of the best hamstring exercises you can do.  It’s going to lengthen the hamstrings more effectively than most movements out there and you have both feet planted so you can load up the weight.

This movement should be a staple in your program and you should always be striving to increase the weight or reps on this lift.

Form tips:

  • Keep you knees slightly bent and push your butt back as far as you can.
  • Once your butt can’t extend any further, that’s when you start coming back up.
  • Do not try to get deeper by rounding your shoulders down.
  • Your back should stay flat throughout the entire movement.

Set & reps: 

3 sets of 8 - 12 reps

hamstring exercises with dumbbells - deadlift

Split Stance Dumbbell Deadlift


Quick notes:  

To isolate one leg while still having stability from both legs, try out this split stance deadlift position.  Your foot in the front will do most of the work, while your back foot is providing the stability.

Form tips:

  • Stay on your toes on your back foot.
  • Push your butt back as far as you can on each rep without letting your hips rock to one side.
  • Keep the dumbbells close to your front leg as you descend down into the stretch.

Set & reps: 

3 sets of 8 - 10 per leg

Single Leg Hip Hinge Reaches


Quick notes:  

Switching over to single leg work, I like to start all my clients off with these variation before we get into using dumbbells. You need to prove that you have the stability and balance to perform a hip hinge before you start loading the movement.

Form tips:

  • Stay focused on one area in front of you.  If you look from side to side you are more likely to lose your balance.
  • Dig your foot into the ground and imagine you are grabbing something with your toes to help your foot muscles activate.
  • As you hinge over, keep your chest up as you reach out in front of you.

Set & reps: 

3 sets of 6 - 8 reps per side.  Once you can do these well, go into the next movement.

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hamstring dumbbell exercises - learn to hinge

Single Leg Dumbbell Deadlift


Quick notes:  

One of my favorite movements. The single leg dumbbell deadlift with help build muscle in your hamstrings and adds an element of stability.  You’ll be well rounded in the gym if you can master your single leg work.

Form tips:

  • Hold the dumbbell in the opposite hand of the planted foot.  This is called contralateral.
  • As you hinge over, let the dumbbell drop in a straight line, don’t let it drift in front of you.
  • Only go down as far as your hips allow you to hinge over.

Set & reps: 

3 sets of 8 - 10 per side.

Hand Supported Single Leg Deadlift


Quick notes:  

If you’ve mastered the single leg deadlift, now you can hold onto a stable area and do the movement.  The advantage of this is that now you are taking out the stability element and can really load up the weight.  There is no reason to use the same weight as your single leg deadlifts, you should be going much heavier.

Form tips:

  • Hold onto a surface that allows you to get a good grip.  If you have to use a wall, go for it, but if you can hold onto a squat rack or something that allows you to wrap your hand around the whole thing, that would be ideal.
  • Similar to the single leg deadlift, let the dumbbell fall in a straight line down. This is important now that you are loading up weight.  If it drifts too far forward or to one side, you’ll start rotating your hips and may hurt your lower back.

Set & reps: 

3 sets of 8 - 10 per side.

Ipsilateral Single Leg Deadlift


Quick notes:  

This variation looks similar to your traditional single leg deadlift, but there is one main difference. The dumbbell will be held in the hand of the planted foot, instead of the opposite.  This will make your core work harder since that weight is going to want to pull you down to that side.

Form tips:

  • Hold a dumbbell at your side and as you do your hinge movement, don’t let the dumbbell drift too far forward or to one side.
  • Keep your knee slightly bent on the planted foot and always remember to only go as far as your hinge allows.
  • When you get back to the start position, you can plant your foot for a brief second or keep it floating.

Set & reps: 

3 sets of 8 - 10 per side.

Bulgarian Split Stance Hip Hinge


Quick notes:  

If Bulgarian split squats couldn’t get any harder or more confusing! Now instead of squatting, that is more of a knee dominant movement, this variation will be a hip dominant movement that will target your hamstrings with dumbbells.

Form tips:

  • Keep your toe planted on the bench and dumbbells at your side.
  • If you feel unstable, it’s totally fine to start with your bodyweight only and then add dumbbells when you feel comfortable.
  • Pause for a brief second at the bottom of the hinge to get a full hamstring stretch.

Set & reps: 

3 sets of 8 - 10 per side.

Single Leg Deadlift + Reverse Lunge


Quick notes:  

We'll be combining two movements into one here.  If you can successful do a single leg deadlift with great form, now you'll step back into a reverse lunge on each rep.  The reverse lunge will target more of your glutes & quads, but with the SLDL working your hamstring, you'll be targeting all the muscles in your leg.

Form tips:

  • Balance is key on this movement.  If you feel comfortable doing your single leg deadlift without reseting on each rep, go right into your reverse lunge.
  • If you want to take a pause where you plant both feet before going into the lunge, that is acceptable as well.

Set & reps: 

3 sets of 6 - 8 per side.

hamstring dumbbell exercises - SLDL to reverse lunge

Hamstring Walkout


Quick notes:  

Here’s a movement that you can do with bodyweight only or make it a hamstring dumbbell exercise by keeping a heavy dumbbell on your pelvis as you walk out.  Most of the exercises above have been involving hip extension, but this movement will be using knee flexion.  It’s good to have a balance of both.

Form tips:

  • Lying on your back with a heavy dumbbell on your pelvis, lift your hips as high as you can.
  • Keeping your hips high, start walking your legs out as far as you can.
  • The straighter you can get your legs, the bigger the stretch in the hamstrings.
  • Walk yourself back to complete one rep.

Set & reps: 

3 sets of 6 - 8 reps.  Each rep should take around 10 seconds.

One Leg Hip Thrust


Quick notes:  

This movement targets your glutes but you can make it a hamstring exercise with dumbbells by putting your foot slightly further out and keeping a dumbbell on your upper thigh of the planted leg.

Form tips:

  • As mentioned in the notes above, keep your foot slightly further out so your ankle is past your knee. When you thrust yourself up, take a quick audit of your form and see if that foot is in a good position.  Put it further out to feel it even more in your hamstring.
  • This movement might not even need dumbbells because it’s challenging in it’s own right!

Set & reps: 

3 sets of 10 - 12 per side.

Hamstring Workout With Dumbbells


I’ve written up a solid hamstring dumbbell workout for you to try that will have a blend of hip extension exercises, knee flexion movements, and a little sprinkle of core.

Feel free to swap any of the exercises with movements from the list above if you prefer.  

Screenshot the image at the bottom if you want to give this workout a try!

 

A1: Dumbbell Deadlifts - 3 sets of 10 reps

A2: One Leg Hip Thrust - 3 sets of 12 reps each side

Rest 2 minutes after A2

B1: Single Leg Dumbbell Deadlifts - 3 sets of 8 per side

B2: Traditional Bodyweight Plank - 3 sets of 30 - 45 seconds

Rest 2 minutes after B2

C1: Bulgarian Split Stance Hip Hinges - 3 sets of 8 per side

C2: Hamstring Walkout - 3 sets of 8

C3: Sit-ups - 3 sets of 10 - 15 reps

Rest 90 seconds - 2 minutes after C3

hamstring workout with dumbbells

Frequently Asked Questions


Can You Train Hamstrings With Only Dumbbells?


There are a variety of exercises that involve hip extension or knee flexion that will target all 3 of your hamstring muscles.  Focus on variations of deadlifts and walkouts to target your hamstrings with only dumbbells.

Can You Build Strong Hamstrings With Only Dumbbells?


Yes you absolutely can! If you are putting adequate stress on your muscle and are training close to failure, you will build muscle with dumbbells, a barbell, or even bodyweight movements.

The main key is that you’re training close to failure.  If you finish a set of 8 reps and could have done 21 reps, you’re missing out on potential strength and muscle gains.  Training in this fashion will not get your results regardless of what equipment you use.

Additionally, you want to implement progressive overload when you train your hamstring with dumbbells only.  That means you need to be logging your workouts so you know how much weight and how many sets and reps you are doing.

Focus on improving those numbers week over week.

Can I Work My Hamstrings At Home?


Yes, you can work your hamstrings at home with minimal to no equipment.  If you don’t have any equipment, focus on single leg hip hinge reaches and walkouts.  If you have a pair of dumbbells or a barbell, that will open your variety of exercises you can do to target your hamstrings.

Variations of deadlifts are best done with barbells or dumbbells so you can provide enough of a stimulus on your hamstrings for them to grow.  If you have access to them, use ‘em!

Do Squats Work My Hamstrings?


Your hamstrings are active during a squat, but since a squat is more of a knee dominant movement, it mainly targets your glutes and quads. 

As you saw in the list above, I did not add any knee dominant exercises since you were specifically looking for hamstring exercises with dumbbells.

If you want a full leg workout with dumbbells only that incorporates squat variations, check out this article.

Do Lunges Work My Hamstrings?


Similar to a squat being a knee dominant movement, the lunge falls under that category.  That means it will focus more on the glutes and quads, even though the hamstring is helping.

I love lunges and I think they should be in every leg workout you do, but if you want to specifically target hamstring dumbbell exercises, it’s best to find other exercises.

The Best Hamstring Exercises With Dumbbells Recap


You’ve learned a lot of different hamstring exercises that you can do with your dumbbells!

Based on your skill level, find which variation of single leg deadlifts you are on and work on mastering those different movements.

Remember that you want a mix of hip extension and knee flexion exercises to target all the muscles in your hamstring so don’t just do deadlift variations all day long.

Stick in the rep range of 6 - 12 reps for most exercises and you’ll be well on your way to strong, muscular, defined hamstrings!