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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

And now for something completely different

Last week a friend of mine asked me how to tighten up his hamstrings.  I responded by saying, what do you mean?  Of course, like any fitness novice, he wanted to "tighten them up" and get some "definition."  Now, I fully admit my answer was fairly flip.  I told him to eat less.  We've all heard the mantra, you can't target fat loss!  And you can't.  However, what can be done is improve the muscle in the desired area.  So, for my dear friend Andrew who deserved a better answer than the one I gave him.... I present:

Hamstring 101:

The hamstring is the most under appreciated muscle in the leg.  It's vital for running and it's the most important muscle for explosive movements.  Despite its import, the hamstring can be difficult to work directly.  For the vast majority of individuals looking to build strength in the hamstring it's not necessary to isolate the muscle.  Instead the focus should be placed on doing compound movements at difficult weight loads.

What is a compound movement?

A compound movement is an exercise that works two joints or more.  Examples include the bench press, the overhead press, squats, deadlifts, among others.  The compound movements that use the hamstrings extensively are the back squat and pretty much any movement that starts with the bar on the ground.

Back Squat:



Deadlift:



If the desired effect on the hamstrings isn't obtained using these movements, let me go over a few key exercises that should be used to isolate the muscle.


What is an isolation movement?

Isolation movements are exercises that use one joint and often target one primary muscle group.  There are several isolation movements for the hamstrings.  Here are two:

Hamstring Curl:



Glute Hamstring Raises:



The real lesson here is that the concept of toning is a nonsense one.  The only way to improve body composition is through diet and weight training.  Build the muscle, cut the fat, and hope that the fat loss comes in the desired area (rinse repeat until it does).

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