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Best Barre Exercises for Your Hamstrings
A term you often hear thrown around in the health and wellness industry is “balance.” We hear plenty of tips on how to live a balanced life, but have you thought about muscular balance? At The Bar Method, we pride ourselves on the safety and effectiveness of our technique, and an enormous part of this is dependent on muscular balance. Our method builds strength across the body evenly, which helps to create stability and prevent injury. Whether walking, running, or spinning, our daily lives revolve around forward motion. As a result, many people have strong quads without realizing that their hamstrings are much weaker. Why is this important? In addition to giving your legs shape and your seat a more lifted appearance, strong hamstrings protect your knees, hips and lower back. Not quite sure how to tone hamstrings? In today’s blog, we’re sharing the best barre exercises for your hamstrings to help you build stronger, more defined muscles in no time.
Why Is It Important to Strengthen Your Hamstrings?
When you think of leg muscles, you probably think of two in particular: the quadriceps and the hamstrings. These two major muscles oppose one another on the front and back of our thighs, and they’re both equally important for performing a wide range of everyday movements. Many people tend to focus more on strengthening their quads rather than their hamstrings. This common mistake ultimately leads to a muscular imbalance that can put you at risk for an injury — particularly knee injuries — and that’s the last setback anyone needs.
Perhaps the most common knee injury is a torn ACL, which tends to happen when your hamstrings (located along the back of your thighs) are weaker than your front quads. This muscle imbalance can also lead to strained hamstrings or hamstring tears while lifting weights or running.
By strengthening your hamstrings along with your quadriceps, you’ll boost your athleticism and make your legs more powerful. Strong hamstrings also improve your posture and enhance your agility. Fortunately, The Bar Method offers a wide range of barre leg exercises to strengthen and tone your hamstrings and other major muscle groups.
2nd Position Lunges
Think that lunges only work your quads? Think again! Studies have actually shown that lunges work your hamstrings even more than your quads because of the dynamic work your hamstrings have to perform in order to stabilize your knee joints and support your hip extension. Our second position lunges offer a double-duty lower body barre workout that tones your thighs from all angles and improves your posture — all while stretching and toning your hamstrings.
Follow the sequence below to try second position lunges at The Bar Method or at home:
- Facing sideways, place one hand on the barre or on the back of a chair or countertop for support with the other hand on your waist. Stand with your feet about two feet apart and turn your toes out in its naturally turned out position.
- Bend your knees over the arches of your feet and keep your back straight. If you find yourself leaning forward, bend your knees less.
- Bend your knees to move down and up one inch for 20 reps.
- Lift the heel of the side of your body where you have your hand on your waist and turn to face your support. Place both hands on your support. Step your back foot forward until your knee is under your hip and you are in a lunge position. Move down and up one inch for 10 reps, then switch legs and repeat.
- Turn the opposite direction of where you started and step back out into a turned-out position with your heels a few feet apart. Bend your knees to move down one inch more quickly for 20 reps to finish.
Feeling extra motivated? You can perform these lunges while holding a barre ball to challenge your muscles even further.
Stairmaster? No, thank you — we’ll take tilted seat instead! This barre chair workout was inspired by the sensation of climbing flights of stairs and focuses on the spot where the back of your leg connects to your glutes (making it one of the best barre glute exercises, as well).
To get a great glute and hamstring burn wherever you are, follow the steps below:
- Stand facing the barre or back of a chair or countertop and place both hands on it for support. Walk a half-arm’s distance away and place your feet under your hips.
- Tip forward at your hips and slide one leg diagonally away from your body with the ball of your back foot resting lightly on the floor.
- Shift your hips backwards until your front knee is over your ankle and you feel all of your weight in your front heel. Imagine that you’re about to sit in a chair that’s suddenly disappeared.
- Bend your front knee down and up one inch for 10 reps, then at a faster pace for 20 more reps. Repeat the circuit 1-2 more times.
- Switch legs and repeat on the other side.
- After both sides are complete, hold onto your support and walk your feet backward underneath your hips. Fold forward at your hips to create an L-shape with your body and hold as long as you’d like to stretch your seat, hamstrings, and back muscles.
We like to think of kneeling seat like a shot of tequila. It happens quickly, but you can feel its effect right away. This short and sweet seat workout is one of the best exercises to tone hamstrings. It also gives quick results by deeply engaging and challenging the entire backside of your body, making it an ideal barre workout for lean legs and a lifted derrière. It’s a tricky move to master, but it’s one that significantly tones your glutes and hamstrings. Plus, it gives your hamstrings and quads a deep stretch to boost your flexibility and prevent possible sports injuries.
To start feeling the burn, follow the steps below:
- Kneel facing the barre or other shoulder-height surface if you’re at home for support. Place a folded small mat or throw pillow under one knee to cushion your joints.
- Squeeze your seat and tilt your hips forward.
- Lift your knee that’s not on the cushion off of the floor and center your weight.
- Press your lifted leg backwards one inch at a time for 10 reps. Keep your seat clenched so that you feel resistance each time your leg moves. Press your leg back more quickly for 20 reps. Repeat the circuit once more on this leg.
- Between sides, sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you and reach forward to elongate your hamstrings.
- Repeat the exercise on the opposite leg and follow immediately with the same hamstring stretch.
Bridge lifts, or “back dancing” as we like to call them, are one of the most effective barre hamstring exercises around. In fact, they basically train your body to move like a dancer by steadying your back against the floor. This enables you to focus on your lower back muscles and lets you move your hamstrings, glutes and hips to the beat. It’s also ideal for students with knee or hip injuries, because it places very little pressure on your joints and strengthens the supporting hamstrings to expedite the recovery process.
Complete a set of back dancing to sculpt your seat and the backs of your legs while strengthening your core and stretching your lower back:
- Lie down on a comfortable surface with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor. Slide your feet as wide as your hips and farther away from you so that they are more forward of your knees. For more challenge in your hamstrings, work with your knees less bent and/or flex your feet.
- Lift your seat up and down off of the floor 20 times, keeping your ribcage down to avoid your weight shifting into your upper back, shoulders, and neck.
- Hold your seat at the top of your range and squeeze your glutes 20 times.
- Repeat the circuit a few times until you’ve been moving for about 3 minutes.
Pro Tip: Most popular songs are the perfect length for this exercise, so feel free to play your favorite if you’re at home and move to the beat!
Single-leg Bridge Lifts
Single-leg bridge lifts are essentially a variation of the back dancing routine mentioned above. For this technique, students focus on extending their hamstrings one leg at a time while balancing on their supporting leg. Not only does this move tone and stretch your hamstrings, but it also activates your core muscles for a stronger midsection.
- Raise one leg and extend it upwards for a series of lifts.
- Keep your extended leg balanced vertically over your hip as you move up and down, holding your extended leg either soft or straight.
- You can perform either full-range or small isometric lifts while your leg is lifted, depending on your desired intensity.
Pretzel is known as our triple-threat exercise, and for good reason: It simultaneously carves your glutes, tones your hamstrings, and whittles your waist.
- Sit on the floor and place one leg in front of you at a 90-degree angle, or bent in half. Stretch the other leg behind you in the same position.
- Place your supporting hand in line with your front knee.
- Lean your torso away from the working side at a 45-degree angle.
- Slide your back leg in line with your hip, and then press your hips forward.
- Using your glutes, lift your working leg off the floor.
- Lift 20 times and press back 20 times using your glutes. Repeat 3-5 times before switching legs.
Pro Tip: Pressing your heel in toward your seat will give you a deeper hamstring stretch. You can also raise your arms into an L-shape or prayer position while extending your working leg for more of a challenge.
How to Tone Hamstrings
Each and every Bar Method class always features a thigh and seat emphasis with special focus on hamstrings. That means you can expect to see definition in your hamstrings when you take our classes three to five times per week. We offer some of the very best barre exercises for hamstrings, glutes, thighs and calves, giving you a complete lower-body workout. By targeting these muscles, you’ll begin to feel and see more definition throughout your legs. You’ll also increase your flexibility and bring forth your inner ballerina.
How to Stretch Hamstrings
In addition to barre thigh exercises to tighten hamstrings and tone your legs, it’s so important to take the time to stretch. If you enter into your workout routine without warming up, you’re just limiting your range of motion and increasing your likelihood of suffering an injury.
Each Bar Method class includes moves that stretch all your major muscle groups. By the end of your workout, you’ll have performed 10 to 11 hamstring stretches and around 10 hip and quad stretches—plus many more that target your back, arms, midsection and more.
Try the following stretches for long, lean (and injury-free) hamstrings:
- Seated Hamstring Stretch: The beauty of this move is that it’s convenient and oh-so effective. Sit on the ground with your legs extended directly in front of you. Lift your arms, drop your shoulders and then reach your hands forward toward your feet (or shins, depending on how far you can reach). Hold this position to give your hamstrings a much-needed stretch.
- Stretch at the Barre: This studio stretch involves using the stall bar and its rungs to stretch your legs and hamstrings. Stand at the bar and reach your arms out to the rung directly ahead of you, keeping your arms parallel to the floor. Place one foot a few rungs down, keeping your leg straight as you lean forward. This stretch is ideal for warming up your hamstrings and calves.
- Pull-Away Stretch: Rest your hands on the back of a chair and step back so that you can hinge forward and make a 90-degree angle with your torso and legs. Slightly bend one knee while keeping the other one straight. You can take the stretch further by lowering your hands to the floor toward the side with your bent knee. Repeat on the other leg.
RELATED: 5 Bar Method Stretches Anyone Can Do
Barre Leg Exercises
From your calves to your thighs and glutes, The Bar Method tones every part of your lower body. Our strategic and effective barre leg workout is packed with ballet exercises for legs, arms, abdominals and more. These powerhouse moves have the potential to tighten and tone your entire body while melting fat and improving your posture.
Ready to take your first barre class? Find a Bar Method studio near you to get started, or sign up for online classes here.