No hamstring programme would be complete with some isolated hip extension. Here’s everything you need to know about hip extension for the hamstrings.
Lighter, More Reps
The hamstrings may well be fast twitch but they’re not the prime mover here. The glutes and back extensors are heavily involved with hip extension; these muscles tend towards a slower fibre type composition. As a consequence of this make up these movements will respond better to high rep protocols than knee flexion exercises. It’s good to use both high (8-12) and low (4-6) rep ranges here, that way we’re catering for both fast and slow twitch muscle fibres.
Last time out we mentioned shooting for 10 total sets of hamstrings in a workout. We’ve taken up 6 of these with knee flexion exercises so the other 4 will be hip extension. Please note, however, that these are just guidelines for your programming and not strict prescriptions.
Fixed Hip Extension
Examples: Romanian Deadlift, Good Morning, 45o Back Extension
These exercises are fantastic as we can really emphasise the eccentric portion of the lift and get those hammies singing. People tend to veer to towards one end of the ‘how to make these exercises as inefficient and useless as possible’ spectrum. At one end we have the individuals who view these as stretching exercises and wouldn’t dream of putting anything more than a couple of 5kg’s on each end of the barbell. At the other we have those who pile on the plates, use horrendous ROM and lift like Quasimodo. Both stretch and strength are important in these movements so get yourself in the middle.
Get The Rep Right
Coaching each of the lifts individually is beyond the scope of this article, but here are the key points for any fixed hip extension;
- Emphasise the eccentric. Lower the bar under complete control and over a period of at least 4 seconds. Shift the weight towards the heels of your feet and focus on pushing the bum as far back as possible.
- Don’t round the back. Lifting with a rounded back isn’t a good thing, you must be able to keep a slight arch in the lower back throughout the movement. The bottom position of the movement will be determined by how much hip flexion you achieve whilst maintaining this slightly arch.
- Keep the neck in neutral. Your eyes need to follow your torso (see picture). Don’t focus on looking straight ahead as this will lead to hyperextending the neck.
- Don’t over-arch at the top. The tendency is to hyperextend the lower back at the top of the movement, particularly when lifting heavy. Squeeze the glutes hard to achieve full hip extension to complete the lift and avoid using the back.
Straight Knee or Bent Knee
Last time out we discussed active insufficiency in relation to the gastrocnemius but it’s an important consideration in regards to the hamstrings too. As flexion of the knee is increased the ability of the hamstring muscles to extend the hip is impaired. Performing hip extension with more bend in the knee will shift the emphasis towards the glutes as opposed to the hamstrings. Conversely, performing hip extension with a straighter knee will increase the contribution of the hamstrings.
Romanian vs Stiff Leg Deadlifts
This leads on nicely from the knee bend discussion. Whilst many people use the terms ‘Romanian’ and ‘Stiff Leg’ interchangeably, these are two subtly different exercises. My distinction would be that a stiff leg deadlift is performed with stiff knees throughout; start with a slight bend in the knee and keep it there. Depending on what you read, the bar may or may not come away from the body. With the Romanian deadlift the knees bend slightly during the exercise and the bar stays close to the body. It’s a bit of a cross-between a stiff leg deadlift and conventional deadlift. Really, I couldn’t care less about definitions. Get the bum back and keep the knees stiff for the hamstrings. Keep the bar close to the body to protect the lower back.
Free Hip Extension (Hip Hyperextension)
Whilst these are often seen as glute or lower back exercises, hamstring activation is high throughout these movements. These exercises allow you to train the hamstrings safely in hip hyperextension, difficult to achieve with other categories. Whilst fixed hip extensions should always be a staple part of your diet, free hip extensions can be used a bit more seasonally. These exercises can work well when incorporated into upper body workouts as this leaves more time in your lower body workouts for the more demanding hamstrings exercises.
Compound, knee flexion and hip extension exercises all need to be considered for complete hamstring conditioning. They may not be the most glamorous of muscle groups but they’re certainly one of the most important. Get your conditioning right and you’ll reap the rewards. Hamstrings maketh the man.