Muscle activation during various hamstring exercises

J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jun;28(6):1573-80. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000302.


The dorsal muscles of the lower torso and extremities have often been denoted the "posterior chain." These muscles are used to support the thoracic and lumbar spine and peripheral joints, including the hip, knee, and ankle on the dorsal aspect of the body. This study investigated the relative muscle activity of the hamstring group and selected surrounding musculature during the leg curl, good morning, glute-ham raise, and Romanian deadlift (RDL). Twelve healthy, weight-trained men performed duplicate trials of single repetitions at 85% 1-repetition maximum for each lift in random order, during which surface electromyography and joint angle data were obtained. Repeated measures analysis of variance across the 4 exercises was performed to compare the activity from the erector spinae (ES), gluteus medius (GMed), semitendinosus (ST), biceps femoris (BF), and medial gastrocnemius (MGas). Significant differences (p ≤ 0.05) were noted in eccentric muscle activity between exercise for the MGas (p < 0.027), ST (p < 0.001), BF (p < 0.001), and ES (p = 0.032), and in concentric muscle activity, for the ES (p < 0.001), BF (p = 0.010), ST (p = 0.009), MGas (p < 0.001), and the GMed (p = 0.018). Bonferroni post hoc analysis revealed significant pairwise differences during eccentric actions for the BF, ST, and MGas. Post hoc analysis also revealed significant pairwise differences during concentric actions for the ES, BF, ST, MGas, and GMed. Each of these showed effect sizes that are large or greater. The main findings of this investigation are that the ST is substantially more active than the BF among all exercises, and hamstring activity was maximized in the RDL and glute-ham raise. Therefore, athletes and coaches who seek to maximize the involvement of the hamstring musculature should consider focusing on the glute-ham raise and RDL.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropometry
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise Test
  • Humans
  • Leg / physiology*
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology