Q&A: Glute and hamstring exercises

Q: I have some questions about glute and hamstring exercises. I find these hard groups to target. For example, I’ve read so many great things about deadlifts…but my problem is that I can’t hold enough weight to get a good workout – my hands give out.

A: There are a few options to consider.

1. If you have small hands, consider getting a women’s bar. Regular bars have a diameter of 28.5 mm, while a women’s bar has a diameter of 25 mm. That doesn’t sound like much, but I learned many years ago that it really is. I had a client who is a tremendous athlete and was always eager to “give ‘er” at the gym . Except with deadlifts. In fact she told me one day that she didn’t like deadlifts. I was floored. And I knew I had to right this wrong. After chatting for a few minutes, she mentioned that she was having a hard time holding the bar. She has small hands, as many people do – especially women.  That afternoon I ordered a Bella bar from Rogue. The day the new bar arrived, the client did her first set of deadlifts – with the new bar – and exclaimed: “I love deadlifts!” And all was right with the world again.

2. Another approach is to use an alternating grip (one hand faces your body; the other faces away from your body). With both hands facing the same way (usually palms facing the body), the bar will want to roll a bit, which makes it harder to hold.  Alternating grip addresses this, making it possible to lift more.

3: Alternating grip is probably the most widely used deadlift grip, although I’m not a fan because it puts uneven stress on your shoulders. I actually like straps for deadlifts. There are many out there who suggest you shouldn’t use straps because you should just work on your grip strength. Grip strength is important, and you should work on it. Deadlifts are an amazing exercise that work the biggest muscles in your body, so why would we let the little hand and wrist muscles be the limitation in how strong our glutes, hamstrings and back get? Use straps and find other ways to train your grip.

4. There are of lots of other great options for glutes and hamstrings:

  • Single leg versions of the Romanian deadlift are great – takes a bit of doing to get the balance, but because it’s one leg doing the work, you can get more involvement with the same amount of weight. These are typically done with dumbbells (one or two).You can also do cable machine versions of this.
  • For glutes there’s a great exercise called a shoulder elevated hip lift. You can do it on 2 legs, on one, and can progress to adding weight.
  • Stability ball leg curls are great for hamstrings. Or you can do a slideboard leg-curl to targets the glutes more than the hamstrings. If you don’t have a slideboard, there a couple of options: I have found that a krazy karpet works well – take your shoes off and do leg curls with socks only. Or you can pick up pieces of that material used under furniture to keep from scratching floors and put those under your shoes if you’re on hardwood.

If you’re interested in some more details about glute training, give this article, Is it a glute bridge, a read.

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  1. What’s up, I recently started reading your blog – thank you for the good work. Just wanted to let you know that it’s not showing up properly on the BlackBerry Browser (I have a Storm). Anyway, I am now subscribed to the RSS feed on my laptop, so thanks!

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