Now we know what the hamstrings are made of (here) and the principles of avoiding hamstring injury (here), we can move onto something heavily practical which you can sink your teeth into – The optimal hamstring rehab program, according to science.

These clever researchers have managed to assess some of the most common hamstrings exercises and from there, measure the activation of each hamstring muscle. They have therefore been able to determine which is the most targeted exercise for each hamstring muscle.
So, without further ado, what you need to know.

For reference;

  • S = semitendinosus and BFlh = Biceps Femoris long head
  • Activation refers to percentage of maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC)
  • Low activation = <50%
  • Moderate activation = 50-80%
  • High activation = >80%

Low activation All exercises S > BFlh activation

  • Lunge
  • Kettlebell Swings
  • Bridges

Moderate activation

  • TRX hamstring bridge (BFlh > S)
  • Hamstring curl (S > BFlh)

High activation

  • Nordic Hamstring curl (S > BFlh)
  • Fitball flexion (BFlh > S)
  • Slide leg curl (BFlh > S)


To simplify this slightly, Bourne et al found that hip extension activities (e.g. RDL) preferentially activate the BFlh whereas knee flexion activities (e.g. Nordic HS Curl) preferentially recruit the semitendinosus.

These findings are vital to effective hamstring rehab as they allow a good clinician to provide a complete rehab program which targets the whole muscle group. This has the capacity to improve rehab outcomes as well as reduce reinjury when gym-based rehab programs are maintained in the long term. Furthermore, this information could be useful for those in the bodybuilding community who pursue a symmetrical and intentionally well-developed figure.

If there are any questions regarding this piece or the previous two, contact me on or get in touch via Facebook @roarphysiotherapy or Instagram @roar_physio.


Jack Connelly
Roar Principal Physiotherapist