Q: I have both the Ultimate Mass Workout and the Beyond X-Rep Muscle Building e-books. Congratulations on such well-researched, pertinent information and programs. My gains with X Reps and POF have been well above my expectations. My question concerns hamstrings. The Ultimate Mass e-book says that feet-forward Smith-machine front squats is the ultimate exercise for hamstrings, but the Smith machine at my gym isn’t bolted to the floor, so it moves easily. I don’t want to risk an injury, so I’ve been using feet-forward hack squats on a hack machine, but I don’t feel my hamstrings working when I do those. Should I try walking lunges instead? I’m 6’4” tall if that makes a difference.
A: Both feet-forward Smith-machine squats and feet-forward hack squats can be hard to feel in the hamstrings; we’re so conditioned to think about quads when we squat, it’s difficult to grasp that the opposing muscle group should be doing a lot of the work. Then there’s the fact that the front-squat version on a Smith machine can be uncomfortable for some people (Jonathan hates it with a passion, but he did pose for the photo below)…
Two things you can try for better hamstring innervation, no matter which big midrange ham exercise you use:
1) Do two progressively heavier warmup sets on leg curls before you attack the hack squats. That will get you in better touch with the hamstrings from a nervous-system standpoint. (That’s a version of a technique called postactivation.)
2) Only do the bottom half of the hack squat—from slightly below parallel to halfway up to lockout. That will keep more tension on the hamstrings and allow you to concentrate on getting mass and sweep on the backs of your legs rather than feeling your quads take the brunt of the stress.
As for walking lunges, yes, we’ve used them, but we’ve heard about too many people getting serious knee injuries from that exercise, so we are steering clear of those at the moment. Step-back lunges seem to be a safer and productive option if you really want to test lunges.
If the above recommendations don’t get you feeling your hams contracting harder on feet-forward hack squats, you can try leg presses with your feet high on the footplate, although MRI studies say those are the least effective of the three for hams. Considering your height, however, they should be a good hamstring activator for you due to an increased range of motion.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
—Steve Holman and Jonathan Lawson
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