The hamstrings are a large muscle and it contributes a large amount to big looking legs and athletic performance. Can you train hamstrings every day and is that best for growth? Here’s what you want to know.
The hamstrings are a large muscle group that doesn’t recover quickly and is sensitive to injuries. That means hamstring workouts take at least 2-3 days to fully recover from. Training hamstrings every day is going to be detrimental to muscle growth and strength and raises injury risk.
Why is more not better and what can you do to optimize the growth of your hamstrings? Keep reading below to find out.
Can You Train Hamstrings Every day?
You have to use pretty much all of your muscles every day. There is nothing wrong with that and it’s necessary to maintain a basic level of muscle mass and central nervous system control. If you’ve ever had an arm or leg in a cast for a few weeks, you know that the muscle in that body part has getting a lot smaller at the end.
So normal use of any muscle every day is not a problem. However, we’re not talking about normal use here, we’re talking about training. Said simply, training is using a muscle to beyond what is normal for the purpose of letting it get used to use beyond normal. Doing this is a signal for the body to make the muscle bigger and/or stronger.
However, muscle growth doesn’t actually happen when you lift weights, it happens after. Yes a muscle might look bigger after a good training session but this is temporary. It’s just extra blood being sent to the muscle which gives it a fuller appearance.
What happens in practice when you ask a muscle to do something beyond what it’s used to is that the muscle fibers start breaking down or get damaged. This is a normal process and nothing to be scared of but you should be aware of it.
The damage to the muscle fibers activates different processes in your body that repair the muscles. This repair process is actually what grows the muscle. The body fuses two ends of a muscle fibre together with new protein which is what adds mass.
This is a process that doesn’t happen immediately and takes a while. The more damage you did by training, the longer the recovery process takes. How quickly your body recovers also depends on; age, gender, diet, sleep, other activity and hormone levels.
In general, it takes about 24 hours after a light workout for the muscle to recover. For more intense workouts 2 or 3 days recovery time is expected but if you went really hard, even longer is possible. If you train a muscle before you’re fully recovered, there is a good chance the result is actually detrimental. However, those times are averages. Bigger muscles tend to recover slower than small muscles since there is simply more to repair.
The hamstrings are a large muscle group which means it will take quite a while to recover. Also, hamstring exercises often are big compound movements. This means a lot of muscle mass is used for one movement. This adds extra fatigue and puts higher demands on recovery. That means hamstring exercise take quite a while to recover from. Two workouts a week is about the limit for most people, especially if you also train other body parts.
Of course there is a difference between exercises. A heavy barbell deadlift produces a lot more fatigue than a lightweight leg curl. The first will take quite a few days to fully recover from. The second might just take 1 or 2 days. That’s why it does depend what your hamstring workouts look like. Either way, every day is going to be too much.
Because the hamstrings take long to recover and they are a muscle that is often injured in athletic situations, you shouldn’t take any risk and keep your hamstring workouts minimal. Twice a week is good and gives the muscles enough time to recover. If you play a sport that also takes a heavy toll on the hamstrings, keep a close eye on if you recover properly.
With proper workouts, 2 hamstrings sessions a week is enough. Click here to find good hamstrings exercises for at home without equipment.
Potential Problems Training Hamstrings Every day
Since the problem is recovery it largely depends on the intensity you train your hamstrings with if training every day is a problem. However, by training a muscle every day without breaks, can lead to certain injuries and might not even give you the result you want.
For hamstrings, training two times a week is enough as long as you use moderate to high intensity. This is more effective than light workouts every day even if you could keep doing it. More than two (low intensity) workouts is a waste of energy and time that could be used to train other things. Besides not getting any more muscle growth, there are actually a few other problems with training your hamstrings every day without breaks;
- You could get weaker: If a muscle is not recovered properly, it can’t produce as much force
- Joint and/or tendon pain: Tendons and joints don’t get a lot of blood flow compared to muscles. That means they get less nutrients and this means longer recovery time. Even if your muscles would keep up, your joints and tendons might not.
- It will detract from your other training: You’ll have less time, energy and recovery potential left for other muscle groups.
Training your hamstrings two or three times a week with higher intensity is more sustainable than doing a light workout every day unless that workout is light enough to not actually result in any muscle growth.
Is Training Hamstrings Everyday Good For Muscle Growth?
For growing a muscle, more volume is often the right way to go. If you do it every day, you can do more sets and repetitions so will that lead to more muscle growth?
As you can read above, muscles need time to recover. Muscles grow because your body repairs the torn muscle fibers and adds new proteins to ‘glue’ the ends back together. If you put your hamstrings through another hard workout, you are potentially tearing muscle fibers that haven’t been fully repaired yet + more which means the recovery will take longer.
That means you might be undoing recovery work your body hadn’t finished yet and setting yourself back. If you start the next workout when a muscle is fully recovered, you can use more force and intensity which means more muscle tearing and more growth. How long that takes is different for everyone but it’s probably not 24 hours later. (Unless you’re using performance enhancing drugs)
On top of that, you dramatically increase the risk of injury by training the same muscle hard every day. If you get injured, this will set you back more than getting in that extra workout it worth (which isn’t actually much).
Especially with hamstring workouts, you often do heavy compound exercises like squats and deadlifts. These exercises work the hamstrings hard but also use a lot of muscles in the rest of the body. That includes many stabilizing muscles. If those stabilizing muscles are not fully recovered and you put another heavy load on them, you probably won’t be able to perform the exercise with good form. This dramatically increases the injury risk.
And once you get injured, training becomes much more difficult and you will have trouble gaining meaningful amounts of muscle until you’re recovered.
How to improve Hamstrings Muscle Growth?
Of course you still want all the muscle gains and you want them now. What can you do to optimize your hamstring workouts and get the most out of them?
There are two parts to this tricep growth equation: During your workout and after.
During the workout
While working out, that’s your chance to signal your body that it has to grow the muscle. Here are some ways you can do this best.
- Use the right intensity (Sets, repetitions and weight).
- Aim to do about 12 challenging sets per week for optimal muscle growth you can recover from. This means with exercises directly targeting the hamstrings either compound or isolation exercises. Warmup sets don’t count. If you’re just starting out, aim for about 4 heavy sets per workout for the first few weeks. Increase to 6 after two or three weeks.
- Use two or three different hamstring exercises per workout.
- Use progressive overload. (Increase weight or repetitions every workout)
- Use different exercises that target different parts of the hamstrings(it’s not just one muscle)
- Use a mix of heavy weight/low repetitions and light(er) weight/high repetitions.
- Don’t rest too long between sets. Muscle growth is optimal with 30-90 seconds rest between sets. On heavy sets up to 2 minutes is OK.
- Stop 2 repetitions before failure. If you have a lot more left, do more reps or increase the weight. If you can’t make the reps, reduce the weight.
It’s a good idea to mix up the workouts in reps and weight. Doing one workout with heavy weights but lower (5-8) repetitions and another workout with lower weights but higher repetitions (8-15) helps provide different training impulses to the muscles and also makes it a bit easier to recover. The heavy workout can focus on compound lifts like squats and deadlifts while the lighter workout can focus on leg extensions, lunges, etc.
After The workout
As you can read above, the actual growth of the muscle happens in the 1-3 days after the workout. So after you gave your body the signal to repair the hamstrings, now it’s time to give your body the best chance to actually do this. Muscle recovery is a very complicated topic and not possible to fit into a few paragraphs. On top of that, everyone is different and has different needs for recovery. That said, here are some general pointers that help everyone recover.
- Take enough time off between working out the hamstrings: As you can see above, 2 workouts spaced out evenly throughout the week is best.
- Sleep more: Most recovery happens during sleep. Sleeping more means your body has more time to work.
- Eat enough calories: To gain muscle, you’ll have to eat slightly more calories than you use during the day. A 200 calorie surplus is a good place to start.
- Eat enough protein: Muscle is mostly made up of protein. Giving your body enough means there is more building material available for repairs. There is no need to go overboard, aim for +-1.6 grams of protein per kilo of body weight.
- Make sure to get enough micronutrients: The body doesn’t only use macronutrients to work and grow. It’s best to eat a complete nutrient dense diet but supplements are a good option too (but not a replacement for healthy foods).
If you notice fatigue and can’t recover quickly enough, adjusting the factors above doesn’t help and you absolutely want to focus on growing your hamstrings, consider reducing training other body parts. You body has only so much capacity to recover, no matter how good the circumstances. Reducing the training of other body parts means there is more capacity to recover the hamstrings.