Last updated on September 18th, 2022 at 07:10 pm
Squats are often referred to as, “The King of Lower Body Exercises”.
So, you would expect the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and supporting muscles to be worked.
However, have you ever noticed that frequently your hamstrings feel especially sore after an intense squat session?
In this article I’ll explain the 5 main reasons that this occurs, and how you can fix these. But first, here’s the quick answer.
If you’re feeling your hamstrings after squats, this generally comes down to DOMS, weak glutes or weak hamstrings, feeling your adductors rather than your hamstrings, or poor form/movement pattern, e.g. excessively leaning forward when you squat.
Top 5 Reasons Your Hamstring Are Sore After Squats
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You’ve Turned the Bottom of the Squat into a Good Morning
I’ll openly admit that the hamstrings are worked to some degree during squats.
In fact, I too have had extremely sore hamstrings after squats.
However, it wasn’t until I actually watched a video of myself squatting that I realised what the problem was.
That being said, it is the same error that I see many people do day-in-day-out in the squat rack.
The torso should remain far more upright during a squat than it would during a hip hinge movement, such as the deadlift.
So, realistically you should feel the hamstrings a lot more during deadlifts.
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Nevertheless, I often see many people push the hips too far back during squats.
Unfortunately, this turns the squat into some type of hybrid good morning exercise.
I think this occurs because we are typically trying to get below ninety degrees when we squat, while using a heavy load.
But rather than actually squatting deeper, i.e. ass to grass, we tend to lean forward and push the hips further back.
You’ll know if you’re doing this simply by noting the angle of your torso.
If you’re still pretty upright, it’s all good.
But, if you find that your upper body is almost parallel to the ground, you’re no longer officially squatting.
The Role of the Hamstrings During the Squat
The primary role of the hamstrings during a squat is to support the angle of the back.
The hamstrings are what is known as biarticular.
Basically, they cross two joints, namely the knees and hips.
When you bend at the knee the hamstrings shorten.
Whereas, when you bend at the hips the hamstrings lengthen.
So, in effect the two joints bending should cancel out too much hamstring stimulation during the squat.
Therefore, the hamstrings are not actually changing much in length during the movement.
However, once you start pushing the hips back too far, you lengthen the hamstrings, and activate them much more.
And this is typically why you get sore hamstrings after squats.
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You Are Mistaking Adductor Soreness For the Hamstrings
There is a chance that the soreness you feel after squats is not your hamstrings at all.
If you’ve adhered to good squat mechanics, but still feel sore, it could well be your adductors.
The hip adductors are a group of five muscles located in the medial thigh.
We most commonly think of the adductors as being located on the inner thigh.
Basically, when we squeeze the legs together we are mainly using the adductor muscles.
However, due to the fact that the adductor group has many different muscles (and locations) this can cause confusion.
Plus, all the adductor muscles are connected to the Obturator nerve, which is located in the lumbar plexus.
So, there is some form of “connection” to the lower back, which in turn can make if “feel” as though it is your hamstrings that are sore.
Role of the Adductors During the Squat
Greg Nuckols wrote an article about how the adductors are affected when we squat.
The article focuses on a study by the European Journal of Physiology.
The study was based around the effects of squat training at different depths.
Plus, how this impacted increased muscle volume in the lower body.
Two groups of untrained young men went through 10 weeks of squatting, twice a week.
They were tested for their one-rep max in the full squat and the half squat.
Plus, measurements were taken of their quads, glutes, hamstrings, and adductors.
One group of men performed full squats, where they went through 140 degrees of knee range of motion.
The other group performed half squats, where knee flexion was 90 degrees.
Obviously, the full squat group gained more muscle than the half squat group.
The increase in muscle volume for the full squat group averaged as follows:
- Hamstrings – less than 1% increase
- Quads – 5% increase
- Adductors – 6.2%
- Glutes – 6.7%
RELATED====>Why Don’t I Feel Squats in My Glutes?
So, looking at these results, we typically look at the squat as more of a quad and glute exercise, and this certainly rings true here.
The lack of hamstring muscle volume increase didn’t really surprise me, as the hamstrings are there more for support than stimulation.
However, I was taken aback by the increase in adductor muscle volume.
Basically, the adductors are working far harder than we probably imagine during the squat.
And due to their location, connecting muscles and nerves, adductor soreness is probably being mistaken for the hamstrings in many cases.
RELATED====>Are Squats and Deadlifts Enough For Legs?
Fix Your Squat By Training Your Adductors
You Are Squatting Deeper When Using Lighter Weights
Something I frequently hear is that the “hamstrings” are fine when you go heavy with low reps, but absolutely kill after using a lighter weight and higher reps.
Whether you want to admit it or not, this is generally because you are going deeper into the squat with the lighter weight.
Basically, your form is better with the lighter weights.
I will also say that some form of soreness is completely normal whether squatting heavy or light.
I mentioned DOMS in my introduction, and I think we ALL know just how real this is.
However, I know that I have followed a strength training program, and therefore haven’t squatted (or performed any exercise) for more than 5 reps for a couple of months.
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Then as soon as I revert to a higher rep training program I notice that I’m aching much more, even though I’m using lighter weights.
I guess it’s just a case of your body trying to acclimatize to the new type of stimulation.
Finally, it’s important to realise that the soreness may once more be the adductors, as opposed to the hamstrings.
In fact, I believe this is much more likely to be the case.
I’ve mentioned that we all typically adhere to better form with lighter weights (I know no-one wants to admit to this, but it’s true).
I’ve even seen many YouTube videos of experts and gurus of squatting having slight tweaks in their technique when squatting BIG.
But, who am I to judge?
When you’re pushing that much weight, I have no right to call it.
However, I know the lighter the weight is on the bar, the more likely that ALL of us perform the squat with much better form.
And so main “growth” muscles, i.e. quads, glutes, and adductors are going to really feel it.
Are 20-Rep Squats the ULTIMATE Muscle Builder?
So, hopefully you understand a little better why your hamstrings are sore after squats.
The main reason this occurs is because you’re pushing your hips back too far.
Basically, if you find that your torso is nearer to horizontal than vertical you’re not using proper form.
It’s also important to realise that the soreness could actually be adductors and not your hamstrings at all.
I will also say that when switching from one training protocol to another, especially when adding volume, you can typically expect additional soreness in the form of DOMS.
The barbell back squat happens to be one of just SIX exercises that the strength program created by Alex Robles focuses on.
In fact, this is a 15-week strength building program that uses only 6 exercises and 30-minute workouts.
And yet you can still pack on muscle and strength.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.