While soreness can be expected after squatting, hamstring soreness may indicate that there are some issues with your technique, which we’ll break down in detail later in this article.
But first, let’s answer the question…
Why are your hamstrings sore after squats? Hamstrings can be sore after a squat workout for three reasons: (1) DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), (2) fatigue, or (3) injury. A review of your squat technique, the amount of work/volume you did during your workout, and understanding the context of your other workouts can help you identify the reason for your soreness.
Why Are Your Hamstrings Sore After Squats?
If you are experiencing sore hamstrings after a squat, it comes down to one or more of the following:
- You are experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
- You have an injury
- Your hamstrings are just fatigued
While the first two are important to consider, if your hamstrings are sore because of the third reason (fatigue), it may indicate a muscular weakness or poor technique. I’ll discuss this in greater detail below.
The American College of Sports Medicine provides a great definition of DOMS:
“Any type of activity that places unaccustomed loads on muscle may lead to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This type of soreness is different from acute soreness, which is pain that develops during the actual activity. Delayed soreness typically begins to develop 12-24 hours after the exercise has been performed and may produce the greatest pain between 24-72 hours after the exercise has been performed.”
Put simply, DOMS is just the feeling of your muscles repairing and recovering from the workout you put them through.
Тhere used to be a belief that it was caused by lactic acid, which floods your muscles during exercise, but that has since been disproven. DOMS is just the feeling of a muscle having been used after a workout.
So with the definition provided by the ACSM, if your last squat workout included anything that could be defined as an “unaccustomed load,” you’ve opened the door for DOMS to join the party.
But don’t confuse the term “unaccustomed load” to only define the weight of the load.
Sure, you can add more weight to make your load one that your body is not accustomed to, but you can also do that by increasing the reps in each set, increasing the total number of sets you perform, or even changing the dynamics of the exercise, like slowing down and exaggerating the lift to keep your muscles straining for longer (i.e. tempo squats).
The final piece to consider is your current state.
While you may have lifted this load for the same reps and sets previously, if you’ve had more than a few weeks of time away from it, that load can absolutely become “unaccustomed” to your circumstances.
Generally, the worst cases of DOMS will come to those who have never lifted before, or those coming back after a considerable break. Check out my article on how to return to lifting after a break in order to minimize DOMS.
But what about your hamstrings specifically?
Well your hamstrings are part of your legs, and your legs do most of the work when you squat.
While your quads are the main muscle we think of when we train squats (which are especially activated in the bottom of the squat), your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back all work to bring your hips up and forward when you finish each rep.
Read my full article on the Muscles Used In The Squat to learn more.
So at the end of the day, the more squats you do, the more you are working your hamstrings, even if they are a secondary muscle group in the exercise. And that means they can get sore.
Here’s my disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional. If you think you are injured, seek the help of a licensed professional.
I can tell you that if you have an injury, you likely felt it happen suddenly, and very likely during your workout.
While DOMS sets in a day or two after your workout (thus the “delayed onset” part of the acronym), the pain of an injury would come on suddenly or even immediately.
Think back to your squat workout…
Did you at any point during the workout experience a sudden pain in your hamstring?
Did the pain make it difficult or impossible to continue the exercises, even after some rest?
If so, you likely have an injury, and you should seek the advice of a doctor.
Your soreness could come from the fact that you are relying on your hamstrings more than you need to when you squat, and you’re simply working them more than necessary, or optimal for the squat.
If you look at the way the hamstrings work in the squat, they are only there as a secondary hip extensor to help bring your hips forward to stand upright at the end, or lockout, of the squat.
Your glutes are the primary hip extensors, so even in this case, your hamstrings really shouldn’t be doing that much work.
So if your hamstrings are sore after squatting it could mean that your glutes are weak and that you’re relying on other muscle groups (like your hamstrings) to do the work that your glutes are supposed to do.
As well, if your squat technique is off (i.e. you’re leaning too far forward), you could be using your hamstrings more than you need to, and therefore putting unnecessary stress on them, making them more sore than you expected (I’ll discuss this in more detail below).
In both these cases, you aren’t experiencing DOMS from training your hamstrings, and you’re certainly not injured, you just relying on your hamstrings to do more than your body needs them to do for the squat workout.
Check out our other guides on muscle soreness:
- Quads Sore After Squat: Is This Good Or Bad?
- Hamstrings Sore After Deadlifts: Is This Good Or Bad?
- Quads Sore After Deadlifts: Is This Good Or Bad?
- Glutes Sore After Deadlifts: Is This Good or Bad?
Technique To Implement If You Want To Reduce Hamstring Soreness From Squats
Now you may not be alarmed by the news that your hamstrings are being overworked, but it might make you want to review your form and see what you can do to improve your technique. I’m betting you’ll find more benefits than just reducing the soreness on your hamstrings.
Video your squat technique from the side. Set the camera so it is right about between your knees and your hips so you can see directly from the side as you watch your form.
In an ideal squat, you begin the motion by bending your knees and pushing your hips backward to get them out of the way and allow you to squat down. As you come back up, your hips move forward again to align with your knees and upper body, bringing you back to an upright position.
When you think about your squats, don’t only think about moving the bar/your body up and down, but also think about what is moving forward and what is moving backward.
Now as you look at your squat form, look to see how far back your hips go when you descend.
If you are pushing them too far back, that leaves more range of motion they have to cover to come back when you want to stand upright. Your hamstrings are part of the muscle group responsible for bringing those hips back, so this can be a clear indicator you’re using them too much.
Secondly, look at your upper body and how far your chest bends forward as you descend.
One way your body may try to bring your upper body back up is to bring your hips back in from behind you, so if you’re falling forward on your squats, and you’re able to get it up, this can be another way you’re asking more of your hamstrings while you squat.
Which Squat Variations Can Make The Hamstrings More Sore?
There are two squat variations that can target your hamstrings more:
- Good Mornings
Not a long list, I know.
But my advice is to avoid these variations in your training if you want to reduce the amount of hamstring soreness that you get from squatting.
Remember, one of the reasons you’re getting sore hamstrings from squatting is not because they’re weak and you need to train your hamstrings more.
It’s likely because your glutes are slightly weaker and your hamstrings are compensating for that weaker muscle group.
What To Do If Your Hamstrings Are Sore After Squats (6 Things To Follow)
Here are my 6 tips if you want to reduce the soreness in your hamstrings:
- Activate Your Glutes
- Foam Roll Your Hamstrings
- Avoid The “Good Morning Squat”
- Build Stronger Glutes
- Spread out your volume
- Adjust your training frequency
Activate Your Glutes
Given that the glutes are the other muscle group that should be working to lock out your squat, focus on activating your glutes. You can do this by performing glute-specific exercises, like a single-leg glute bridge.
You can use these warmups to create that mind muscle connection to make sure your glutes aren’t lazy when you start squatting.
Read my full squat warm up routine.
Foam Roll Your Hamstrings
On the flip side, you can foam roll your hamstrings to relax them.
By activating your glutes with the advice above and then relaxing your hamstrings, you can keep the workload on the right muscle group (the glutes) to prevent the fatigue and soreness you’ve been experiencing.
My recommendation is to spend 1-2 minutes rolling out your hamstrings with either a foam roller or lacrosse ball.
Avoid The “Good Morning Squat”
When you perform a technically correct squat, your hips and the barbell need to move at the same tempo.
Some people will have difficulty with their form, such that their squat looks more like a good morning. Their hips rise faster than the barbell out of the bottom position and it causes their torso to be parallel to the floor.
Since the Good Morning squat exaggerates the use of your hamstrings, by avoiding or fixing this flaw in your technique, you can reduce the amount of strain and load put onto your hamstrings.
If you are experiencing this problem, I highly encourage you to read my article on How To Fix The Good Morning Squat.
Build Stronger Glutes
Not only should you take the time before your squat workout to make sure your glutes are activated, you can (and should) strengthen them on their own.
Take the time after your main squat work, or during another lower body workout, to do dedicated glute work.
The glute exercises that will directly help strengthen your squat are:
I wrote complete guides on each of these exercises, so give them a read.
With stronger glutes, they’ll do the job you need them to do when you squat so your hamstrings don’t have to pick up the slack and do more than they should.
Spread out your volume
When we discussed the “unaccustomed load” and how it can cause soreness, you might remember that one way to increase that load is by adding more sets and reps.
If you think that’s what’s causing your soreness, try spreading it out over more sets, instead of trying to do sets with more reps.
Those higher rep sets are usually correlated with more soreness, so try breaking it up, if your program doesn’t specifically call for the high rep sets.
For example, instead of starting with 3 sets of 5 reps on week 1, and progressing to 6, 7, and 8 reps over subsequent weeks, try increasing sets to 4 sets of 5 reps, 5 sets of 5 reps, and 6 sets of 6 reps.
Adjust your training frequency
Another way you can spread out your work is to try training squats more than a single workout.
The idea here is to get the same amount of work completed within the training week, but over 2-3 workouts vs one workout.
Less squat work on a single day may reduce the overall soreness you experience as the hamstrings won’t be as fatigued after the workout. If you space your squat workouts with a rest day in between, then your hamstrings can be fully recovered before going into the next workout.
This only works if you have the availability to train multiple times per week, but if you can, I highly recommend you try it to see if you can reduce your overall hamstring soreness while squatting.
Learn more about how many times per week you should squat.
Recap: Hamstring Soreness After Squats
Here’s a quick checklist to go through:
- What kind of soreness is it? Look through this resource to determine if you are experiencing DOMS, an injury, or just extra fatigue in your hamstrings.
- Was the soreness intended? Did you focus on a variation or accessory of the squats that emphasized your hamstrings more?
- Check your technique. Review our breakdown of your technique above, watch video, and honestly determine if your form is in need of correction.
- Stay mobile. If nothing else, just keep moving around. Your hamstrings will benefit from the blood flow and warmth that comes from staying active and mobile, even if it’s just walking around or low intensity lower body work.
Can You Still Train If Your Hamstrings Are Sore From Squatting?
As long as you aren’t injured, you’re good to keep training your hamstrings after a squat session that left them more sore than usual.
But I would advise you to be mindful of how you train any muscle when it’s already sore. Take extra time to warm up and stretch. Remember that your sore muscle may not be at full strength capacity, so adjust your load and intensity so you aren’t overreaching in your current circumstances.
Just because you can do a certain weight when you’re rested doesn’t mean you can do the same thing a few days later when you’re sore. Adjust accordingly, and you should still have a great workout.
About The Author
Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.