Top 10 Best Leg Curl Alternatives
The Hamstrings are the least developed body part of most of the athletes. They don’t even like to train their legs and if they train them, they don’t really target the hamstrings muscles because they don’t really know the exercises to target the muscles of hamstrings.
The hamstrings are a vital muscle that you need to train. They are also the largest muscle group in the body which consists of three main muscles – semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris.
And, the basic function of them is to curl the leg back.
The most common exercise for developing the muscles of hamstrings is the leg curl. There are two alternatives to do leg curls – Lying leg curls and standing leg curls, but both need a machine.
But, what if you don’t have access to the machines? Is there any exercise to train your hamstrings at home?
The good news is that you don’t need a leg curl machine to train your hamstrings. There are several leg curl alternatives that you can do at home or in the gym to train your hamstrings.
Here, I will list down the 10 best tried-and-tested leg curl alternatives to strengthen your hamstrings and the overall posterior chain.
Benefits of leg curl
Before we jump to leg curl alternatives, it is important to first discuss the benefits of doing leg curls. The primary benefits of doing a leg curl are strengthening and improving flexibility in your hamstrings.
Hamstrings are the most vulnerable area for strains and tears, especially in training, running, and cycling.
Having a strong and flexible hamstring is important for the overall lower body strength and to prevent your hamstrings from injuries. A person with good leg strength can walk for long distances without tiring. No muscles except legs of the body can deliver such great strength and endurance.
But, you need to do leg curl exercise with proper and attention because it involves the risk of injury. It forces your knees into an unnatural movement which increases the chances of leg injuries.
Hence, I recommend doing the below-mentioned exercises for hamstrings instead of leg curl exercise on a machine.
Top 10 Leg Curl Alternatives
1. Stiff Legged Deadlift
Equipment Needed: Barbell / Dumbbell
Stiff-legged deadlift, also known as Straight-Leg Deadlift and Romanian Deadlift, is one of the most effective exercises to train your hamstrings. This is my favorite exercise as it gives the maximum possible stretch to your hamstrings.
But, this is a bit difficult to perform so I would suggest using much less weight. Many people do it wrong, so first get your form correct and then increase the weight.
How To Do Stiff Leg Deadlift:
- Take hold of a barbell or dumbbell with the shoulder-width grip and come up to a standing position.
- Keep your back and knee straight and slowly bend forward from the waist until your chest is parallel to the floor.
- While keeping the knees locked come back to a standing position and retract your shoulder blades.
- Repeat it for the desired amount of repetitions and sets.
Note: Do not let your legs to help you as in regular deadlifts.
ProTip: Stand on a bench and perform this exercise so that you can lower the weights to the maximum to get that maximum possible stretch.
2. Good Mornings
Equipment Needed: Barbell
This is another leg curl alternative that you can do to hit your hamstrings muscles. This is going to be hitting not only your hamstrings but also your lower back and glutes.
You just need a barbell to perform this exercise and it would be better to do it with the empty bar if you are doing it for the first time and gradually increase the weight.
How To Do Good Mornings:
- Stand straight up and place your feet at hip-width apart.
- Hold a barbell and place it over your upper back.
- Keeping your legs locked and core tight, bend forward from the waist, head up, while pushing your hips backward until your chest is parallel to the floor.
- Hold there for 2 seconds then come back to the starting position.
- Repeat it for the desired number of repetitions and sets.
Note: A beginner doing it for the first time can bend his knees a little bit while leaning forward and once you get comfortable doing it, try to keep your legs locked because it will pull your hamstrings to the maximum.
3. Sliding Leg Curls
Equipment Needed: None
This is not quite a common exercise, but it is a very effective exercise for your hamstrings. It is one of the bodyweight exercises for your hamstrings.
Sliding Leg Curl is a leg curl alternative in which you need to slide your feet on the floor, keeping your upper body stable and core tight.
This exercise needs to be done on a low-friction floor. You can use something slippery like a towel if you have a rough surface so that you can put your feet over it to slide over the floor.
How To Do Sliding Leg Curl:
- Lie Down on your back on the floor.
- Place your feet on the small towel, if the surface is rough otherwise plant your feet on the floor.
- Push your hips upward so that only your upper back, feet, and neck touches the floor. This is the starting position.
- Straighten your legs using your heels to push the towel along the floor while keeping the hips off the floor.
- Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings at the top, then slide your feet back to the starting position.
- Repeat it for the desired number of repetitions.
4. Hip Bridge
Equipment Needed: None
The hip bridge is one of the leg curl alternatives that you can perform anywhere as it doesn’t need any equipment. It is a very easy and effective exercise for your lower body muscles.
This exercise targets primarily the glutes and hamstrings.
How To Do Hip Bridge:
- Lie down flat on your back with your head towards the ceiling.
- Bend your knees over 90 degrees and plant your feet at hip-width apart.
- Place your hands by your side on the floor.
- Push through the heels, raise your hips upwards so that only your upper back and feet are left on the floor.
- Squeeze your glutes, hold it there for 2 seconds, and then slowly lower your hips down to the floor.
Note: Keep your movement slow and controlled to put your muscles under constant tension. You can also do Single Leg hip extension, which is a little difficult exercise than this in which you need to raise your one leg as high as possible and perform this exercise.
5. Kettlebell Swings
Equipment Needed: Kettlebells
This is one of the most popular kettlebell exercises which you can do that only target your hamstrings, but also your overall posterior chain and core. Kettlebell Swings is a versatile exercise, but it needs to be done in the proper form.
People do not do this exercise correctly as they try to lift heavy weights and fail to focus on the form.
How To Do Kettlebell Swing:
- Stand in a hip hinge position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the kettlebell with both hands and pull it behind between your legs.
- Push your hips forward and swing the kettlebell parallel to the floor. It is important to not use the strength of your arms instead use the power of your hips to actually swing the kettlebell.
- Swing back the kettlebell between your legs and hip hinge back.
- Repeat the desired number of repetitions and sets.
Note: There is a difference between a hip hinge position and a squat position. You need to be in a hip hinge position where you push your hips backward and slightly bend your knees.
6. Dumbbell Leg Curls
Equipment Needed: Dumbbell
There may be times where you can’t have access to the leg curl machine, but you love it and want to do it. Dumbbell leg curl is the lying leg curl alternative, which you can perform at the gym or even at your home.
There is a risk of dumbbell slipping, so make sure to position the dumbbell correctly between your feet.
How To Do Dumbbell Leg Curl:
- Start by placing the dumbbell between your feet and lying down on your stomach.
- Slowing bend your knees along with the dumbbell and contract your hamstrings.
- Once you have reached a 90-degree angle, slowly lower the dumbbell back to the floor.
Note: Choose the correct amount of weight and make sure to hold the dumbbell correctly to prevent it from slipping off.
7. Stability Ball Hamstring Curl
Equipment Needed: Stability Ball
One of the best alternatives to the leg curl machine is stability ball hamstring curl. But, you need a stability ball for this exercise and the good thing is that it is quite cheap and you can do a variety of exercises on this stability ball.
This exercise will target your hamstrings as well as your glutes and core. You need to be very stable and controlled while performing this exercise.
How To Do Stability Ball Hamstring Curl:
- First, lie down flat on your back with your arms resting by your side on the floor.
- Stretch your feet and place them on the stability ball, lifting your hips off the ground. This is the starting position.
- Bend your knees while lifting your hips up, drawing the stability ball towards you.
- Hold at the top for 2 seconds, then return to the starting position by straightening your knees.
Equipment Needed: Barbell
This is one of the most popular weight lifting exercises that hit almost each body part except your arms, shoulders, and lats. You can call it a full-body workout exercise because it involves almost every muscle in your body.
But, this involves a risk of injury in your lower back if you do not perform it in the right movement. You need to do it in the proper form to avoid any risk associated with it.
I recommend using lightweights and just focus on your form.
How To Do Deadlift:
- Place a barbell on the floor in front of you.
- Stand straight with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your knees slightly, lean forward, and grasp the barbell just outside of legs. Keep your back always straight to avoid any injury.
- Lift the bar up by using your legs, straighten up until you are standing upright while keeping a straight back.
- Slowly lean forward, bending your knees a little and lower the barbell down to the floor.
- Repeat it for the desired number of repetitions.
Note: Do not do Deadlift with the back in an arched position. Keep your head up and back straight while doing it.
9. Alternating Reverse Lunges
Equipment Needed: Dumbbell / Barbell (Optional)
Repetitions: 10-15 (Each leg)
It is another leg curl alternatives that give you the same benefits as of the leg curl machine. It is not similar to the standard forward lunges, reverse lunges give more emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes.
Alternating Reverse Lunges gives a nice stretch in your hamstrings. It also allows the majority of the weight to stay on the back leg, which is a much safer movement than the forward lunges.
How To Do Alternating Reverse Lunges:
- Start by standing upright with your feet together.
- Keeping your torso upright, take a large step backward with your left leg.
- Lower your body until your left leg almost touches the floor.
- Return to the starting position and lunge back with the right leg.
- Continue for the desired number of repetitions and sets.
10. Donkey Kicks
Equipment Needed: None
Repetitions: 20 (Each Leg)
Donkey kicks are commonly known as a classic glute exercise, but I must tell you that it is not just for your glutes, you can make it work for your glutes as well as hamstring.
There is a slight variation which you need to do in this exercise to make it work for your hamstrings. What you can do is that lift your leg up as high as you can to make it work for your hamstring, but make sure to not injure your lower back. If you feel any strain in your lower back, you might be lifting your leg too high.
How To Do Donkey Kicks:
- Get on all fours with your hands under shoulder and knees under hips.
- Keeping the back flat, bend your left knee at 90 degrees and slowly lift your left leg up towards the ceiling.
- Lower your knee to the starting position without touching the floor.
- This is a unilateral exercise so you should do all reps on one side, then switch legs.
These are the best leg curl alternatives that I love to include in my workouts and I have got pretty nice results. There would be no need to go to the gym if you include any of these exercises in your at-home workout sessions. These exercises not only strengthen your hamstrings but also improves your glutes and core strength. But, keep one thing in mind, instead of trying to lift heavy weights try to master the movement.
Are leg curls bad?
Doing leg curl on a machine can be bad for your knees because it puts a lot of pressure on your knees into an unnatural movement which increases the chances of leg injuries. You must have seen big bodybuilders can’t walk properly once they reach the age of 50. To avoid any leg injury, do these above-listed leg curl alternative exercises to train your hamstring.
Are leg curls bad for your back?
I don’t think so. Many people don’t do leg curls correctly, they arch their back and try to take the help of their lower back to lift the weights. It causes back pain and injury. What you should do is keep your back relaxed and lift the weight from your hamstring. Lift lesser weight if you are facing a problem in lifting the weight during the leg curl exercise or try alternatives to leg curl.
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