Leg curls are an excellent exercise to work the hamstrings, but they are not always practical, especially if you do not have access to a high-quality leg curl machine. 

If you've been looking for leg curl alternatives, this is the guide for you. 

I've created a list of leg curl alternatives that'll work your hamstrings in the same way that a leg curl machine will. However, you might need to use alternative equipment depending on the exercise.  

Here are 15 of the BEST leg curl alternatives that you can do at home (in your garage gym) or at your local gym. I recommend adding two of these leg curl substitutes to your workout routine.

1. Dumbbell Hamstring Curls (Leg Curl Alternative With Dumbbells)

Man Doing Dumbbell Hamstring Curls

An old-school bodybuilding exercise is the dumbbell hamstring curl. It is a simple hamstring exercise that is an effective and convenient alternative to using a leg curl machine. 

You can achieve better results by performing the dumbbell hamstring curls on a declined bench. The increased level of resistance is caused by your feet being close to your butt. 

Think of this exercise like a dumbbell version of the lying leg curl machine. 


  • Requires minimal equipment.
  • Can be performed almost anywhere. 
  • Perfect for beginners.

How To Perform The Dumbbell Hamstring Curl: 

  1. Put a dumbbell between your feet, and lie face down on the bench. 
  2. Make sure your legs are parallel to the floor and lift the dumbbell off the floor. 
  3. Curl the dumbbell until the upper part is pointed at the ceiling and then exhale. 
  4. Slowly lower your legs down to the starting position until you feel a minor stretch in your hamstrings and then inhale. 
  5. Repeat the same steps. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Be sure to work your hamstrings using a FULL range of motion. Let your legs stretch fully at the bottom of each rep.  

Required Equipment - Best Budget Adjustable Dumbbells

2. Cable Hamstring Curls (Standing Or Prone) 

Man Doing Cable Hamstring Curls In The Gym

You do not need a curl machine to perform leg curls — you have the option of using an adjustable cable machine. All you will need to perform the cable hamstring curl (standing or prone) is an ankle cuff.

The cable hamstring curl will work one leg at a time so that both legs can be trained equally as an added advantage to the exercise.

It's basically a standing version of the lying leg curl. 


  • You don't need a ton of weight. 
  • Suitable for all ability ranges.
  • Trains each leg separately.

How To Perform The Cable Hamstring Curls (Standing Or Prone): 

  1. Secure the cuff to your right leg and fix the cable to the cuff. Stand in front of the machine with your feet hip width and use your arms to balance. Remember to brace your core. 
  2. Bend your right leg and curl your foot up to your butt. Extend your hip to increase the activation of the hamstring, but try not to hyperextend your spine. 
  3. Lower your leg to the starting position and repeat the same steps. 
  4. You can also try to perform the exercise by lying on your front. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Focus on slow and controlled negatives to get the most from this hamstring curl substitute. - Your legs will thank me. 
  • Don't have a cable machine? No worries, you can perform resistance band hamstring curls instead.

3. Nordic Leg Curls (Nordic Hamstring Curl)

Nordic Leg Curls (Nordic Hamstring Curl)

One of the most challenging leg curl alternative exercises is the bodyweight hamstring exercise, also known as the Nordic hamstring curl.

Due to the Nordic curls toughness, it's important to note that you should only perform the Nordic hamstring curl if you already have strong hamstrings. 

Nordic hamstring curls remind me of the glute ham raise, but minus the huge machine and the fact that Nordic curls are actually tougher than the glut ham raise. 

Who needs the seated leg curl machine, when you've got Nordic curls, right?


  • Uses your body weight.
  • Builds super-strong hamstrings. 

How To Perform The Nordic Leg Curl: 

  1. Place a thick exercise mat on the floor and kneel with your feet held strong. You can also put your feet under a training bench, a loaded barbell or ask your trainer to hold them down instead. Remember to keep your thighs vertical, your body upright, and hold your arms in front of you. 
  2. Use your hamstrings to control movement, lean forward and lower yourself down to the floor. Remember to keep your body straight and use your arms to catch yourself. 
  3. Push with your arms and pull with your hamstrings to get back to the starting position. 
  4. Try to rely less on your arms and work with your legs when you increase your strength over time. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you hold a pole in your hands and use your arms for assistance, or loop a resistance band around your chest and fix it to an anchor behind, you can take some of the stress off your hamstrings. 

Related Article: Best Gym Mats

4. Stability Ball Leg Curls (Alternative To Leg Curls For At Home)

Man Doing Stability Ball Leg Curl Exercise

Another great leg curl alternative exercise is the stability ball leg curl, which targets the hamstrings (using knee flexion), glutes, and lower back at the same time. Using an exercise ball is more of a challenge than it might seem.

Once you master this movement, you can still progress with the exercise by using one leg at a time.

I used to love teaching the stability ball hamstring curl when I first became a trainer. WARNING Swiss ball hamstring curls aren't as easy as they look. 


  • Great for all ages and abilities. 
  • You only need an exercise ball.
  • Helps you master your body weight.
  • Perfect if you can't do machine leg curls.

How To Perform The Stability Ball Leg Curl: 

  1. Lie on your back and place your feet on the stability ball. Remember to lift your hips and form a straight line with your body (glute bridge) while bracing your abs. 
  2. Bend your legs as you simultaneously lift your hips. Remember not to hyperextend your spine. 
  3. Roll away the ball back to the starting position, but do not let your hips drop. 
  4. Repeat the same steps. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Struggling to balance during stability ball hamstring curls? Use your arms to stabilize your body. Place them out wide for maximal stability and bring them closer as you become stronger.  

Related Article - Good Morning Alternatives

5. Hamstring Walkouts (Leg Curl Alternative Without A Machine)

Man Doing Hamstring Walkouts In Home Gym

The hamstring walkout is ideal for a home gym setup. It is a straightforward exercise that is a useful and functional way to work the hamstring.

It creates very little stress on your lumbar spine, making it a good choice for people who suffer from lower back pain. 


  • Doesn't require any equipment. 
  • It can be performed pretty much anywhere. 
  • Good for people with lower back issues. 

How To Perform The Hamstring Walkouts: 

  1. Lie on your back and keep your legs bent and your feet flat. Use your hips to push up towards the ceiling and brace your core (glute bridge). 
  2. Walk your feet away, keeping your glutes and hamstrings contracted. Try to take as many steps as you can, but do not allow your butt or legs to touch the floor. 
  3. Walk your feet back to the starting position and repeat the same steps. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • ALWAYS keep your glutes engaged throughout the movement. You can do this by pushing your hips up high and locking them in place by squeezing your glutes.  

6. Heel Slide Leg Curls 

Man Performing Heel Slide Leg Curls

Heel slide leg curls are a good leg curl alternative to add to your home workout routine if you wish to exercise your hamstrings. 

You will only need a towel or slippery socks along with a smooth floor. If you are looking for a more refined and advanced workout, then you can use a sliding pad which is often used in group exercise classes. 

Lying leg curls will be the last exercise on your mind with this one in your arsenal.


  • Minimal space required. 
  • It's a bodyweight exercise.

How To Perform The Heel Slide Leg Curls: 

  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight. Rest your heels on the towel or sliding pad. Contract your glutes and lift your hips a few inches away from the floor. 
  2. Bend your legs and slide your heels towards your butt as you simultaneously push your hips towards the ceiling. 
  3. Extend your legs back to the starting position, but do not allow your butt or legs to touch down. 
  4. The exercise can be performed one leg at a time. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  •  You can use two small weight plates under your heels for this movement. 

7. TRX Leg Curls 

Man Doing TRX Leg Curls

You can train almost every muscle in your body using only your own bodyweight by harnessing suspension trainers like the TRX.

Furthermore, if you work out with a TRX, it will increase core and stabilizer activation, which makes a suspension trainer exercise highly functional. 

TRX leg curls (however, there are other suspension trainers available) are a powerful way to exercise the hamstring through knee flexion. And you can do them almost everywhere. 

It works your hamstrings in a similar way to the lying hamstring curl machine, except for the fact you're on your back. 

Master this lying leg curl substitute and you'll have super-strong hamstring muscles. 

If you don't have a TRX trainer, it might be beneficial to explore some of the best TRX alternatives out there, allowing you to continue your suspension training effectively


  • Increases core strength. 
  • Builds strong hamstring muscles (through knee flexion). 

How To Perform The TRX Leg Curls: 

  1. Set your TRX close to knee height. Lie down on your back and place your feet in the footrests. Keep your body and legs straight as you lift your hips off the floor. 
  2. Bend your knees and simultaneously use your hips to push up. Remember to pull your heels into your butt. 
  3. Extend your legs, and do not let your hips fall low. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Use your arms to keep your body stable during this lying leg curl substitute. The wider your arms are, the more stable your body will be. You can always reduce the width of your arms to make the exercise tougher if needs be.  

8. Hip Thrusts 

Man Doing Dumbbell Hip Thrust At The Gym

Hip thrusts (also known as hip extension) are usually recognized as a glute exercise. However, they also work your hamstrings as well as your butt.

After all, the hamstrings have two main functions — hip extension and knee flexion. This means that hip thrusts can also be classed as a hamstring curl alternative.

If you can't perform hip thrusts, there are effective hip thrust alternatives that can target and strengthen your glutes.


  • Develops your glutes and hamstrings.
  • Improves posterior chain strength.
  • Great for injury prevention.

How To Perform The Hip Thrusts: 

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs bent and keep your upper back against a sturdy bench. Rest and hold a barbell across your hips and remember to brace your abs. 
  2. Use your feet to drive into the floor and lift your hips until they create a straight line with your knees and shoulders. Try not to hyperextend your spine. 
  3. Lower your butt down to the floor back to the starting position and repeat the same steps. 
  4. You can also make the exercise harder by using only one leg at a time. 
  5. It can also be performed without weight and without the use of a bench. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Want to make this movement tougher? Elevate your feet slightly, it'll allow you to achieve a greater range of motion and will provide a new challenge.  

9. Donkey Kicks 

Woman Doing Donkey Kicks

The donkey kick is another excellent leg curl alternative that exercises the glutes and the hamstrings. The main element of the exercise is making sure that the movement comes from the hip.

Try not to hyperextend your spine; otherwise, it will create lower back pain and injury. 

It's a different movement to the hamstring curl, but works the same muscles. 


  • Uses your body weight. 
  • You can do them anywhere.
  • Suitable for all abilities. 

How To Perform The Donkey Kicks: 

  1. Kneel down on all fours and keep your shoulders directly over your hands as your hips are over your knees. Remember to brace your abs. 
  2. Lift your left leg off the floor.
  3. Extend your hips and push your foot towards the ceiling as you keep your legs bent. Try not to arch your lower back. 
  4. Lower your left leg back to the starting position and repeat the same steps. 
  5. You can also make the exercise harder by wearing ankle weights. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Try using a glute band (or resistance band) to increase the resistance during this movement, you'll get one hell of a glute and hamstring burn.  

10. Romanian/Stiff-Legged Deadlifts 

Man Doing Romanian Deadlift Exercises

The Romanian and stiff legged deadlift are similar exercises in nature. The Romanian deadlift is performed with slightly bent knees, and the stiff-legged deadlift is performed with all straight legs. 

The two exercises will work your entire posterior chain, including the hamstrings, which gives you a choice between two different types of movements instead of only doing the hamstring curl. 

I'm a HUGE fan of the Romanian deadlift as you can overload your hamstring muscles with more weight than you could on the hamstring curl. It's easily one of my favorite hamstring exercises.

You won't need the leg curl exercise with this in your workout routine.


  • You can overload your hamstrings with a lot of weight.
  • Uses a wide range of motion. 
  • Overloads your body through hip extension.

How To Perform The Romanian Deadlift: 

  1. Place an overhand grip on the bar at hip level. 
  2. Keep your knees slightly bent.
  3. Move your shoulders back and keep a straight spine. 
  4. Move your hips back as you lower the bar slowly towards your feet. 
  5. Move your hips forward into a standing position and keep the barbell in front of your thighs. 
  6. Return to the starting position and repeat.

How To Perform Stiff Leg Deadlifts: 

  1. Place the bar over the top of your shoelaces and stand at hip-width. 
  2. Move your hips back and pivot forward until your torso is parallel with the floor. 
  3. Reach down and grab the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip. 
  4. Keep your spine neutral, shin vertical, and your hips at the same height as your shoulders. 
  5. Drive the whole foot and push the floor away. 
  6. Extend your knees and hips as you keep the bar tracks in a straight line. 
  7. When you have locked out the hips, reverse the movement and push the hips back and hinge forward. 
  8. Bring the bar back to the floor, reset and repeat the same steps. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you find that the barbell is touching the floor at the bottom of each rep, try standing on a weighted plate to give you additional height. This should allow you to keep tension on your hamstrings during this leg curl substitute. 

11. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts 

Man Doing Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

The single leg deadlift has a number of advantages over the two-legged version of the exercise. For one, they are better at developing your balance, and the single leg deadlift allows you to identify and fix imbalances when it comes to left-to-right strength.[1] 

This single leg hip extension exercise can be a tough one, but once you master it, you won't look back.

The hamstring curl will be the last hamstring exercise on your mind after you do this alternative. 


  • Works your hamstrings individually (single leg hip extension).
  • Doesn't take up a lot of space. 
  • Improves your balance.

How To Perform The Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts: 

  1. Stand with your feet flat and shift your weight to one leg (keep your knees bent).
  2. Hinge from your hips and lean forward without rounding your lower back. Move your other leg behind you for balance. 
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat the same steps. 
  4. Perform the exercise next to a wall and use your free hand to brace yourself if you find it hard to balance. When your balance improves, move away from the wall. 
  5. The exercise can be performed with or without weights. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  •  Be sure to maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise, it'll protect your lower back from unnecessary stress. 

12. Cable Pull Throughs 

Woman Doing Cable Pull-Through Exercise

A cable pull-through is similar to the Romanian and stiff-legged deadlifts, but they use a low cable machine instead of a barbell. The exercise is easier on your lower back, and they keep your muscles (like your biceps femoris) under constant tension. 

A cable pull-through can be performed with knees slightly bent or straight. You can try both to see which one you feel more comfortable performing in your hamstrings. 

It's an excellent hip extension exercise for beginners, and can be used instead of the leg curl exercise.

However, if cable pull-through exercises are not suitable for you, there are cable pull through alternative exercises that can effectively engage your posterior chain muscles.

These exercises offer similar benefits and can be performed without the use of cables, allowing you to diversify your workout routine.


  • Easier on your lower back than deadlifts. 
  • Safe for beginners. 
  • Doesn't require a lot of weight.
  • Strengthens hip extension.

How To Perform The Cable Pull Throughs: 

  1. Start with a rope attached to the low pulley of the cable. Grip the ends of the rope with the back facing the weight so that the rope is in between your legs. 
  2. Bend over your hips and knees in order to lower your torso at a 45-degree angle. 
  3. Begin the exercise by moving your hips forward and lifting the torso to the standing position. Squeeze the glutes as you push the hips forward. 
  4. Repeat the same steps. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you find the cable is rubbing against somewhere it shouldn't... stand on a weighted plate to raise yourself away from the cable. It'll save you from unwanted chaffing. - TRUST me, it's the last place you want to get cable burn. 

Suggested Equipment - Best Cable Crossover Machines

13. Reverse Hyperextensions 

Man Doing Bench Reverse Hyperextensions

The reverse hyperextension is also known as the reverse hypers, which works your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.

It is a popular exercise with powerlifters who appreciate strong hamstrings because of how they link into deadlifts and squats.

The real reverse hypers require a special machine, but there are many other ways that you can replicate the same exercise by using other available equipment. 

It's a tough movement that should be a staple in most people's leg workouts.

If you're unable to perform reverse hyperextension exercises, there are reverse hyper alternatives available that effectively target and engage the same muscle groups. 


  • Builds strong hamstrings. 
  • Strength gains carry over to other lifts (like squats and deadlifts). 
  • Doesn't require weight. 

How To Perform The Reverse Hyperextension: 

  1. On the reverse hyper machine, lie face down. Your hips should not be on the bench, but your upper body and stomach should. 
  2. Hang your legs straight down towards the floor and hold the handles to keep your upper body in position. Remember to brace your abs and keep your spine stable. 
  3. Contract your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back by raising your legs. Remember to keep them straight and raise them until they are parallel to the floor. Move smoothly and in a controlled manner. Try not to kick up your legs; otherwise, your momentum will move away from the muscles that are targeted in the exercise, and it could also hurt your lower back. 
  4. Lower your legs and repeat the same steps. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Only attempt this exercise if you've got a solid foundation. I recommend beginners give this one a miss and focus on other exercises on this list.  

14. Reverse Lunges 

Woman Doing Reverse Lunge Exercise

The lunge is usually recognized as a quad exercise, but the reverse lunges and backward lunges are dominated by the hamstrings.

The reverse lunge is also easier on the knee joint than regular forward lunges, which is good news if you suffer from knee pain. 


  • Lower impact that regular lunges. 
  • Can be performed anywhere. 

How To Perform The Reverse Lunges: 

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and keep your hands at your side. Look straight and brace your abs. 
  2. Take one step backward and bend your legs. Lower your rearmost knee down to an inch near the floor. 
  3. Push your back leg and bring your feet together again. 
  4. Perform the repetitions with the same leg or alternate the legs. 
  5. You can make the exercise more challenging by holding weights or standing on a raised platform, and doing deficit reverse lunges. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  •  Focus on form over weight. While it's always nice to use more weight, you'll get more from the reverse lunge by focusing on improving your movement each rep.

15. Kettlebell Swings 

Man Doing Kettlebell Swings

The Kettlebell swing is an excellent posterior chain exercise that will work the hamstrings.

Kettlebell swings are performed in a powerful way, and they generate force fast, which makes them an intrinsic part of many sports. 

I enjoy adding this hip extension movement to the end of my leg day as a finisher. 

How To Perform The Kettlebell Swings: 

  • Develops powerful hip extension.
  • Perfect for sports specific training.
  • Strengthens your posterior chain.

How To Perform The Kettlebell Swings: 

  1. Hold a good sturdy kettlebell in front of you and stand with your legs shoulder width apart. 
  2. Bend your knees and swing the kettlebell between your legs. 
  3. Swing upward to the level of your shoulders and thrust your hips forward as you contract your glutes. 
  4. Bring the kettlebell down and complete the repetitions. 

Tips From A Trainer!

  •  Don't go too light on this movement. I always recommend women use between 17-26lbs, and men to use 26-35lbs minimum. This depends on your ability, but should be a good starting point.

Leg Curls (Overview & Muscles Worked)

The standard leg curl machine isolates the hamstrings, and is also known as the hamstring curl. 

Inside of a gym, the leg curl is usually performed using a machine in one of the three common variations: 

  1. Lying Leg Curl (The Traditional Leg Curl)
  2. Seated Leg Curl
  3. Standing Leg Curl

Leg curl exercises mainly isolate the hamstrings, and they work to strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility. 

If you build strong, flexible hamstrings, then they will positively affect your overall: 

  • Strength 
  • Balance
  • Injury risk 
  • Health 
  • Wellbeing

If you include hamstring exercises in your strength training routine, it will benefit you in many ways. First, your posture will improve, and your risks of sustaining a knee or back injury will decrease over time.

Leg curls also target a number of other muscle groups on a smaller scale along with your hamstrings, including: 

  • Calves
  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps

The Benefits Of Having Strong Hamstrings

It is worth taking the time to explain the importance of having well-conditioned and strong hamstrings before we get into the list of leg curl alternatives. 

When many people think of training their hamstrings, they will probably consider the aesthetic benefits first. However, there are several other benefits to training the hamstrings rather than just looking good.

The hamstrings are a significant part of the posterior chain, and the strength of the posterior chain is linked directly to life functionality. 

Poor posture, sore knees, and lower back pain are only a few of the issues that are associated with weak hamstrings.

If you work on your hamstrings, it will not only improve your athletic performance but will also assist you in developing biomechanics (keeping you comfortable in movement), preventing injury, and building your overall strength. 

Common Leg Curl Questions

Are leg curls effective? 

Yes, leg curls are extremely effective for increasing muscle mass. Leg curls will strengthen your hamstrings, but many leg curl alternatives will make them stronger while increasing flexibility.

Are leg curls bad for you? 

No, leg curls aren't bad for you. But, they do tighten your muscles, so always stretch after performing this muscle building movement.

Are leg curls bad for knees? 

Leg curls are excellent for maintaining the health of your knees.[2] The exercise will strengthen your hamstrings which are crucial to achieving healthy, stable knees. However, poor control, weakness, and tightness in the hamstrings can potentially cause knee pain and dysfunction.  

Are leg curl machines bad?

Leg curl machines aren't bad, but bad form is. If you do the following, you have a higher risk of injury.

  • Lifting your hips 
  • Using too much weight 
  • Flexing the muscles in your lower back 
Can you do leg curls without a machine? 

Yes, you can perform leg curls at home or at the gym without using a machine.You can perform leg curl alternative exercises with free weights, a resistance band, an exercise ball, or even a slider. 


There is nothing essentially wrong with performing leg curls on a machine, but they will soon get old if that is the only hamstring exercise that you are doing. If you change and challenge your workouts from time to time, then you can avoid the possibility of falling into training ruts.

For the best results I recommend performing various hamstring exercises from the list above. 

You can use the leg curl alternative exercises listed if you don't have access to a leg curl machine or want to shake up your hamstring training. 



2. https://www.orthocarolina.com/media/8-ways-to-keep-your-knees-healthy-as-you-age

Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.