15 Best Leg Curl Alternatives (Substitutes For Hamstrings)

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. The good news is that there are many leg curl alternatives that you can perform to build and strengthen your hamstrings. 

We have curated a list of leg curl alternatives that will help you to 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.  

What Muscles Do Leg Curls Work? 

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 
What Muscles Do Leg Curls Work

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. 


15 Best Leg Curl Alternatives/Substitutes 

1. 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. 

How To Perform The Dumbbell Hamstring Curl: 

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

2. Cable Hamstring Curls (Standing Or Prone) 

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. 

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

  • Secure the cuff to your ankle and fix the cable to the cuff. Stand in front of the machine and use your arms to balance. Remember to brace your core. 
  • Bend your 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. 
  • Lower your leg and repeat the same steps. 
  • You can also try to perform the exercise by lying on your front. 

3. Nordic Leg Curls 

One of the most challenging leg curl alternative exercises is the bodyweight hamstring exercise, also known as the Nordic Leg Curl. Due to its toughness, it is important to note that you should only perform the Nordic leg curl if you already have strong hamstrings. 

How To Perform The Nordic Leg Curl: 

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Push with your arms and pull with your hamstrings to get back to the original position. 
  • Try to rely less on your arms and work with your legs when you increase your strength over time. 

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. 

4. Stability Ball Leg Curls 

Another great leg curl alternative exercise is the stability ball leg curl, which targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back at the same time. They are more of a challenge than they might seem, but once you master them, you can still progress with the exercise by using one leg at a time. 

How To Perform The Stability Ball Leg Curl: 

  • 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, along with bracing your abs. 
  • Bend your legs as you simultaneously lift your hips. Remember not to hyperextend your spine. 
  • Roll away the ball, but do not let your hips drop. 
  • Repeat the same steps. 

5. Hamstring Walkouts 

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. 

How To Perform The Hamstring Walkouts: 

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Walk your feet back and repeat the same steps. 

6. Heel Slide Leg Curls 

Heel slide leg curls are a perfect addition to a 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. 

How To Perform The Heel Slide Leg Curls: 

  • Lie on your back and keep 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. 
  • Bend your legs and slide your heels towards your butt as you simultaneously push your hips towards the ceiling. 
  • Extend your legs but do not allow your butt or legs to touch down. 
  • The exercise can be performed one leg at a time. 

7. 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, and you can do them almost everywhere. 

How To Perform The TRX Leg Curls: 

  • 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. 
  • Bend your knees and simultaneously use your hips to push up. Remember to pull your heels into your butt. 
  • Extend your legs, and do not let your hips fall low. 

8. Hip Thrusts 

Hip thrusts 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 leg curl alternative. 

How To Perform The Hip Thrusts: 

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Lower your butt down to the floor and repeat the same steps. 
  • You can also make the exercise harder by using only one leg at a time. 
  • It can also be performed without weight and without the use of a bench. 

9. 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. 

How To Perform The Donkey Kicks: 

  • 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. 
  • Extend your hips and push your foot towards the ceiling as you keep your legs bent. Try not to arch your lower back. 
  • Lower your leg and repeat the same steps. 
  • You can also make the exercise harder by wearing ankle weights. 

10. Romanian / Stiff-Legged Deadlifts 

The Romanian and stiff-legged deadlifts 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 leg curls. 

How To Perform The Romanian Deadlift: 

  • Place an overhand grip on the bar at hip level. 
  • Move your shoulders back and keep a straight spine. 
  • Move your hips back as you lower the bar slowly towards your feet. 
  • Move your hips forward into a standing position and keep the barbell in front of your thighs. 

How To Perform The Stiffed Leg Deadlift: 

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

11. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts 

Single leg exercises have a number of advantages over two-legged exercises. For one, they are better at developing your balance, and they allow you to identify and fix imbalances when it comes to left-to-right strength. 

How To Perform The Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts: 

  • Stand with your feet together and shift your weight to one leg. 
  • Hinge from your hips and lean forward without rounding your lower back. Move your other leg behind you for balance. 
  • Stand back up and repeat the same steps. 
  • 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. 
  • The exercise can be performed with or without weights. 

12. Cable Pull Throughs 

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 under constant tension. 

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

How To Perform The Cable Pull Throughs: 

  • 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. 
  • Bend over your hips and knees in order to lower your torso at a 45-degree angle. 
  • 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. 
  • Repeat the same steps. 

13. 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. 

How To Perform The Reverse Hyperextension: 

  • On the reverse hyper machine, lie face down. Your hips should not be on the bench, but your upper body and stomach should. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • Lower your legs and repeat the same steps. 

14. Reverse Lunges 

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. 

How To Perform The Reverse Lunges: 

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

15. Kettlebell Swings 

Kettlebell swings are 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. 

How To Perform The Kettlebell Swings: 

  • Hold a good sturdy kettlebell in front of you and stand at hip-width. 
  • Bend your knees and swing the kettlebell between your legs. 
  • Swing upward to the level of your shoulders and thrust your hips forward as you contract your glutes. 
  • Bring the kettlebell down and complete the repetitions. 
Best Leg Curl Alternatives

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Are leg curls effective? 

Leg curls are extremely effective for bodybuilders in the sense that they increase muscle mass. However, they can cause a tightening and shortening of the hamstring muscles, which can also be detrimental for athletes and people who love flexibility. 

Leg curls will strengthen your hamstrings, but many leg curl alternatives will make them stronger and also increase flexibility and prevent you from possibly overtraining your hamstrings. 

Are leg curls bad for you? 

Leg curls are not necessarily bad, and they will have minimal risk of injury if they are performed properly. 

They might be considered harmful if you do not stretch properly after performing them. Leg curls will contract your hamstring muscles, and if you do not stretch, you will lose flexibility. 

If you do not know how to perform leg curls, you should definitely seek counsel with a fitness coach. 

Are leg curls bad for knees? 

Leg curls are excellent for maintaining the health of your knees. 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? 

Many people make inadvertent mistakes when they are performing leg curls with a machine, which include: 

  • Lifting your hips 
  • Using too much weight 
  • Flexing the muscles in your lower back 

You should consider trying our list of leg curl alternative exercises instead of risking an injury, especially for a beginner. 

Can you do leg curls without a machine? 

Yes, you can perform leg curls at home or at the gym without using a machine. However, it does require a little more creativity. It is possible for you to perform leg curl alternative exercises with free weights, a resistance band, an exercise ball, or even a slider. There are many different types of leg curl alternatives. Every leg curl alternative that we have listed can be performed without a machine, and most of them without any equipment.  


Conclusion

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.

You can use all of the leg curl alternative exercises that we have listed here if you do not have access to a leg curl machine or you feel like shaking up your hamstring training.