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.
Table of Contents
- What Are Leg Curls?
- What Muscles Do Leg Curls Work?
- The Benefits Of Having Strong Hamstrings
- 15 Best Leg Curl Alternatives/Substitutes
- 1. Dumbbell Hamstring Curls
- 2. Cable Hamstring Curls (Standing Or Prone)
- 3. Nordic Leg Curls
- 4. Stability Ball Leg Curls
- 5. Hamstring Walkouts
- 6. Heel Slide Leg Curls
- 7. TRX Leg Curls
- 8. Hip Thrusts
- 9. Donkey Kicks
- 10. Romanian / Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
- 11. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts
- 12. Cable Pull Throughs
- 13. Reverse Hyperextensions
- 14. Reverse Lunges
- 15. Kettlebell Swings
- People Also Ask (FAQs)
What Are Leg Curls?
The leg curl is an exercise that isolates the hamstrings, 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:
- 1Lying Leg Curl (The Traditional Leg Curl)
- 2Seated Leg Curl
- 3Standing Leg Curl
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:
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:
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:
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):
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
How To Perform The Stiffed Leg Deadlift:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.