5 Leg Curl Alternatives to Build Your Hamstrings

THE LEG CURL is one of the best machines for building hamstring strength and size. If you don't have one handy, though, what's the next best option?

The hamstrings assist in powering some of your strongest exercises, like the squat and the deadlift. They are also key players in most athletic activities, like running and jumping. Building strength by targeting this muscle group can improve all of these movements. The leg curl machine is chief in doing just that. "If you want truly strong, powerful hamstrings, then you need to incorporate some sort of leg curl," says Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., MH fitness director.

There are two types of hamstring curl machines, and you're likely to find one or the other in most gyms. One works on hamstring curls in the seated position, and the other works while lying prone on your stomach. The seated option starts the movement when the hamstrings are already stretched, since the hips are bent. The lying position moves with a bit less stretch at the starting position. Both, however, allow you to place an emphasis on the end range, where the hamstrings are squeezed in the shortened position. You're also isolating the muscle, directly hitting the hammies.

If you're more of a workout-from-home kind of guy, or you're traveling and don't have a full gym to work with, you're missing out on significant hamstrings gains without these machines. The mechanics are tough to replicate, but there are a few exercises that mimic the leg curl. Here are five options to help you grow bigger, stronger hamstrings.

What Do the Hamstrings Do?

Your hamstrings are responsible for two movements. They help extend, or straighten, at the hip—like when you stand up from sitting. Running, jumping and other athletic movements require powerful hip extension. The hamstrings are also responsible for flexion, or bending, of the knee.

Hamstring exercises that focus on hip extension, such as the deadlift, are powered through both the glutes and the hamstrings. Exercises that focus primarily on knee flexion, like the leg curl, emphasize only the hamstring. This is why the leg curl is such an effective hamstring building exercise.

The 5 Best Leg Curl Alternatives

Barbell Leg Curl

mh
Men's Health

Why: This exercise will work through knee flexion with an underrated amount of load. But, you might find that your grip gives out before your hamstrings do—so save this one for when you have no other options.

How to Do It:

  • Set up a barbell on a rack with a bench on parallel to it. Set up as you would for an inverted row: arms hanging from the barbell with your feet on the bench. If your torso is significantly lower than the bench, you'll want to bring the barbell up higher.

  • Tighten up your glutes and abs so that there's a straight line from your heals to your shoulders.

  • Plant your heels into the bench. While maintaining your straight body position by keeping the glutes and abs engaged, bend at the knees and flex the hamstrings to pull the body as far forward as you can.

  • Slowly release until your chest is back underneath the bar again.

Sets and Reps: Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.


Dumbbell Leg Curl

a person working out in a gym
Men's Health

Why: All you need is a dumbbell and a bench to accomplish this leg curl alternative. The movement pattern is very similar to that of the lying leg curl, but your hamstrings are not challenged at the top of the movement, as your shins become perpendicular with gravity, so there's little chance to squeeze at the top of the motion. You might have issues getting set in position and keeping the dumbbell secure, so there are some downsides.

How to Do It:

  • Lie down on a bench, to where your knees are just slightly off the edge.

  • Squeeze a dumbbell between your feet. This is most easily done if you get a partner to help place it.

  • Curl your legs upward, squeezing your calf in toward your hamstrings.

  • Slowly lower back down.

Sets and Reps: Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.


Lying Banded Curl

mh
Men's Health

Why: With this move, "we're starting to truly replicate the movement and the force curve that we get with the true hamstring curl machine," Samuel says. You really earn the squeeze at the top of the motion, since the band holds the most tension in this position.

How to Do It:

  • Tie a resistance band to an anchor point at about knee height.

  • Lie down, and place the band across your heels.

  • Curl your legs upward, squeezing your calf in toward your hamstrings.

  • Slowly lower back down.

Sets and Reps: Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.


Seated Banded Curl

a person sitting on a chair
Men's Health


Why: This move also closely resembles its machine counterpart. The band applies substantial resistance at the top of the motion, which allows for you to emphasize the squeeze in the hamstrings's shortest position.

How to Do It:

  • Tie a resistance band to an anchor point low to the ground.

  • Take a seat on a bench or box. Lace the band across your heel on one side.

  • Pull your heel down and back to curl it in. Keep the knee high to avoid glute engagement.

  • Slowly lower back to where the knee is straightened.

Sets and Reps: Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.


Lying Band Single Leg Curl

mh
Men's Health

Why: This exercise is the best alternative you'll get to a machine leg curl. It will isolate your hamstrings better than anything else. That means better stability, and less opportunity to "cheat" by using the glutes.

How to Do It:

  • Anchor a power band up high, such at to the top of a power rack.

  • Lie down underneath it. Lace the band across your heel on one side.

  • Bring the leg up to where you have a 90 degree bend in the hip. Stabilize that leg by placing your hand on your knee to keep it in one place.

  • Curl your heel down, squeezing your calf in toward your hamstrings.

  • Slowly straighten out the knee to return the heel up.

Sets and Reps: Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.


You Might Also Like