Hamstrings are an important muscle group for lower body strength and power, but not everyone has access to a seated or lying leg curl machine. Here are 5 of the best exercises that can be used as machine leg curl alternatives.
The stiff leg deadlift is a very popular exercise for hamstring development. You begin the lift in a similar situation as a deadlift, with the same grip and stance, except your knees are almost locked out. A mixed grip is common, but go with what you are used to and comfortable with.
From there, you stand up and lock it at the top like a normal deadlift. With the legs being almost completely straight, you should feel this work the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes.
You can see the exercise demonstrated in the video below. He is using shorter plates so he can work a greater range of motion. You could also accomplish this by standing on a box or other platform, forcing you to reach down lower to get the barbell.
There are many other deadlift variations you can do to target your hamstrings, including snatch grip deadlifts. You can also try the lift with dumbbells, which can allow you to try single and double leg variations.
This exercise is demonstrated below using a glute ham machine, although there are other ways to perform it. For instance, you get kneel flat on a mat and have a partner hold down the heels of your feet.
Once you are in position, you want to have good posture and keep a tight core. You lower yourself down to parallel to the ground or slightly further, and then raise up trying to use only your hamstring and glute muscles. You might also feel the lower back being worked. You want to make sure you aren’t rocking your body and “cheating” on the reps.
As you get stronger in this lift, you can add resistance. One easy way to add weight is to hold a dumbbell or weight plate in front of your chest. If you have a machine that is adjustable, you can also switch that up to a more challenging level.
Stability balls can be a surprisingly effective way to work your leg muscles and they are probably the cheapest piece of equipment you can find to simulate a leg curl machine. The only issue with this exercise is that it would be very difficult to vary the resistance. Your only options would be to change the tempo of the lift or alter your set and rep schemes.
You begin lying down on your back, with the heels of your feet resting on the top of the stability ball. Your legs should be at roughly a 45 degree angle when compared to the floor. You then raise your hips up, maintaining a solid core and good posture, and use your hamstrings to pull the ball towards your glutes. This exercise will also challenge your core, but the emphasis should be on your hamstrings.
Good mornings are a great exercise for the entire posterior chain and can be a very useful replacement for a leg curl machine. By using a barbell, it is easy to adjust the resistance and it will work the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
You begin with the barbell on your back as if you are at the top of a squatting position. You then lean forward, keeping your legs mostly straight with only a slight bend. As you lean forward, your glutes will move back slightly and you should feel it pulling on your hamstrings. When your back is parallel to the ground, return to the starting position. If this is a new movement for you, begin with very light weights as it can be very challenging.
Dumbbell or kettlebell swings are a very versatile exercise and they can be used to target the hamstring muscles. These can be a great finisher to a workout because they make it easy to use different weights and they work your posterior chain, core, and can challenge your conditioning.
You begin with the kettebell on the ground slightly in front of you, while in a partial squat position. You grasp the handle with both hands, pull it back behind you, and then swing the bell up in front of you, not going much higher than shoulder height. The weight will the swing back between your legs and you repeat the movement.
There are different variations of swings, but straighter legs will put a greater emphasis on your hamstrings. You can also use a dumbbell in place of kettlebell. There is a demonstration of proper technique in the video below.
The single leg Romanian deadlift is another great alternative hamsting exercise to leg curls. One benefit of these is that you only need a set of dumbbells and does not require any special machines or other equipment.
The single leg Romanian deadlift has the added benefit of working on core stability, in addition to hitting your leg muscles. The lighter weight typically used with dumbbells may help to better simulate a lying leg curl than other exercises on the list.
The Hex Bar/Trap Bar is a great way to incorporate some variety into traditional barbell training. It will challenge your muscles a little bit differently. Rather than the weight being in front of your body during deadlifts, your body is in the middle of the Hex bar.
Your arms are on the sides of your body with this bar. This will hit your hamstrings and other leg muscles in a more unique way. Not all gyms will have one of these bars, but many do. Hex bars can also be a valuable addition to your home gym that doesn’t take much space if you can store them upright.
If you are looking for an alternative to leg curls, either because you don’t have access to a machine or because you prefer to add some variety in your training, any of these 5 lifts would work great. They can also be done with the same sets and repetitions once you are comfortable with the movement and know how much resistance to choose.
These exercises are listed because they all target the hamstrings, even if it isn’t quite in the same way as lying or seated leg curls. These substitutes could be better or worse for you depending on what your training goals are.
While it would be tough to argue that any of these exercises can isolate the hamstrings as well as the leg curl machine, they all do work the hamstrings and have other benefits. They are all more functional, as you aren’t stuck in a fixed movement pattern, and they also engage your core and posterior chain.
Seated or lying leg curls on a machine are popular because they are very easy to learn and they isolate the hamstring muscles on the back of your legs. Using any of these leg curl alternatives can give you all of the benefits of a machine and more.