Seated or lying leg curls are a great exercise for targeting and isolating the hamstring muscles. Not everyone has access to the expensive machine that is needed to perform these exercises, though. Below are your 3 best options for doing leg curls without a machine.
Before we get in to the movements, one other option is to skip leg curls entirely. You might find that some of the alternative exercises might suit you better, particularly if you are in a home or garage gym situation with limited equipment.
Stability ball leg curls are probably your least expensive option if you want to be able to perform leg curls in your own home. Stability balls are relatively inexpensive and are versatile enough to be used for a variety of different exercises. You can see what this exercise looks like in the video below.
To do this move, begin laying flat on your back with your heels rested on top of your stability ball. Your will pick up your hips so your body is at roughly a 30 degree angle between your shoulders and your feet. From there, your curl the ball towards your glutes, focusing on using the hamstrings.
One issue with this movement is that you are limited with what you can do in terms of switching up the resistance, other than switching between a single or double leg. Your only other options are to use a different size of ball, increase your sets or reps, or vary the tempo. For instance, you could focus on performing the move slowly to challenge your muscles.
Resistance bands can be very versatile and can be used for many different exercises, although they can be tricky to get used to. They are also tricky to switch up the resistance, although you could use a different weighted band, change repetitions or do more sets, or switch between 1 or 2 legs.
To do this movement, you should be seated on a weight bench or some other sturdy surface, with the resistance band wrapped around something solid, such as a squat rack, and around your ankles. You then curl the weight up using your hamstrings. You can see one demonstration of this in the following video.
You will need a cable machine to be able to do this lift. It can be performed seated or standing, but the video below demonstrates the standing single leg version. You will also need an ankle wrap attachment that can be hooked on to the cable machine.
Once you have the low cable pulley setup with the proper attachment, you can wrap it around your leg and get curling the weight. Focus on standing up straight with good posture. You will likely need to rest 1 or 2 arms on a safe spot on the machine for balance.
One other non-machine version you might see recommended is lying dumbbell leg curls. With that exercise, you essentially squeeze the dumbbell between your feet while laying face down and perform a hamstring curl.
You can probably tell why I don’t recommended this lift. The risk of dropping a dumbbell somewhere on your backside far outweighs the benefit from performing the exercise. The stronger you get at this move, the riskier it is, and it will challenging your foot squeezing strength more than your hamstrings. There are safer, better alternatives out there for you to try.
Even if you do have access to a seated or lying leg curl machine, you might want to consider the above exercises. Variety is important and if you repeat the same workout over and over, your progress will stall. Substituting machine leg curls for stability ball leg curls, for example, will allow you to continue to challenge yourself.
These exercises also come with added benefits. While the machine is great for really isolating your hamstrings, these free weight movements will help you to work other body parts. Just think of how challenging stability ball curls would be to your overall core strength.
Leg curl machines can be a popular piece of equipment because of their ability to isolate your lower body muscles, but there are several ways to get all the benefits without the use of a commercial machine.