Today, I want to show you some highly effective leg curl alternatives you can use to build bigger, stronger hamstrings.
If your gym doesn’t have a leg curl machine, or you want some hamstring exercises to do at home, this page will show you what to do.
Leg Curl: Muscles Worked
The are three main variations of the leg curl, all of which work the hamstrings:
- Lying Leg Curl
- Seated Leg Curl
- Standing Leg Curl
The hamstrings are a group of muscles in the back of your thigh that flex the knee and extend the hip. Those muscles are the:
- Biceps femoris
The semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and the long head of biceps femoris are bi-articular muscles, which means they cross two joints (the hip and knee) rather than one.
The short head of biceps femoris is shorter than the other hamstring muscles, hence the name, and crosses only one joint (the knee). Unlike the other hamstring muscles, it’s not involved in extending the hip.
Home Leg Curl Alternatives
Here are some highly effective replacements for the leg curl that you can use to train your hamstrings without the need for a seated or lying leg curl machine.
They use resistance bands, a suspension trainer, dumbbells, valsliders, or your own bodyweight to really challenge your hamstrings and make them grow.
Dumbbell Leg Curl
Sliding Leg Curl
One of the most effective ways to train your hamstrings at home without a leg curl machine is with an exercise known as the sliding leg curl.
If you have a wooden or tiled floor, you can put a towel, valslide or even just an old bit of carpet under your feet and slide them back and forth. As well as the hamstrings, the sliding leg curl also hits the glutes.
Towel Leg Curl
Valslide Leg Curl
Hamstring Walk Outs
Glute Ham Roller
As the name suggests, the glute ham roller hits both the glutes as well as the hamstrings. It’s a variation on the sliding leg curl, but eliminates the need for a wooden or tiled floor.
TRX Hamstring Curl
Swiss Ball Leg Curl
Nordic Curl (AKA Russian Leg Curl)
Banded Leg Curl
Sitting Leg Curl
Gliding Leg Curl
The stiff-leg deadlift looks nothing like the leg curl, but it is actually an effective way to train the hamstrings.
Because the hamstrings cross two joints, you can train them with exercises like the stiff-legged deadlift (which involves hip extension) and the leg curl (which involves knee flexion) .
Although the Romanian deadlift and stiff-legged deadlift look very similar, there are some important differences between the two.
The Romanian deadlift is initiated with a backward movement of the hips, whereas the stiff-legged deadlift involves more of a forward bend.
With the stiff-legged deadlift, the bar comes down closer to the ground, while the Romanian deadlift stops roughly at the midpoint of the shin (or the point where you reach the end of your hamstring flexibility).
If you have very tight hamstrings, the end point may be just below the level of your knees.
During the Romanian deadlift, as you lower the bar, it stays closer to your lower body than it does during the stiff-legged deadlift.
Given a choice between the Romanian and stiff-legged deadlift, I prefer the Romanian deadlift, as I feel it much more in my hamstrings and less in my lower back.
In fact, some research shows that muscle activity in the hamstrings was actually greater with Romanian deadlifts than it was with the leg curl .
45-Degree Hip Extension
Another effective exercise for the hamstrings, which trains them via hip extension rather than knee flexion, is the 45-degree hip extension.
There was an interesting study done by a team of Australian scientists, who used MRI scans to look at changes in hamstring muscle size with the Nordic curl versus the weighted 45-degree hip extension .
After 10 weeks of training, hip extension training led to faster growth in the biceps femoris long head and semimembranosus than the Nordic curl, which preferentially develops the semitendinosus and the short head of biceps femoris.
Modified Razor Curl
If you want to train your hamstrings at home, or your gym doesn’t have a leg curl machine, there are plenty of alternatives out there that do a very similar job. While they don’t match a leg curl machine for convenience and ease of use, they’re a surprisingly effective way to train your hamstrings.