The leg curl (AKA hamstring curl) is one of those exercises that is limited to the gym because it requires a big, bulky machine. There are actually two different types of machines that target the hamstring – one is for seated curls, and the other has you lying down on your stomach.
Both machines target the hamstring by flexing your lower leg towards your butt against weighted resistance. But, not everyone has access to a leg curl machine, so what do you do when you want to isolate the hamstrings when you are working out at home?
Make sure you read this blog post to the very end because you’re about to discover the 7 best alternatives to leg curls without machine assistance you can do them at home or on the road.
Table of Contents
- 1. Single Leg Hip Extension
- 2. Swiss Ball Leg Curl
- 3. Hamstring Towel Slide
- 4. Dumbbell Lying Leg Curl
- 5. Russian Leg Curl
- 6. Kettlebell Swing
- 7. Good Mornings
- Bonus #1. TRX Leg Curl
- Bonus #2. Standing Hamstring Curl with Bands
- Bonus #3. Gliding Leg Curl
- Bonus FAQ
- Alternatives to Leg Curls Without Machine Assistance
- Here’s Why You Still Won’t Get the Body You Want
1. Single Leg Hip Extension
I’ll start with this move because you don’t need any equipment, so you can do it absolutely anywhere. These are sometimes called single leg curls and they’re a unilateral exercise that targets the hamstrings by contracting them while they are partially loaded with your body weight.
Here’s how to perform this exercise with correct form:
- Start in a bridge position, lying on your back with your butt off the floor, your feet hip width apart, and your knees bent at 90 degrees.
- Extend one of your legs out straight and hold it.
- Lower your hips and back down to the floor and then push them back up through the stabilizing leg.
- Always keep your weight centered in your heel.
Each rep should be slow and controlled to get that hammy working. Start with three seconds up and three seconds down, and aim for 15 reps on each leg.
This is a good example of what you might find in a well-rounded bodyweight training program like the Bodyweight Mastery Program.
2. Swiss Ball Leg Curl
Using a physio ball to do leg curls will not only target your hamstring muscles, but it will also work your core, glutes, abs, calves, and quads.
We recommend this physio ball because of the cool array of colors and convenient hand air pump .
Here’s how To perform the stability ball leg curl exercise:
- Start by laying on the floor supine with your arms straight by your side and your palms facing down on the ground.
- Then, place your feet on the stability ball and make sure your legs are extended completely and your butt is off the ground. Your body should be in a straight line between your shoulders and feet. Keep your core tight and don’t let your hips sag.
- Inhale, and bend your knees so your heels are rolling the ball toward you. Next, simply exhale and roll the ball back out.
The key to a proper swiss ball hip raise and leg curl is to keep your back and hips straight through each repetition. So, contract your core during each rep to keep yourself from cheating.
A variation of the stability ball hamstring curl is to do just one leg at a time to increase the difficulty.
3. Hamstring Towel Slide
This movement must be done on a low-friction surface like a hardwood floor. It will target your hamstrings, and it will also work your core and your glutes.
This exercise is also called the slick floor bridge curl and bodyweight hamstring curl since your bodyweight serves as the resistance for this movement.
Here’s how to execute this exercise properly:
- Start by laying on the ground supine with your arms to the side and place a small hand towel under your feet. The towel should be folded in half lengthwise, and to control the towel slide, flex your feet and use your heels.
- Once your towel is situated properly, bridge your hips toward the ceiling and flex your knees and hips to slide your feet toward your glutes until they are directly under your knees. This is your starting position.
- Slowly extend your knees and straighten your legs by using your heels to push the towel. Make sure to keep your hips and butt elevated slightly off the ground.
- Then slide your feet back under your knees for one rep.
This movement should be controlled and remember to keep your core tight. You should also squeeze your glutes and hamstrings at the top of the movement.
4. Dumbbell Lying Leg Curl
If you have access to dumbbells, the lying dumbbell hamstring curl can replicate the movement of a lying leg curl machine. However, the resistance is applied differently, and this makes the exercise more difficult if you’re doing a leg curl at home.
Having a few dumbbells at home makes resistance training a lot more convenient when you can’t go to the gym. The BowFlex SelectTech Adjustable Dumbbells are a great pick if you’re looking for a personal set.
You only need one dumbbell, and make sure you choose the right amount of weight. The position of the dumbbell is important because you don’t want to drop it. That is an accident you definitely want to avoid.
Here’s how to do the dumbbell leg curl correctly:
- Lay on your stomach and make sure the “bell” part of the dumbbell is secured between the middle of your feet.
- Start with your feet close to the ground and slowly bend your knees and contract your hamstrings to lift the dumbbell, just like you would on a lying leg curl machine.
- Once your knees are bent to just over 90 degrees, lower the dumbbell back down to the starting position.
The lying hamstring curl should be done slowly, and always make sure you have a firm hold on the dumbbell.
5. Russian Leg Curl
This exercise is sometimes referred to as the reverse leg curl or kneeling leg curl, but for this exercise you’ll need a workout buddy around to hold your feet or you can anchor your feet under a weighted barbell or anything else that is stable.
Here’s how to do it:
- Start in a kneeling position with your feet anchored down firmly.
- Next, lower yourself toward the ground without flexing your hips or bending your back.
- Keep your core tight because when you are lowering yourself, you should be holding your weight in your hamstrings and core.
- Land with your hands on the floor and then immediately push yourself back up into the starting position and use your hamstrings to pull you up while keeping your body in a straight line.
The Russian hamstring curl is more difficult than it appears so here are a couple pro tips.
- Be sure to start slow, and consider using something like a Bosu Ball or Swiss ball in front of you to reduce the range of movement.
- Another option is instead of going all the way down and pushing yourself off the floor, simply cross your arms over your chest and lower yourself down as far as you can without flexing your hips or bending your back before pulling yourself back up.
6. Kettlebell Swing
Kettlebell swings are a versatile exercise that you can use to target your hamstrings, as well as your entire posterior chain and core.
And you don’t need very heavy ones to get an intense workout. Just a few sizes like the ones in this kettlebell set should be enough to start.
Here’s how to do them the right way:
- Start in a partial squat position with the kettlebell on the ground in front of you. Your feet should be wider than shoulder width apart.
- Grab the kettlebell with both hands and pull it back between your legs, then swing it forward in front of you. The kettlebell should not go higher than shoulder height.
- The weight will then swing back between your legs. This is one rep.
There are different variations of kettlebell swings, but to focus on your hamstrings, keep your legs as straight as you can during each rep.
7. Good Mornings
This can be done with a barbell or a set of dumbbells. Not only is this good for your hamstrings, but it’s great for your lower back too.
Here’s how to do “good” good mornings (nailed it):
- Start with the barbell on your back or your dumbbells on your shoulders, and you should be standing up straight, with knees slightly bent, like you are at the top of a squatting position. Never lock your knees.
- Then, lean forward and bend over at your hips. As you lean forward, you will feel your glutes move back and there will be a pull on your hamstrings.
- When your back is parallel to the ground, return to the standing position.
Start with lighter weight if you are new to this movement so you can learn proper technique and avoid injury. And, always remember to keep your core tight.
Bonus #1. TRX Leg Curl
The TRX leg curl is performed with a set of TRX bands secured from the top of a power rack or high ceiling beam. This movement requires more stability and core strength since you’ll be suspended in mid air.
Here’s how to perform this exercise:
- Lie on the ground with your feet under the TRX straps
- Lift your feet and put them securely into the straps
- Put your hands on the floor by your sides and tighten your core
- Bend your knees, drive your hips up, and pull your heels towards your butt
- When you’ve brought your feet as close to your butt as possible, return back to starting position but don’t let your hips drop
Bonus #2. Standing Hamstring Curl with Bands
If you have a set of resistance bands, you can do this quick exercise to build your hamstrings along with your balance. Most bands are pretty similar, but I’ve had good experiences with these Fitness Dreamer Resistance Bands.
Follow these steps to perform the exercise safely:
- Secure a band with the looped end resting at your feet
- Loop the band around your foot with the tension on your heel
- Keeping your body upright, bend your knee and pull your foot towards your butt
- Keep your abs tight
- Hold for a moment and slowly unbend your knee to starting position
Bonus #3. Gliding Leg Curl
While the gliding leg curl doesn’t require a standard leg curl machine, it does require a barbell with multiple pin attachments and a standard weight bench. You’ll actually be lying supine, holding onto the barbell during this movement so your forearms are added to the list of muscles worked.
To set up, place the bench parallel to the bar you’ll be using to hang from about 3 feet away. Make sure the barbell is securely set on the rack pins a little higher than waist height. Using a smith machine for this exercise is also a good idea.
Here’s how to do it:
- With a shoulder width grip, grab the bar securely and allow your body to hang
- Place the heels of your feet securely on top of the bench in front of the bar
- While keeping your arms straight, use your hamstrings to raise your hips and pull your body towards your feet
- Try to create a 90 degree angle with your knees before returning back to the original hanging position
Are leg curls bad for your knees?
Directly, leg curl machines are not bad for you knees. However, these machines do nothing to strengthen your glutes which increases your risk of hamstring and knee-related injuries. That’s why it’s often a better alternative to perform other exercises like dumbbell lying leg curls or hamstring towel slides which work more muscles simultaneously.
Are leg curls bad for you back?
What’s interesting is that lower back pain isn’t always a result of issues with your lower back muscles. When it comes to leg curls, any stress applied to the lower back required to maintain muscular tension during the movement can exacerbate existing lower back problems. Always check with your doctor if you suspect that your exercise selection is affecting the health of your back.
Alternatives to Leg Curls Without Machine Assistance
So now you know 7 alternatives to leg curls without machine assistance. Working your hamstrings and improving the strength of this muscle group is essential for athletes because it will improve running speed and mechanics.
When you work your hamstrings, it creates a balance of lower body power along with your quads. And, when you target your hamstrings with exercises that have a flexion knee movement (bringing your feet towards your butt), it will help stabilize the joint and prevent injury.
Weak hamstrings can lead to poor mobility, sore knees, and tight hips. If you want to keep your body strong and well-maintained, strong hamstrings are an important part of your posterior chain. So don’t ignore them!
Here’s Why You Still Won’t Get the Body You Want
OK, let’s get real here for a second. This is a very good list of leg curl alternatives that should serve you well if you want to swap out your leg curls for something more suitable for your situation.
But this is only a small piece of the puzzle.
Even if you discover the best exercise on this list and add it to your Frankenstein workout routine, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to do anything for your fitness goals.
So let me ask you this…
What if you could build a strong, muscular body that made strangers at the beach stare in disbelief and makes your buddies nervous to ever leave you alone with their girlfriends?
And what if you could do this with only 3 short workouts per week while enjoying your favorite foods on a daily basis?
Sounds like a load of bull, right? I used to think the same thing until I discovered The Greek God Program.
The Greek God Program is a complete “done-for-you” fitness system designed to help you build noticeable muscle definition and maintain a lean, aesthetic physique year-round without living in the gym, starving yourself, or stuffing bland tasteless foods down your gullet.
If you want to see our full, detailed review of this program then check this out.
But you can actually learn a lot more by watching this video on the official info page.