Best Leg Curl Alternatives – How to Stay Injury-Free

Working the hamstrings is essential for athletic movement and dexterity. But isolating the hamstrings by using a seated or lying leg machine in the gym is a terrible idea.

Here we are going to show you some leg curl alternatives before your hamstrings snap on you!

You have probably performed a regular leg curl at the gym countless times. Perhaps you’ve sat using your phone or watching the TV while pumping out dozens of reps.

You will soon find out they are a complete waste of time.

Read on.

Are Leg Curls Bad for You?

Yes. Next time when you perform a seated leg curl on a machine, ask yourself “when have I ever used my legs this way in real life?”

The answer is, never.

Additionally, isolating the joint this way is a one-way ticket to injury.

Luckily, you have options. We have put together a handy guide to show you alternatives to this crazy exercise.

But before we get into it, there are a few extra things you need to know.

close up view gym seated leg extension machine

What is a Leg Curl Good for?

When running, jumping, skiing or lifting the function of the hamstrings is to extend the hips.

The lower back, hamstrings and glutes form something called the posterior chain, and they like to work together. Conditioning in this area will improve posture, increase lower body strength and balance.

To train this area effectively, you need to perform most leg curl exercises with your foot placed firmly on the ground and not dangling in the air as you have seen in the gym on the machines.

How do I Protect My Hamstrings?

By doing functional training, you can expand and contract your muscles in the same way they are intended to be used in real-life.

For instance, your hamstrings don’t work in isolation, they work in tandem with your glutes in nearly every kind of movement. Train them together for increased stability and that will far less likely cause injury.

If you undertake eccentric and isometric strengthening of the legs, you will be able to lengthen the legs and hold the movement more effectively.

young woman working out in gym

Best Leg Curl Alternatives for Home Workouts and the Gym

All of these exercises require minimal equipment and can be performed comfortably at home.

However, there are some fantastic options on the market if you’re considering purchasing a home gym. Check out our guide on the best all in one home gyms.

Stiff-legged Deadlift

One of the most popular alternatives is the stiff-legged deadlift. It incorporates the lower back and glutes; areas you just can’t train using a leg curl machine.

This exercise takes some practice to get right, so give yourself a chance by using a manageable weight in the beginning.

Equipment

  • Pair of dumbells.

Method

  • Place the dumbells on the ground parallel to your toes.
  • Legs shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend over at the hips. Reach for the dumbells and keep the back flat. Don’t arch the back.
  • Slightly bend at the knees. It’s important to be comfortable. Don’t lock out the knees but don’t bend them too much either, as this will defeat the purpose of the exercise.
  • Use the glutes, lower back, and hamstrings to lift the weight and try to keep the dumbells as close to the shins as possible.
  • Squeeze the glutes at the top.
  • The key is to slowly lower the weight back towards the ground and pause at the bottom.

Glute Ham Raises

More often than not, people get hamstring injuries because they are trying to compensate for weak glutes. Perform this exercise to strengthen the posterior chain.

Equipment

Method

  • Place the exercise ball out in front of you about 3 feet (1 meter) away.
  • Kneel on the mat.
  • Anchor your feet with a bench.
  • Slowly lean forward onto the ball and allow it to roll with you.
  • Squeeze the glutes and pull up through the hamstrings without using your arms to help.

There are alternatives to this exercise which can provide additional benefits. Check out our guide on glute-ham raise alternatives.

Donkey Kicks

The purpose of this exercise is to warm up the backside to encourage and increase hip flexion as we know this is a critical component in the posterior chain.

As well as warming up the glutes, this exercise will isometrically train the hamstring.

Equipment

  • None.

Method

  • On hands and knees, keep your spine in a neutral position. Don’t arch the lower back.
  • Raise your leg into the air behind you until your body is parallel with the ground. Do not raise your thigh higher than your torso as this will compress the spine.
  • Maintain a bent knee at all times while performing the exercise as this is key to holding the tension.
  • Try to focus on slow movements and isolating the buttocks.

Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is a single-leg exercise and is quite possibly the best leg exercise there is for total leg strength, functionality and athleticism.

It’s a challenging exercise to master, but once you have, it will become a staple of your daily routine.

Equipment

Method

  • Set up the tracking of the knee correctly by placing one leg to the rear on a bench.
  • Keep the back straight and ensure that when you bend the knee, you are descending correctly by using the entire quad muscle.
  • Descend straight down and do not shift your weight over the knee as this will create stress on the tendon of the knee.
  • At the bottom of the exercise, the thigh should be parallel to the ground, and the back should be tight and straight.
  • Do not push back on the return upwards. People tend to drive away from the foot. Focus on keeping the knee exactly where it is. That action will invite the use of the hip and not the knee.
  • Practice without weight and then gradually increase it. Ensuring you have full balance and control throughout the exercise.

Exercise Ball Hamstring Curl

The hip extension leg curl is an excellent exercise because it trains both functions of this muscle group: knee flexion and hip extension.

Equipment

  • Exercise ball.

Method

  • Place your heels on the ball.
  • Crunch the abs, clench the glutes and pull the shoulders to the ground.
  • Pull the belly button upwards to perform the posterior pelvic tilt and raise the torso from the ground. Avoid hyperextension of the lower back.
  • Maintain the hip extension height and pull the heels in towards the buttocks.
  • You can make this exercise easier or harder, depending on the positioning of the arms.
  • Put your arms out to the side to provide extra stability in the core. That will make the exercise easier.
  • Remove the arms from the ground, and this will have the opposite effect.

Single-leg Hip Extension

A fantastic bodyweight exercise to train the hamstrings and glutes, the single-leg hip extension can be either a warm-up movement or intense training exercise.

Equipment

  • None.

Method

  • Lay flat on the ground with your feet flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend your knees and bring your feet close to the bottom.
  • Force the shoulders into the ground with your arms by your side.
  • Brace the core and raise a leg.
  • Pull the belly button upwards and raise the torso from the ground. Avoid hyperextension of the lower back.
  • Clench the buttocks.

Eccentric Single-Leg Sliding Leg Curl

This exercise is one of the best activities you can do when trying to avoid injuries and strains. It’s a bodyweight resistance exercise and can be performed anywhere.

This exercise is also called the slick floor bridge curl and bodyweight hamstring curl.

Equipment

  • Something to help your feet slide on the floor.

Method

  • Place your feet flat on the discs to minimize friction between your feet and the floor.
  • Pull the belly button upwards to perform the posterior pelvic tilt and raise the torso from the ground. Avoid hyperextension of the lower back.
  • Crunch the abs, and raise one leg to the chest. Push your shoulders into the ground.
  • Slowly extend your leg fully. Keep your core and buttocks tight.
  • Release the exercise and swap legs.
  • To make the exercise more challenging, you can also perform the reverse of the exercise by pulling the leg in under tension and changing legs at the start position.

However, if you do have access to the gym, there are many variations of this exercise like standing cable leg curls. Check out our guide on cable crossover alternatives if you want to know more.

Kettlebell Swings

The key here is to focus on the squeeze of the buttocks, and the momentum felt throughout the whole posterior chain. It’s a very versatile exercise and can also work the core and improve conditioning.

Equipment

Method

  • Stand shoulder width with the kettlebell in between your legs. Just like picking up any weight, ensure you bend at the knees and not the lower back.
  • Swing the weight by clenching the buttocks and pushing out throughout the core.
  • Raise the weight to about eye level and let gravity return the kettlebell between the legs. Always maintain a neutral spine.
  • Each time the kettlebell is in between the legs, you need to push through the core and legs to keep the momentum flowing.
  • The power comes from the legs so ensure you aren’t relying on the arms and don’t hold on too tightly to the kettlebell.

Good Mornings

A good exercise for the lower back which incorporates the hamstrings. It’s a useful alternative to the leg curl machine.

Equipment

  • Weight bar.

Method

  • When performing this exercise, it is essential not to choose too heavy a weight. The glutes and lower back can be notoriously weak for a beginner. To begin with, select an appropriate weight, to avoid unnecessary injuries.
  • Plant your feet shoulders width apart.
  • Place the bar over your shoulder and rest it across the trap area just like you would with a regular squat exercise.
  • Bend over at the hip while keeping the knees bent slightly. That will activate the glutes, lower back, and hamstrings.
  • Flex the hips in a bowing motion, and avoid bending the legs in a squatting motion.
  • Don’t round the spine. Keep the core contracted and the back straight.
  • Try to get the core parallel with the ground.

Deceleration Leg Swings

This exercise will give a good burn throughout the entire posterior chain. The hips will flex, and you will get a good hamstring stretch.

This exercise will increase stability and flexibility.

Equipment

  • Resistance band.

Method

  • Hook the resistance band around a secure anchor point.
  • Place one foot inside the band.
  • Initially, your raised leg should be parallel with the ground.
  • Pull your foot toward the ground and fight the resistance of the band.
  • On the return part of the exercise, it’s crucial to decelerate to prolong the time your muscles spend under tension.
  • Keep the glutes activated and try to stand as still as possible to improve stability.
  • Eventually, you will be able to see improvements in your flexibility.

Final Words

I do not recommend you go crazy and use all of these exercises in one routine.

Some of the movements required can be difficult to master, and if you’re a beginner, crucial areas of your posterior chain shall likely be weak.

Start with no weight at all and build up to those big leg days.

However, if you’re a seasoned athlete, you can really push yourself on all of these exercises to give yourself that perfect workout.

All these exercises encourage natural body movements and don’t isolate weak joints.

It’s always essential to train in the direction your body is naturally trying to move in. If you fight against it, things will break.

These exercises will improve your strength and flexibility and will keep you away from that dreaded leg curl machine. However, if you are confident and you can perform leg curls in good form, check out our guide on the best leg extension machines here.

Have fun. Stay safe.