We’ve all been there – you’re in the middle of a great workout and you check your program to see that leg curls are your next exercise but as you start to walk over to the machine, James, the 10-set tempo trainer jumps on. Instead of waiting a lifetime, you need a leg curl alternative.
Not to worry, we’ve got you covered.
Forget James and the leg curl machine and check out this list of the Top 13 alternatives to leg curls to do at home and in the gym.
Leg Curl Alternatives at Home
At-home exercises can always be a little more tricky – you need to get creative. With a clever assortment of exercises built to put on mass, strength and enhance mobility in the hamstrings, these leg curl alternatives at home have you covered.
#1 Bulgarian Split Squats
These are not just one of the best alternatives to a leg curl, the Bulgarian split squat is hands down one of the best exercises for developing dynamic strength in the hamstrings, quads and glutes.
Making the most of this exercise will come with a slow rep speed. Focus on pushing the weight through your heel and midsole, not allowing the knee to fall inside of the toe. There is no need to go heavy on this exercise and keep your reps to 8-12 per set.
#2 Reverse Lunges
Reverse lunges are actually real lunges. Walking forward in a lunge isn’t necessarily cheating but when you step back into lunge you properly load your front foot – enhancing the movement and building more strength.
The most common mistake people make when completing a lunge is stepping too far out. Your goal should be to create a 90degree angle on both legs – front and back. Check out the gif to see what this looks like.
#3 Shoulder Elevated Bridge
No, bridging exercises are not just for the ladies who want to build a nice butt – bridge exercises are essential to strength for those who want leg alternatives at home.
This exercise builds strength in the posterior chain and can even help improve your core stability.
Find a chair or couch that you can sit down in front of. Put your shoulders on the chair and raise your hips up until you have a 90-degree knee angle. Beginners should focus on holding this position for 1-2 minutes, while more exercised athletes can move into reps/sets.
#4 Seated Good Mornings
The forgotten exercise of old-school bodybuilding. Seated good mornings are a perfect exercise for hitting the hamstrings and will help you to build strength as an alternative to leg curls.
This might be the hardest exercise to get right. The idea is that by sitting and flexing your torso you will put a deep stretch on the hamstrings and glutes as you lean forward. This exercise is sure to give you that feel-good burn in the morning.
Be sure to watch the video above to get an idea for near-perfect form.
#5 Single-Leg Kettlebell Deadlift
Don’t have a kettlebell? No problem. For most people, the balance and strength required for the bodyweight movement will be enough to build strength and mobility in the hamstring.
Top Tip: This is an exercise where you can use anything as your free-weights. Grab a water jug from the garage, use a bag of rice – it really doesn’t matter as long as you are stable and follow a clean range of motion.
#6 Kettlebell Swing
Kettlebells are a great tool to have at your home gym. They are extremely versatile and allow for a wide range of exercises, most popular of which are the kettlebell swings.
This exercise helps to build dynamic strength, great for those who are training to improve heavy squats, vertical jump, 100m dash, or just want to burn out their hamstrings while the leg curl machine is occupied by James and his 10 Set Tempo Method.
#7 Horse Stance
All athletes should have isometric exercises integrated into their workout program. Your goal here should be to build static strength (strength in one position).
The horse stance is a great exercise for developing a connection between the feet, posture and core – essential for long term strength development.
Leg Curl Alternatives at The Gym
James still on the leg curl machine? Not to worry, here is a list of the best leg curl alternatives you can do at the gym (most are better than leg curls).
#1 Romanian Deadlift
The king of all hamstring exercises. Famously popularized by a Romanian bodybuilder who was warming up for a competition, this exercise is adaptation of the deadlift with a very small knee flexion angle.
Your goal should be to put as much stress and stretch in the hamstring while you are loaded with a barbell or dumbbells.
Advanced Romanian Deadlifts: For those that want to take this exercise one step further, grab yourself a 1-2ft lift – like a box for box jumping or a series of rubber barbell plates.
Standing on a surface higher than the ground means you can increase the range of motion for the exercise and deepen the stretch and stress on the muscle – keep your reps low for this.
#2 Barbell Sumo Deadlift
No, you don’t have to wear a sumo nappy to perform this exercise. The sumo deadlift is a deadlift that allows you to use a wide foot stance. Typically your toes are slightly pointed out and your hands grab the barbell at shoulder width.
Beginners should be able to pull more weight in a sumo deadlift than in a traditional deadlift due to the more effective back angle and the decreased range of motion.
#3 Dumbbell Deadlifts
A versatile and underutilized exercise, the dumbbell deadlifts allow anyone who is training in a gym to pick up some free weights and perform deep deadlifts to hit the hamstrings and glutes – a perfect leg curl alternative.
Since the dumbells are free to move around (more than a typical barbell) your focus should be to start tall, strong, with your scapula retracted and neck in a neutral position. Hinging at the hip you should keep the dumbbells stuck to your leg as you lower your body.
Movement Que: You will know you have done this exercise correctly if your lats feel pressure when you’ve completed your set.
#4 Single-Leg Kettlebell Deadlift
If it wasn’t for the complexity of the movement this exercise would be #1 on our list. You need balance, strength, coordination and good muscular endurance if you want to complete leg curl alternative properly.
Your focus during this exercise should be to create a hinging motion at the hip. Think of a door opening and closing – the frame around the door stays firm and planted.
In this exercise you do not want your back flexing, knee moving or foot working overtime to balance. Hinge at the hip, push into the ground and return to a start position.
Beginners should focus on completing this exercise without weight (hands on hips) first before moving into a kettlebell variation.
#5 Kettlebell Swing
One of the best at-home exercises is just as good at the gym. Perfect for those who need a leg curl alternative and don’t want to feel crowded with all the guys in the free-weight section.
Most gyms will carry heavy kettlebells – up to 100 pounds. These kettlebells are great for performing the Russian style exercise. Try completing a 5×5 (five sets of five reps) and make sure that every rep is powerful and you are not dominant through one leg. This will make sure that you create even strength in both legs.
#6 Stability Ball Hamstring Curls
Rounding off our list of the best leg curl alternatives to do in a gym is the stability ball hamstring curl. Just as the horse stance is a primarily isometric exercise, the stability ball curl is a perfect movement for building static and dynamic strength.
Your focus during this exercise should be to keep your reps low and movement as efficient as possible. Find a stability ball that is heavily pumped up as it will be easier to manage – and if this is too difficult you can always grab a slam ball.
Conclusion: Making the Most of Movement
Completing an exercise is only half the battle. In order to build strength, you need to best understand leg curls and how you can create alternatives that create the same movement pattern.
Hitting the Hamstrings
The leg curl is a hamstring dominant exercise where you lay on your stomach and curl machine weight behind you. The leg curl is perfect because it focuses on the primary hamstring movement of knee flexion.
Creating a workout plan for alternatives to leg curls should focus on four important aspects:
- Flexion at Knee to isolate the hamstrings from rn strength development
- Use Extension at Hip so that you can build accessory and translatable strength for movements like squats, deadlifts and other big movements
- Stability Movements help to balance your strength and endurance, which can limit injury and create athletes that are strong in the gym and on the field
- Reps/Sets and Periodization should focus on 8/3, 12/3, 5/5 and 6/4. Higher rep sequences might be effective but could also lead to overuse injuries as the hamstrings are long/skinny muscles which can become injured easily.
There you have it – 13 well-rounded alternatives to leg curls to do at home and in the gym.
Perfect for when the leg curl machine is taken, or for those who are simply looking for another great exercise to add to their workout program.
Enjoy this article? Have any questions? Feel free to leave a comment below and we will get back to you!
Discover why James was taking a century to finish his sets on the leg curl machine – and why you should be too.
What is the Best Standing Leg Curl Alternative?
The best standing leg curl alternatives are exercises that will simulate both hamstring flexion and hip extension. Single-leg deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, kettlebell swings and a horse stance are four great exercises for alternatives to a standing leg curl.
If you only had time to perform one exercise you should use Romanian deadlifts as they are great for strength development and translate well to other exercises like squats and deadlifts.
What is the Most Effective Seated Leg Curl Alternative?
Our personal favourite is the seated good morning. This classic exercise helps to create a deep stretch in the hamstring and glute muscles – great for those who are looking for an exercise that will make you feel the burn.
What is the best Alternative to a Lying Leg Curl?
Beginners should focus on keeping their reps low (less than 12 per set) with an emphasis on perfect rep quality.
CSEP – CPT, Expert in Exercise Physiology
Gabriello is a writer and strength expert best known for his science-based and practical approach to Exercise Physiology, Nutrition and Strength. After serving in a directors position for The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Gabriello moved towards writing to help more people understand the importance of living a healthy life. Gabriello’s writings have been published in several languages on some of the largest health and fitness websites helping people learn, grow and understand the complex components of optimizing human performance in a simplistic way.
Gabriello also takes on specialized, high-performance athletes who are in need of strength, mobility and conditioning programming to optimize their fitness through his Earned Fitness program.