Leg curls are excellent for focusing on the hamstrings and strengthening them. Strong hamstrings are vital as they reduce the risk of severe injury, especially on the back, promote proper posture, and improve the overall quality of life.
However, you need a machine to perform leg curls. But chances are you do not have the equipment or cannot access a gym with one, which might be why you are looking for options to leg curls that you may consider for your leg workouts.
Leg curl alternatives do not require buying the leg curl machine to work out your hamstrings. They are also quite vast as some are also better for engaging more hamstring muscles and are better for beginners. Here are some of the best leg curl alternatives you may consider.
Top 9 Leg Curl Alternatives
The best leg curl alternatives should target more hamstring muscles. The list below offers you a variety from those that require equipment to those that don’t, those that focus on the hamstrings to those that also work on your core and glutes. You will definitely find something that will work for you, irrespective of your fitness level. Let’s dive in.
Stiff Leg Deadlifts
In standard deadlifts, you need to bend your knees to help you lift the weight effectively. However, with stiff leg deadlifts, you use a barbell and sit on a sturdy platform such as a stool or bench to avoid sliding around. You then rest the barbell on the bench or stool such that it reaches your shins at mid-height level.
Next, you perform this stiff-legged deadlift by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. After that, bend your knees slightly while holding the barbell with your palms facing downwards. A vital tip to getting the most out of stiff leg deadlifts is to keep your hamstring and core engaged while breathing in as you lower and out as you lift the weight.
Donkey kicks are a great option if you are a beginner and don’t have the equipment required by some of the other leg workouts. It is also a good choice for warm-up. The kicks engage the hamstrings, but you must ensure that the leg kicks are from the hips. In addition, you should not overextend your lumbar spine, as doing so increases the risk of lower back injury and pain.
Donkey kicks require you to kneel on all fours with the knees and hands hip-width apart. Next, extend one hip and lift the leg while pushing the foot toward the ceiling. While at it, ensure to engage your core. Once done, lower the leg towards the starting position and repeat. You can wear ankle weights if you wish to make the exercise more intense.
Single-leg Hip Extension
As with the donkey kicks, this is yet another leg curl alternative you can do at home without equipment.
To perform single-leg hip extensions, you start by lying flat on the floor with your knees slightly raised, so your feet are flat on the ground. Next, lift one leg, extend it fully into the air, and lower it to the ground. You may place your hands behind your head or flat with the palms facing the floor. When lifting the legs, pull your core and hamstrings inwards.
As hard as it might be, especially if you are a beginner, do not use your hands to lift your body.
Nordic Leg Curl
If you are a beginner, this leg curl alternative exercise is not for you. Nordic leg curl is intense and requires an advanced fitness level and strong hamstrings.
Start by kneeling on a firm, thick mat with your feet strongly on the mat. You may use a training bench, ask someone to hold you down, or place your feet below a loaded barbell. Your body should be such that the arms are in front of you, the body upright, and the thighs vertical.
Lean towards the front and lower your body to the floor while using the hamstrings to control the movement. The body should remain straight, and you should use the arms to hold it. In the beginning, you will use your arms to push and the hamstrings to return to the initial position. However, as you advance, you will do most of the work using the hamstrings and not relying on the arms.
Stability Ball Hamstring Curls
You will need a stability ball to perform this exercise, and if you are looking for an alternative that gives a similar movement pattern to that of the leg curl machine, this is what you need. If you don’t have a stability ball, you may consider purchasing it, as there are tons of exercises you can perform with this equipment besides hamstring curls.
First, lie on your back with your hands on the floor and your palms downwards. Your lower legs, feet, and ankles should rest on the stability ball. Once set in this position, simultaneously push your hips upwards and bend your knees to curl the ball towards your body. Hold at the optimal pull for one second, then slowly straighten your legs to return to the initial position.
Sumo Squat To Stand
It is one of the best beginner-friendly leg curl alternatives you can opt for. This exercise makes your hamstrings more flexible, yet it does not require any equipment. Even though it is easy, it is best to have enough warm-up before performing the exercise since it fully extends your hamstrings.
Begin by squatting fully, such that your ass is on the floor, with your hands holding the front part of your feet. Your spin should remain neutral while the chest remains upright. Once ready, straighten your legs while pushing the hips backward but without moving the hands. Extend as much as your hamstrings can handle before returning to the initial position. Repeat this several times.
Suitable for intermediate and advanced fitness levels, the Romanian deadlift is a seated leg curl alternative and is great for the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. It is similar to an ordinary deadlift but focuses more on the hamstrings using less weight.
Start by standing with the feet apart at a shoulder-width position and the spine neutral. Next, hold the barbell overhand grip at hip level and start to move your hips back while lowering the bar slowly. Then press your knees forward while allowing the knees to bend but ensure that your back remains straight throughout. Once your torso is in a parallel position to the ground, stop and repeat.
If you are looking for a leg curl alternative that targets more muscle groups, then you should consider kettle swings. Even when you focus on your legs with this exercise, you still get a full-body workout.
You start by standing tall, then hold a kettle using both hands. Next, you push your hips back and downwards by bending the knees slightly. You exercise by swinging the kettle between your legs with straight hands. If you are ready for an intense workout, swing the kettlebell all the way to your head and bring it down past between your legs to behind your body.
The swinging should be continuous, and you can perform 5 to 10 reps. Ensure that you activate your hamstrings and core. While this is an effective leg workout, you should only use a weight that is ideal for your level of strength. Else, you might end up with a muscle pull.
It is a good way of activating the hamstring and core but using your upper body. You need platted weights and a barbell, and it is best to start with lower weights till you get used to the exercise since extra weight can harm your lower back. In addition, you should start below the barbell rack to easily transfer the weight to your body from the bar, thus managing to handle more weight.
You start by bending till your stomach is parallel to the ground, then lift your upper body towards a straight position and repeat.
How To Choose the Best Leg Curl Alternative for You
As seen above, there are many leg curl alternatives to choose from. Even so, not all are suitable for you, depending on your goals and other factors. Here are three essential things to consider when selecting a leg curl alternative to ensure that you opt for a viable and best exercise.
Level Of Fitness
Different exercises require different levels of fitness. For instance, if you are a beginner, activities such as Nordic curl, full body exercises, and others, such as kettlebells, that involve weights would not be ideal since such requires advanced fitness levels. Instead, you may opt for others, such as donkey kicks and sumo squats to stand, which are more beginner-friendly.
Some of the above exercises require equipment, while others don’t. If you don’t have the equipment, you should start with the ones that only need your body weight. Then, with time, you can start incorporating lightweight equipment.
Different workouts target different muscle groups of your hamstring muscles. Some of the above exercises work on your hamstrings only; others also incorporate your core and glutes, while others involve your entire body.
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is through constantly challenging yourself.