The leg curl has long been seen as the go-to exercise to work the hamstrings. However, this exercise is problematic for a lot of people. For one thing, most people who train at home don’t have access to a leg curl machine. In addition, people who have lower back pain often find this move to be painful. In this article, we present you with a range of awesome leg curl alternatives.
- 1 Targeting the Glutes and Hamstrings
- 2 Activating the Glutes / Hams
- 3 Bodyweight Exercises
- 4 Swiss Ball Leg Curl
- 5 The Gym Workout
- 6 Workout A
- 7 Workout B
- 8 Summary
Targeting the Glutes and Hamstrings
The leg curl targets the hamstrings, which are often also known as the leg biceps. A lot of people don’t understand the real function of this muscle group. It doesn’t actually bend the knee but, rather, extend the hips in combination with the glutes. That’s why the key to strong, athletic and functional hamstrings is to get them to work synergistically with your glutes.
Often the hamstrings are forced to take over for weak glutes and it is this that can lead to hamstring injuries. By strengthening the two muscles together you will be able to build a powerful base to work from, preventing hamstring strains and tears and enveloping some pretty impressive butt and hamstring muscles at the same time.
The majority of people in our society are walking around with chronically weak glutes. This has led to the coining of the term gluteal amnesia, which refers to the weak, atrophied and uncoordinated butts of people which fail to work properly during functional movement. This has resulted from too much sitting on their butt and not enough time moving it. If that has been your situation, it’s time to make a change for the better.
The glute muscles thrive on movement. Repetitive everyday activities such as walking, sitting and standing, picking things off the floor and climbing the stairs, all directly involve the glutes. They are also pivotal to nearly all athletic movements. Throwing, striking, jumping, running and cutting are all glute dependent. In addition to high speed and power sports, the glutes are primary to success in Power and Olympic lifting. Acceleration of the barbell is very much reliant on the actions of your butt muscles.
Activating the Glutes / Hams
Glute Activation Circuit
Do 15 reps on each movement, going from one to the next without any rest. Once you’ve done all 4 moves, rest for 60 seconds and then repeat.
Muscles Involved – Primary: Glutes
(1) Lie flat on the floor with your arms at your sides and knees bent. Plant your heels strongly on the ground.
(2) Press from your heels to push your hips high up into the air. Keep your shoulder blades on the floor. Exhale as you come up, squeezing your glutes tightly in the process.
(3) Lower to the floor and repeat.
Muscles Involved – Primary: Glutes
(1) Sit on a mat or some padding. Sit up on your knees. Place your hands by your sides.
(2) Keeping your calves parallel, lean back as far as comfortable, while you feel you can control the motion.
(3) Squeeze back upwards, engaging from the quads and glutes.
Muscles Involved – Primary:Glutes
(1) Assume a staggered standing squat position with one leg forward and a little bit to the side. Focus all of your weight on the front leg.
(2) Keeping your back arched, squat down bringing your hands to come down over the front leg. Don’t let the front knee go over the toe.
(3) Squeeze straight up and out of the squat.
Toe Hold Sumo Squat
Muscles Involved – Primary: Hamstrings
(1) Taking a wide stance, squat down until your legs are at 90 degrees.
(2) Reach down to grab your toes.
(3) Exhale as you squeeze upward to straighten out the legs and arms, lifting with the hips and glutes.
Swiss Ball Glute Ham Raise
Anchor your feet under a fixed object while you are on your knees facing away from the anchor point. Place your hands on a Swiss Ball which is sitting in front of you. Now rolling out on the ball to full extension then pull back to the start position, using your glutes and hamstrings to do the work. Do not push on the ball or that will dissipate the effort that is required from the muscles at the back of your upper legs.
Swiss Ball Leg Curl
Lie on the floor face up with your legs extended and heels resting on top of a Swiss Ball. Place your hands on the floor and lift your hips into the air. Now draw your heels back to bring the ball into toward your torso. Try to come back until the ball actually makes contact with your butt. Slowly return to the start position.
Hamstring / Glute Static Hold
Here’s a static hold move that makes your hips and glutes work together to keep you in place. Lie on the floor with your legs extended and arms on the floor. Now, keeping your heels on the floor, lift your hips into the air as high as possible. Hold this position for 60 seconds, squeezing as hard as you can through the glutes.
The Gym Workout
Start with your feet shoulders width apart and ensure your back is arched. Hold your hands out directly in front of you, palms parallel to the ground. Slowly bend your knees and lower your body until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Keep your back straight and avoid bending throughout the movement. Don’t worry if you can’t get your thighs lower than parallel to the ground to start. This can be your goal over time. Don’t sacrifice a straight back and good posture by trying to go too low too soon.
After a month of doing bodyweight squats, you will be ready to add some resistance. Adding weight to your workout will allow you to shape, firm and tone your muscle. The movement is performed in the exact same manner as above, except that you perform it inside a squat rack with an Olympic bar placed across your back at the trapezius muscles. Make sure that you are looking up as you descend into the movement and do not bounce in the bottom position.
Start with your feet shoulders width apart and ensure your back is arched. Hold your hands out directly in front of you palms, parallel to the ground (you can add weight as you progress by holding a book in your outstretched hands throughout the movement). Slowly bend your knees and lower your body until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Keep your back straight and avoid bending throughout the movement. Don’t worry if you can’t get your thighs lower than parallel to the ground to start. This can be your goal over time. Don’t sacrifice a straight back and good posture by trying to go too low too soon.
Stand with your feet between hip and shoulder width apart. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and keep your lower abs drawn in. This will keep your spine in a neutral position. With a barbell in front of you, bend your knees and push your hips back, keeping your head and chest up.
With your knees and hips square and pointing forward, take hold of the barbell at slightly more than shoulder width apart, using an overhand grip. Putting your weight through your heels, push through your feet, straighten your knees and bring your hips forward, bringing the barbell close to your body.
Keep your head up during the movement and your shoulders back in the standing position. Pause at the top and the return to the start position by bending your knees and pushing your hips back and down.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart and hands on hips. Take a large step forward, planting your heel first. Keep your back upright and straight throughout the movement. As you move into the lunge concentrate on keeping your hips facing forward.
In the forward position, your front leg should be at a right angle and your rear knee should almost touch the ground.
Drive back with to front foot, returning to the start position.
As you gain confidence and strength you can add resistance by holding light dumbbells in your hands.
Straight Leg Deadlift
Stand with your feet between hip and shoulder width apart in front of a barbell. Bend over and grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip. Stand up to bring the bar up to your mid-thigh level. As you rise, retract your shoulder blades and lock out your knees.
From this top position, lower the bar, keeping your legs straight and the bar close to your body. Now drive through your heels, flexing your hamstrings and glutes to bring the bar back to the starting position.
Position yourself on the floor on your knees and forearms. Raise one knee slightly off the floor. Squeeze with your glutes as your drive that foot towards the ceiling. Keep the core tight and look forward throughout the movement.
This exercise can also be done with resistance. You can place a small dumbbell in the rear crook of your knee and bring your calf back to hold it in place. Alternatively, your gym may have a cable machine on which to do this exercise.
Sit in front of a seat or bench with your upper back supported by the bench and your arms outstretched and resting on the bench (make sure the bench is stable). Have your legs out in front of you with knees bent.
Drive your heels into the ground as you squeeze your glutes to push your torso up, allowing your core to lift as high as possible. Hold for a second to fully contract the glutes.
Come all the way down, so your butt touches the floor and then repeat.
Two Way Butt Kicks
Lean on a bench with your arms extended and locked at the elbows. Keep your leg together and directly under your hips so that your body forms a right angle. Keeping just a slight bend in your left knee, extend your straightened right leg directly back and up, squeezing the glutes tightly.
Bring your right leg back until it just about touches the ground, then move it directly to the side and up. Again squeeze your glutes tightly as you do this movement.
Do all of your reps on one leg and then repeat with the other.
Bodyweight Hip Thrusts
- Sit with your back up against a bench and your feet on the floor
- Lift your shoulders onto the bench by pushing through the heels. This will have the effect of raising your hips and working your glutes. Squeeze them tight during the movement
- In the top position, your thighs should be at 90 degrees to the floor
Barbell Glute Bridge
- Sit straight legged on an exercise mat with a loaded barbell resting on your pelvis
- Lie back, bringing your feet to the floor, bending your knees and drawing them up to your glutes
- Take hold of the bar to balance it
- Push through your heels, raising your hips off the floor so that a straight line runs from your upper back through your knees
- Return to beginning position
Squats – 3 x 15
Box Jumps – 2 x 12
Stiff Legged Deadlift – 3 x 12
Kick Backs – 2 x 15 (each leg)
Barbell Glute Bridge – 2 x 15
Deadlift – 3 x 15
Lunges – 2 x 15 (each leg)
Hip Thrusts – 3 x 12
Two Way Butt Kicks – 2 x 12 (each leg)
Bodyweight Hip Thrusts – 2 x 15
For best results, you should perform each of these workouts once per week. Perform Workout A on a Monday with Workout B on a Thursday. Do this consistently, throwing in the glute activation and bodyweight work at home on the weekend and you will be well on your way to developing the strong, athletic, well-developed hamstrings and glutes you deserve – and without a leg curl machine in sight!