Although many succumb to the popular hip-hinging Romanian Deadlift to work their hams, the Lying Leg Curl works at a different angle by isolating the hamstrings, which, when introduced to a set of workouts, can effectively activate your muscle hypertrophy.

And because the hamstrings stretch over the knee and hip joints, it makes sense to perform two different exercises to work both. Hence, the Lying Leg Curl. It’s an excellent movement to be combined with other lower body exercises to add strength and mass to the hamstrings, work on the calf muscles, and improve knee flexor strength. 

Of course, one can reap the benefits of lying leg curls only if it’s done correctly. It may appear to be simple as you merely curl the weights anchored on your ankles, but some nuances need to be known so you can make the most out of your movements. We’ll break down everything you need to know about lying leg curls right now. 

This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:

  • How to Do A Lying Leg Curl
  • 5 Benefits of Doing Lying Leg Curls
  • Common Lying Leg Curl Mistakes to Avoid
  • Lying Leg Curl Muscles Worked
  • Lying Leg Curl vs Seated Leg Curl
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs
  • Lying Leg Curl Variations
  • Lying Leg Curl Alternative Exercises
  • Frequently Asked Questions

How To Do A Lying Leg Curl

What You’ll Need:

  • Leg curl machine – Also called the hamstring curl machine, is a weight-adjustable machine with a padded bench and hinging leg rest. For beginners, you can start with a 33-lb. Weight, and build from there.

Alternative Equipment:

  • Dumbbell – Put the dumbbell between both feet to secure the weight while performing the curls
  • Resistance Band – Anchor the long resistance band on a sturdy and stable post and secure your feet separately on two hooped ends. The resistance could make a good alternative to weights.
  • Bench – The bench must be padded to comfortably lie on your stomach while performing the exercise

Step 1: Prepare the leg curl machine

For starters, adjust the leg curl machine to suit your height. Position yourself in the machine, lying face down with the back of your legs on the pad of the lever. It should be a few inches under your calves. We recommend using an angled machine instead of a flat one, which helps in hamstrings recruitment.

Step 2: Get into starting position

Keep your torso flat on the bench and make sure you fully stretch your legs, positioning your toes straight. Grab the machine’s slide handles and get ready to perform the lying hamstring curl!

Step 3: Curl your legs

When you exhale, curl your legs up as far as possible without lifting your upper legs on the machine’s pad. After you have fully contracted the affected muscles, hold the position for a second or two.

Step 4: Go back to starting position

When you inhale, slowly lower your legs back to starting position. Make sure you slowly return to your initial position; don’t merely let go but control the lowering phase. Repeat the exercise for the recommended number of reps and sets.

5 Lying Leg Curl Benefits

1. Use Multiple Muscle Groups

Lying leg curls would primarily work the hamstring, also working on the gastrocnemius, the main calf muscle crossing our ankles and knee joints. With proper technique and progressive overload, one can experience gains in size, strength, and endurance, particularly in the back of their legs. 

2. Develop Strength and Hypertrophy

When you control the movement and contract your hamstrings as you perform lying leg curls, it can increase strength and size on the posterior chain. It benefits powerlifters who want to increase their deadlifts or bodybuilders aiming to build bigger hamstrings. Focus on the concentric and slow down during the eccentric phase to maximize the tension. More tension, more muscles.

3. Address Any Muscular Imbalances

For those who weightlift or perform certain movements, like squats, you probably developed your quadriceps more than the hamstrings. That may result in injuries because of the muscular imbalance. The hamstring curl helps you develop strength and work capacity, specifically in the hamstrings, so it can balance out your strength ratio between the anterior and posterior chain. 

4. Helps Those Managing Injuries

When dealing with an injury limiting your ability to perform exercises, lying leg curls are a great way to ensure your hamstrings continue receiving enough training stimuli. This helps limit muscle loss as you recover and rest from doing large compound exercises like deadlifts. Moreover, lying leg curls are a safe and controlled way to load your hamstrings if you suffer from a hamstring strain.

5. Contributes to Athletic Development

Numerous sports rely on our legs to produce significant muscular power. Our hamstrings play a vital role in this because they produce power for hip extension and knee flexion, both of which are critical for running. When you strengthen the hamstrings with isolation exercises like leg curls, it can improve your athletic performance.

Common Lying Leg Curl Mistakes to Avoid

Watch out for these common mistakes when performing the lying leg curl! That way, you have a reduced risk of injury and can perform this exercise effectively. 

You Use Inappropriate Loads

This is a common mistake you’ll find in many exercises, really. If you go too heavy, it can lead to incorrect technique and form, resulting in your muscles not working as they should, or even injury. If you use too light loads, then you won’t build muscle or strength. With proper load, you can perform your reps with proper form and to failure within your recommended rep range, thus reaching your fitness goal.

Improper Leg Placement

If you don’t place the pads of the leg curl machine properly, the exercise becomes less effective because of a limited range of movement. Make sure you double-check your starting position and lower body before performing the exercise.

You Rush Reps

When you rush your rep, it reduces your time under tension, which plays a critical role in muscle growth. It also limits the training adaptations made, so make sure you control your reps and avoid moving too quickly or on momentum just to say you finished your set. Rushing reps can also mean completing only partial reps, which won’t be as effective in building muscle or gaining strength. 

One Leg Does More

Lying leg curls are usually performed using both legs simultaneously. Because of that, your dominant leg may take on more than half the work while the non-dominant leg isn’t as worked on. This can result in a significant difference in muscle strength between those two limbs. To combat that, you can work your hamstring independently, addressing any muscle weaknesses in the non-dominant leg. Do so by working one side at a time rather than both legs simultaneously.

Lying Leg Curl Muscles Worked

The lying leg curl will work on these muscles:

  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Hip flexors

The primary muscle the hamstring curl works on is the hamstring, which runs down the backs of our thighs. Our hamstrings are made up of three separate muscles: The semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. These three muscles work together and are responsible for flexing the knee joints. So, when we bend our knees, bringing the leg pads up towards our buttocks, our hamstrings are the ones creating the movement. 

Our calves are responsible for flexing our ankles and pointing our toes. The gastrocnemius in particular, which is the largest of the two calf muscles, helps our hamstrings and contributes to our knee flexion. 

Compared to performing seated curls, the lying leg curl will require help from the hip flexor muscles. Our hip flexors will contract, pushing our knees into the pad. As a result, it increases leverage when bending them. The specific hip flexors involved in the exercise are the gracillis, popliteus, and sartorius muscles.

Lying Leg Curl vs Seated Leg Curl

The major difference between the lying and seated leg curl is that the seated leg curl would load the hamstring in a longer state than when in a lying position. The leg curl becomes more effective in activating your hamstring muscles and increasing size. That said, both the seated and lying hamstring curl are equally effective when it comes to building hamstring strength.

If you have lower back pain or are more prone to injuries in that area, we recommend doing lying leg curls as it places less stress on the lower back. Seated leg curls may aggravate existing injuries on your lower back, particularly on the L5-S1 spinal motion segment. But for more muscle hypertrophy, the seated leg curl is more beneficial.

Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs

There’s no fixed number of reps and sets for everyone. The number of reps and sets, along with the weight you use, will vary depending on your goals. Here are our trainer’s recommended reps and sets:

For Muscle Building

If your goal is to build muscular hypertrophy, then we recommend going for 3 sets with 4 to 8 reps per set. Go for moderate to heavy loads that you can handle for the recommended number of sets and reps.

For Strength Training

For those who want to build strength, then you will need to use a heavier load, which means lower reps. Opt for 3 sets of 1 to 5 reps.

For General Fitness

For general fitness and to build your hamstrings for athletic performance, you can opt to use light to moderate loads, just enough for you to perform more sets and reps. Perform the exercise for 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.

Lying Leg Curl Variations

There are various reasons why you prefer lying leg curl variations. It can be due to not having the right gym equipment, wanting something less intense, or trying more difficult exercises. Whatever the case may be, here are lying leg curl variations you can implement for your lower body training:

Seated Hamstring Curl

Seated hamstring curls place the greatest stretch on your hamstrings so you get to work on it more. Some people may also find it more comfortable in a seated position as the machine prevents you from lifting the legs while curling. 

Standing Hamstring Curl

This exercise is similar to the lying leg curl but with less hip flexion involved. You will perform this exercise unilaterally since the opposite leg will support you as you stand. This is a good exercise for beginners as it will require less hamstring strength, and you can do them with or without weights. If you want to add more load, you may add a resistance band to the exercise.

Nordic Hamstring Curl

The Nordic Hamstring Curl has you keep the lower leg stationary while moving the rest of your body, which helps reduce the risk of a hamstring injury. This move may increase strength and fascicle length, which protect your hamstrings from injury as you perform high eccentric loading.  

Prone Leg Curl

If you can’t perform the standing leg curl with a resistance band, you can do the prone leg curl, which allows you to do the exercise while lying down. That way, you can effectively load the end range. 

Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl

This is an intermediate exercise effective in isolating your hamstrings, working to flex your knee, and extending the hip. It will require your body weight for resistance and a swiss ball. It’s a good exercise if you want more of a challenge as you will need to maintain your balance on the ball as you perform the curl.

Lying Leg Curl Alternative Exercises

You can also do other Alternative Exercises besides lying leg curls, which also work on the hamstring muscle. Here are hamstring exercises you can include:

Slider Curls

Slider curls use minimal equipment and work on the hamstring, which anyone can easily do at home. It requires sliding discs or other things that can reduce friction between your feet and the floor, like a towel. 

Hamstring Walkouts

Hamstring walkouts are an exercise targeting the hamstrings through hip extension and knee flexion. It’s a bodyweight exercise that optimizes your hamstring’s muscular strength, growth, and endurance with a higher time under tension. 

Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell swings are a great exercise that targets more muscle groups compared to the leg curl – it’s considered a full-body exercise! 

Reverse Lunge

Regular Lunges are more focused on your quadriceps, while Reverse Lunges pack a punch on the hamstrings. It also works more muscles, including the core. We recommend adding more weight to your reverse lunge if you can go heavier than using your body weight.

Wrapping It Up

Hamstring curls are a fantastic exercise to isolate and strengthen your hamstrings. As long as it’s done correctly, you can gain strength and muscle around the back of your legs and experience improved athletic performance. If you cannot perform hamstring curls, some variations and alternatives provide the same benefits and target the same muscles. Make sure you keep this guide in mind as you perform the exercise!

Frequently Asked Questions

There are other lying hamstring curl variations you can do without a machine but with a dumbbell or resistance band. You can also perform alternative exercises that use dumbbells or bodyweight. 

These are similar exercises but not exactly the same as you will have a different position. Furthermore, seated leg curls would place your hamstrings in a lengthened position compared to the shortened position of the lying leg curl. 

The lying hamstring curl targets your hamstrings and calf muscles as you curl your legs up. As you lower your legs down, you activate your glutes, quadriceps, and tibialis anterior (shins). 

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