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Hamstring Curls

What are hamstring curls?

Hamstring curl variations

Hamstring curls are isolation exercises which exclusively target the hamstrings. Isolation exercises often get a bad rep, but they can be really beneficial in addressing muscle imbalances. In this case, the hamstrings are typically weaker than the quadriceps, which means they don't always get pushed to full potential in compound movements as the quads take over. Combining compound movements with hamstring isolation exercises is the best way to increase the strength and size of your hamstrings.

Commonly asked questions on hamstring curls

Are leg curls bad for your knees?

Leg curls are not inherently bad for your knees as long as they are performed safely. Sticking to a weight that allows you to keep control of the form will help you to avoid injuries.

What is a good weight for leg curls?

There is no universal correct weight for leg curls. Even between variations, the weight you use might change! Aim for a weight that you can carry out curls with correct form for between 8-12 reps if your goal is hypertrophy, and 3-6 reps if your goal is strength. If you can perform over the top range of your reps easily, increase the weight.

Do hamstring curls work your glutes?

Some leg curl variations do recruit the glutes, but only to a small degree. If working your glutes is a priority, check out our glute exercise page here.

Hamstring Curl Tips

  • Use a weight that allows for smooth, controlled movement throughout.
  • Keep your hips, core, and upper body completely still to ensure the hamstring is working.
  • Hold the curl for a second before going back to starting position.

Hamstring curl variations

How to do a lying leg curl

Level: Beginner to Advanced

Equipment: Prone leg curl machine

  1. Adjust the machine so that the pad rests just above your ankles when lying down. Select the resistance. 
  2. Lie face down with your ankles underneath the pad. Grab the support handles at the front. 
  3. Keeping your hips and upper body flat against the bench, pull your feet up and in towards your glutes. 
  4. Pause at the top before slowly reversing back to starting position.

How to do swiss ball hamstring curls

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Equipment: Swiss ball

  1. Lie with your back flat on the floor and place your heels and lower calves on to a Swiss ball. 
  2. Extend your arms in line with your shoulders, flat on the floor.
  3. Raise your hips. Your body should run in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. 
  4. Engaging your core and keeping your shoulders stable, squeeze your hamstrings to pull your heels back towards your glutes.
  5. As you progress through this exercise, your feet will end up flat on the ball.
  6. Once you are unable to bring your heels any closer, pause and then slowly reverse back to the starting position.

How to do Nordic curls

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Equipment: You'll need a partner or immovable piece of equipment to act as an anchor (e.g. Smith machine, sofa)

  1. Kneel down on a padded mat or cushion. If using a partner, have them grab your ankles. If using an anchor, secure your feet and ankles underneath the anchor. 
  2. Your feet and ankles should be directly behind your knees, torso and shoulders in line with your hips, arms by your sides, and chin tucked under your head. Engage your core.
  3. Squeezing your glutes and hamstrings, slowly lower your torso towards the ground. Make sure to keep your body in a straight line from knees to head.
  4. Go as far down using only your legs as possible, and then place your hands on the floor in front of your chest to catch yourself when you start to fail. 
  5. Reverse the movement by squeezing through your hamstrings to pull your body up. You can use your hands as support if needed.

How to do a leg curl

Level: Beginners to Advanced

Equipment: Seated leg curl machine

  1. Adjust the machine so that your back is flat against the support, knee pad rests on your thighs above the knee, and your ankles rest on top of the padded support. Your legs should be extended with a soft bend in the knee.
  2. Holding the handles for support, curl the ankle support down by bending your knees and bringing your heels towards your glutes. Keep your upper body completely still throughout.
  3. Pause at the bottom of the movement before slowly returning to the starting position.

How to do dumbbell hamstring curls

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Equipment: Dumbbell

  1. Place a dumbbell on the floor and then lay flat down on your stomach with your feet on either side of the dumbbell.
  2. Pick up the dumbbell with your feet, so that the top of the dumbbell rests on the bottom of your feet.
  3. Slowly pull your heels towards your glutes, making sure to keep the dumbbell resting on top of your feet throughout.  
  4. Stop when the top of the dumbbell is parallel with the ceiling. 
  5. Slowly reverse the movement, stopping just before the dumbbell touches the floor.

How to do banded hamstring curls

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Equipment: Resistance band

Banded hamstring curls can be done with either a short resistance band looped around both legs, or a long resistance band looped round an anchor. 

  1. If using a short resistance band, loop the band around both ankles and lay flat on your stomach facing downwards, with both legs extended out behind you. If using a long resistance band, wrap one end of the band around an anchor and the other end around your right heel.
  2. Keeping your hips firmly on the floor, raise your right heel towards your glutes. 
  3. Pause at the top, before lowing your foot back to starting position. Repeat for your reps and then swap to the other side.

If you’re not sure if any of the above exercises are suitable for you, please consult your doctor before you start it. Need guidance on how to perform the exercise? Ask a personal trainer at your gym.