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5 Leg Curl Alternatives at Home

Leg curls are one of the most under-appreciated exercises of all. They may not be fashionable, but they’re incredibly important for knee health and stabilization, not to mention athletic development. 

You might be worried that if you don’t have access to a leg curl machine, you will miss out on the benefits of the exercise, but that’s not the case – there are lots of very effective leg curl alternatives, most of which require very little additional equipment.

In my 8,000 square foot gym, I don’t own a leg curl machine, which is a decision I made on purpose because there are so many good alternatives. I can effectively replicate the movement without the expense of a leg curl machine, so the cash is better used elsewhere. That applies to a home gym owner too.

Here’s my GHD machine, which I bought instead of a leg curl. It offers much more variety at a fraction of the cost…

GHD machine in Strong Home Gym used for leg curl alternatives

I’m going to show you five leg curl alternatives I use with my personal training clients. I’ve used these successfully for over a decade with excellent results, so I know they work!

Why are leg curls so important?

Leg curls train the hamstrings directly, which has important injury prevention and athletic development benefits. 

A lot of people don’t appreciate how important the hamstring muscles are. They allow the leg to bend at the knee, so they are muscles that are used constantly. Anyone participating in a sport where running or sprinting is a feature benefit from strong hamstrings.

People who weight train also need strong hamstrings. When squatting, the hamstrings play an important role in stabilizing the knees. If your hamstrings aren’t strong enough to cope with the lift, you risk injury to both the hamstring and the knee. If you’re a CrossFitter or weightlifter, strong hamstrings are especially important because they’re so heavily used in both sports.

Although some coaches believe you don’t need direct hamstring work, I’m a proponent of it based on the data. Research shows that back squats don’t activate the hamstrings anywhere near as well as direct hamstring work.

All things being equal, a strong muscle is more powerful, injury-resistant and robust than a weak one and the hamstrings are no exception. 

Replicating the hamstring curl

The knee is a ‘hinge joint’, which means it only moves in one plane of movement – it flexes and extends. To replicate the hamstring curl we have to make sure the hamstring is under contraction through the same movement pattern.

Whilst there are exercises that train the hamstrings very well, I’m going to limit the advice here to exercises that contract the hamstring during flexion, extension or both.

1. Nordic hamstring curls 

The Nordic hamstring curl is a fantastic exercise because it’s incredibly effective, easy to set up and there is little technique to learn. It’s a very challenging exercise because it forces the hamstrings to control the descent of the torso, but research shows it’s a very effective way of training the hamstrings. 

Nordics are a go-to for many people because they contain little risk but huge rewards. They improve knee stability and hamstring strength better than most exercises.

Equipment needed for Nordic hamstring curls:

  • Foot anchor point – this can be a weighted barbell, a friend or under a chair. 
  • Knee pad or mat to protect the knees.

How to do a Nordic hamstring curl:

  1. Anchor your feet so you can lead forward with control
  2. From a kneeling position, lower your torso towards the floor, using your hamstrings to control the speed of descent
  3. When your torso reaches the floor push yourself back to the starting position
  4. Repeat as many times as required.

Nordic hamstring curl muscles worked:

  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Lower back

2. Swiss ball hamstring curl

The Swiss ball provides a good challenge for all kinds of exercises because it’s unstable. This inherent instability forces the body to work extra hard to keep balance and form in control. 

This version of a hamstring curl gives the glutes, spinal erectors and calf muscles a good workout too, so offers a more generalized benefit than the hamstring curl machine. There’s also a time under tension element at play, because you can’t rush this movement. The slow and controlled element of it makes for a real challenge.

Equipment needed for Swiss ball hamstring curls:

  • Swiss ball

How to do a Swiss ball hamstring curl:

  1. Lie on your back, feet on top of the swiss ball 
  2. Lift the glutes from the floor, keeping your back straight and shoulders in contact with the floor
  3. Roll the ball away from you, keeping the feet on top of the ball and extending your legs. Ensure the glutes stay off the floor the entire time.
  4. Once the legs are at full extension, roll the ball back towards you until the legs are fully bent again
  5. Repeat as many times as required

Swiss ball hamstring curl muscles worked:

  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Glutes
  • Spinal erectors

These deadlift alternatives are a great way to improve your spinal erectors and lower back strength.

3. Banded hamstring curls

The banded hamstring curl is a staple for a lot of home gym users. It replicates the prone hamstring curl machine that used to be popular in gyms in the 90s. As well as being a functional exercise, it’s really easy to set up and requires no technique to learn.

A hamstring curl done this way has an interesting strength curve – it gets harder the further along the rep you go, so as the elastic becomes tighter, the exercise gets harder. This makes the exercise different to a normal hamstring curl where the force curve is similar along the exercise.

Equipment needed for a banded hamstring curl:

  • Resistance band – thickness depends on your strength
  • Anchor point – squat rack or bench is fine

How to do a banded hamstring curl:

  1. Secure the band to a suitable anchor point, such as a squat rack
  2. Wrap the band around the ankles and roll onto your front
  3. Curl the heels from an almost-straight position to fully bent
  4. Pause, then slowly return the legs to the start position
  5. Repeat as many times as required

Banded hamstring curl muscles worked:

  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

4. Glute-Ham Raise (GHR) on a GHD

This one is a little more equipment-heavy, in that you need a GHD (Glute Ham Developer) to replicate the movement. Some home gyms will have these, especially those with a CrossFit focus – they’re a major piece of equipment in the CrossFit world, making regular appearances in the games.

The glute-ham raise is similar to the Nordic hamstring curl in terms of its set up and movement pattern. The difference lies in the execution of the lift. The GHR is slightly easier in that there’s more control throughout the lift. The knee is sat slightly behind the top pad, making the length of the lever arm shorter. A shorter lever arm makes the lift easier. 

Equipment needed for a glute ham raise:

  • A glute-ham developer (GHD)

How to do a glute ham raise:

  1. Secure your feet in the foot pads and face downwards
  2. Ensure your knees are placed on the big pad, towards the top and back of the pad
  3. With your torso straight and your knees securely in position, lower your torso down towards the floor
  4. Keep control throughout the lift, and when your torso is parallel to the floor, pause and return to the start position, maintaining the straight back
  5. Repeat as many times as required

Glute ham raise muscles worked:

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Lower and mid back

If you are looking for more leg workouts check out our hack squat alternatives to improve your glutes and hamstrings.

5. Suspension trainer hamstring curls

The suspension trainer hamstring curl is a fantastic exercise because it challenges you in so many ways – there’s the obvious hamstring element, but there’s also the issue of balance – the suspension trainer can move in all planes. It’s actually two exercises in one! Equipment requirements are limited too, so it’s a great home gym option. 

The core has to remain strong in order to minimise side-to-side movement and the hamstrings and calves control the front-to-back movement. It means that the exercise has both a static and dynamic element going on at once – it demands smooth movement in one section of the exercise (the hamstring curl) and strict limitation of movement in another (the body remaining stable as the exercise is ongoing.

Equipment needed for a suspension trainer hamstring curl:

How to do a suspension trainer hamstring curl:

  1. Lie on your back and put your feet (heels down) in the looped section of the straps. Start with the legs at full extension.
  2. Lift the glutes from the floor, keeping your back and torso straight and shoulders in contact with the floor. 
  3. Draw the feet in towards the glutes, maintaining a straight torso. Shoulders remain flat on the ground throughout
  4. When the heels reach the glutes, slowly extend the legs out again until knees are at full extension
  5. Repeat as many times as required.

Suspension trainer hamstring curl muscles worked:

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Core
  • Lower and mid back

Hamstring training – injury prevention and athletic improvement

A lot of people ignore hamstring training because they don’t realize the importance of training them. They’re not ‘fashionable’ muscles in that there’s little in the way of aesthetic benefit from having a great set of hamstrings!

That’s not the point though.

Strong hamstrings help to stabilize the knee during squats, running movements and lunge patterns. They also help to prevent lower back issues. 

From an athletic perspective, strong hamstrings help to develop a lot of force, especially in exercises such as deadlifts, cleans, snatches, and the like. They allow you to run and jump faster and higher, and there are very few sports or athletic endeavors that don’t benefit from you being faster, stronger, and more explosive!

There are ‘show’ muscles and there are ‘go’ muscles. Consider strong hamstrings one of the ultimate ‘go’ muscles!

Leg curl alternatives – the bottom line

I’ve shown in the article that you really don’t need to have a leg curl to train your hamstrings. The exercises in the article aren’t even an exhaustive list – these are just the exercises that replicate the leg curl movement itself. 

Other alternative hamstring exercises I could add include stiff-legged deadlifts, kettlebell swings, single-arm swings, deficit pulls, and the like to this list and they’d all be home gym appropriate! You can find the equipment we recommend you get for your home gym here to see the best results without breaking the bank.

A home gym needn’t be a reason to not train certain muscles, which is why with the know-how delivered amongst these articles you’ll learn alternatives to many standard gym machines. 

Make sure you check out these lat pulldown alternatives if you don’t have the appropriate machinery at home. Strengthening your lats has a huge impact on your upper body strength.

by Steve Hoyles
Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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