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7 of the Best Leg Curl Alternatives You Can Do From Home or at the Gym

Whether you’re a beginner who is fearful of using a leg curl machine wrong; or you’re an experienced gym-goer just looking to switch things up during your leg workout — the idea of change can be intimidating for anyone.

And there’s also the question of whether or not leg curls are effective or if they might even be bad for you.

We understand the intimidation factor and want to help you find the best workouts for your body and experience level.

So, we’ve put together this guide as a resource for leg curl substitutes and options to perform leg curls at home.

Table of Contents

What are Leg Curls?

Leg curls are an exercise that isolates the hamstrings. They may also be referred to as hamstring curls.

In a gym setting, leg curls are often performed using machines in one of three common variations:

  1. Lying leg curl (traditional)
  2. Sitting leg curl
  3. Standing leg curl

If you’re not sure exactly which machine at your gym is used for leg curls, here is an image of a traditional lying leg curl machine:

What Are the Benefits of Doing Leg Curls?

Leg curls primarily isolate your hamstrings, working to strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility.

Strong, flexible hamstrings will positively affect your body’s overall:

  • Strength
  • Stability
  • Mobility 
  • Injury risk
  • Endurance; and
  • Health as you age

Including hamstring exercises in your strength training routine will benefit your day-to-day life. Your posture will improve and your risk of a knee injury and back pain will decrease.

In addition to your hamstrings, leg curls also target other muscle groups on a smaller scale. These muscle groups include your:

  • Calves
  • Glutes; and
  • Quadriceps

Leg curls are especially effective for bodybuilders because they increase muscle mass.

But, they can also cause a tightening and shortening of the hamstring muscles which can be a detriment — especially for athletes and flexibility enthusiasts.

Why Look for Leg Curl Alternatives?

While leg curls will strengthen your hamstrings, there are leg curl alternatives (see below) that will not only make them stronger but also increase flexibility and prevent you from “overtraining” your hamstrings.

Other reasons you may consider leg curl alternatives include:

  • Bodyweight alternatives are a great way to introduce leg workouts if you are a beginner
  • Leg curls may not hit targeted areas, such as your hamstrings, as well as leg curls alternatives might

How Can I Do Leg Curls Without a Machine?

You absolutely can perform leg curls (or leg curl alternatives that work the same muscle groups) without a machine.

Many of our clients come to us concerned about using a leg curl machine or worry that they are performing leg curls wrong and want to learn how to work the proper muscle groups without a machine.

In fact, at In Motion O.C. we highly recommend doing functional hamstring exercises without a machine.

This is why we’re providing you with a multitude of leg curl alternatives in the following sections — some even require no equipment at all.

If you’re looking for more assistance on how to do leg curls without a machine or learning leg curl substitutes, our experienced physical trainers can help. Contact us today for a free consultation.

What Can I Do Instead of Leg Curls? 5 Leg Curl Alternatives to Consider

There are many great exercises that you can do as leg curl alternatives — and whether you’re a beginner or an experienced fitness enthusiast, any of the following substitutes has its own set of benefits.

#1: Lying Leg Curl Alternative: Hip Extensions

Hip extensions (also known as hip bridges) are a great option for those looking for a lying leg curl alternative to do at home.

They are an easy glute and hamstring exercise that doesn’t require any type of equipment. They don’t require any equipment and can be performed on any type of flooring surface.

To perform hip extensions, follow these steps

  1. Lie on your back and bend your knees just over 90-degrees with your feet flat on the floor. 
  2. Push through your heels and lift your hips and your back off of the floor, keeping your shoulders on the ground. 
  3. Squeeze your glutes together once your hips and back are fully extended and hold for three seconds before returning to the starting position.

Things to remember about hip extensions:

  • The closer the heels of your feet are to your hips, the more tension you’ll feel in your glutes. 
  • The further away your heels are from your hips, the more tension you’ll feel in your hamstrings.
  • Keep every rep slow and controlled — this will really put your muscles to work.
  • Count three seconds down and three seconds up for each rep.
  • Start slowly and build yourself up to 15 reps on each leg.

Why is the Hip Extension a Good Leg Curl Alternative?

Hip extensions are a good alternative to the leg curl for several reasons, including:

  • No equipment is required
  • They work your glutes, quads, calves, hams, and lower back; and
  • They can be used as a seated leg curl alternative

Unlike traditional leg curls, hip extensions rely only on partial body weight. This is important because you don’t run the risk of triggering injury with the use of too much weight.

#2: Lying Leg Curl Alternative: Donkey Kicks

Donkey kicks are another bodyweight exercise that you can do from home or at the gym that is a great lying leg curl alternative.

Performing donkey kicks involves the following steps:

  • Start on all fours with your hands placed on the ground directly below your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  • Make sure your back is flat and that your chin is tucked slightly.
  • While keeping your back flat and engaging your core, with some force, lift one leg into an extended position.
  • Alternate between legs

Tips for performing donkey kicks as a leg curl alternative:

  • If you want to get a more intense workout that works your core and your hamstrings a little harder, turn it into what we call the “Superman”.  When you kick your left leg, lift and extend your right arm. When you kick your right leg, lift and extend your left arm. 
  • To hit your gluteus maximus, your quads, hamstrings, and tensor fasciae latae (this is the muscle that runs close to the top of your hip) consider doing sideways donkey kicks.

Instead of throwing your leg behind you, you’ll keep your knee at a 90° angle and bring it out to the side. When your knee is parallel to the floor, stop. Squeeze for one count and lower it to the ground back to the starting position.

  • Aim for three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps on each leg.

Why Are Donkey Kicks a Good Leg Curl Alternative?

Donkey kicks are a great replacement for traditional leg curls because, in addition to working your hamstrings, donkey kicks also target your:

  • Core/abs
  • Glutes; and
  • Quads

Donkey kicks are a great way to increase hip flexion and increase strength without unnecessary strain or added weights.

#3: Seated Leg Curl Alternative: Sliding Leg Curls

You may know this exercise as the slick floor bridge curl or the bodyweight hamstring curl.

This is also an exercise that can be performed at home, but it does require a smooth floor surface with low friction and resistance (like hardwood) and a towel:

  1. Starting position — on your back with your legs bent and arms at your side.
  2. Keeping your legs together, place a small towel under your feet.
  3. Flex your feet so only your heels are on the towel.
  4. Lift your hips and slide your feet toward your buttocks until they are right under your knees.
  5. Slowly extend your legs, using your heels to slide the towel.
    • Your hips and buttocks will lower but don’t allow them to touch the ground.
  6. Slide your feet back to the starting position under your knees.

Remember to:

  • Keep your core tight; and
  • Engage your glutes and hamstrings

Why are Sliding Leg Curls a Good Leg Curl Alternative?

Sliding leg curls are a good seated leg curl alternative because, in addition to targeting the hamstrings, they engage your core and glutes.

Your own bodyweight acts as resistance during this exercise which is a great option for beginners or anyone recovering from an injury.

#4: Standing Leg Curl Alternative: Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is a deadlift variation that allows for maximum hamstring stretch and strengthening by removing the squat from the traditional deadlift motion.

To perform this variation of the deadlift, follow these steps:

  1. Hold a barbell or dumbbell against your thighs in a standing position.
  2. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  3. Roll your shoulders back to keep your back straight throughout the motion.
  4. Lower your weight to just below the knees where you feel your hamstrings engaging fully.
  5. Return to standing.

When performing this leg curl substitute there are a few important things to remember:

  • Do not round your back as you lower your weight
  • Naturally bend your legs without squatting; and
  • Keep the weight right against your legs as you lower and return to standing

Why is the Romanian Deadlift a Good Leg Curl Alternative?

The Romanian deadlift is a great leg curl alternative because while it targets the hamstrings, it also helps functionally work your whole body.

Many natural motions require us to bend at the waist or reach down.

This deadlift variation allows you to strengthen all the muscles required to perform those motions — making it less likely that you will injure yourself doing day-to-day activities.

#5: Standing Leg Curl Alternative: Resistance Band Hamstring Curl

This hamstring curl alternative can also be done at home, but you will need a resistance band and ankle strap.

Follow these steps to complete this exercise:

  1. Anchor your resistance band in the hinged side of a closed door.
  2. Attach your ankle strap to the band and secure it around your ankle.
  3. Stand far enough away from the door to allow the band to extend fully (without creating resistance yet).
  4. Keep your body upright and bend your knee pulling your foot toward your buttocks.
  5. Hold your foot up for a moment and slowly return to the starting position.

Things to remember:

  • Beginners can start with their hands on the wall for balance
  • Increase difficulty by moving away from the wall to create more resistance; and
  • Keep your core tight throughout the motion

Why is a Resistance Band Hamstring Curl a Good Leg Curl Replacement?

This exercise is a good leg curl substitute because, in addition to isolating the hamstrings, it also helps improve balance.

As a leg curl replacement, resistance band hamstring curls are also:

  • Compatible with beginner workouts; and
  • Good for injury recovery and prevention

#6: Leg Curl Alternative: Kettlebell Swings

Kettlebell swings are full-body moves that target your hamstrings specifically and are a great substitute for traditional leg curls.

To complete this leg curl alternative, you will:

  1. Stand with a kettlebell on the floor in front of you.
  2. Hinge at your hips, bending your knees only slightly, so that you can reach the handle and hold it with both hands.
  3. Straighten your arms and push the kettlebell backward between your legs, driving your hips forward. Use the force of your hamstrings and your glutes to push the kettlebell forward until your arms are parallel to the floor. 
  4. In one fluid movement, allow the kettlebell to return to its starting position.

Things to remember when doing kettlebell swings:

  • Always keep your back straight and chest up
  • Always hinge at your hips and keep your knees slightly bent; and
  • Aim for three sets of twelve

Why Are Kettlebell Swings a Good Leg Curl Replacement?

Although kettlebell swings train your glutes and your hamstrings, they are an ideal leg curl replacement because the exercise:

  • Burns a high amount of calories
  • Boosts physical endurance; and 
  • Can prevent lower back pain by improving your overall posture

#7: Leg Curl Alternative: Nordic Curls

Nordic curls are ideal for someone who is looking for a leg curl machine alternative or a way to do leg curls at home.

Nordic curls can be done with a partner or solo. If you’re with a partner, have them hold your ankles to provide counter-resistance. If you’re doing the curls solo, use a piece of equipment or place your feet under your couch.

To do nordic curls, you will:

  1. Face away from your partner or couch and kneel on the floor with some sort of cushion under your knees. 
  2. Slide your feet, tops down, under the couch, or piece of equipment.
  3. Slowly bring your torso forward, toward the floor — you should feel your hamstrings working to hold you up.
  4. When you can no longer rely on your hamstrings to hold you up, fall forward into a pushup.
  5. Bring yourself back to the starting position.

Things to remember:

If nordic curls are an exercise you are not experienced with, start with two to three sets of five to ten reps. Base your reps on your ability to maintain proper form and technique

Why Are Nordic Curls a Good Leg Curl Replacement?

If you are worried about the safety of using a traditional leg curl machine, nordic curls may be a more beneficial choice for you. Not only do they reduce the risk of a hamstring injury, but they also:

  • Require easy-to-use equipment; and
  • Increase hamstring strength

Whether You’re Looking for Assistance Finding Leg Curl Alternatives or You’re Simply Ready to Improve Your Health — In Motion O.C. Can Help

Our fitness trainers at In Motion O.C. believe in providing the safest and most beneficial exercises and exercise routines to all of our clients.

If you’re ready to improve your health, form, or knowledge of workout routines, let one of our experienced fitness trainers help you feel better and get stronger — all while reducing any apprehension or fear you may have regarding a new workout routine.

As the #1 rated clinic on Yelp and Google, we’re committed to providing tailored-to-you fitness programs based on your unique needs. Contact us today for your free consultation.

In Motion O.C.