There’s a saying that goes, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” And if there’s one thing that’s hit our 2020 fitness goals, it’s a challenge. Let’s face it; the quarantine has been rough. The gyms have been closed for months and your muscles are more than likely starting to get limp again. All those hours on the hamstring machines are now going to waste.
But being home doesn’t have to mean loss of muscle tone, and not everyone can afford to drag along an expensive gym machine into their garage. Exercises like the leg curl can easily keep you on track even while you’re stuck within the four walls of your living room. In fact, one of the biggest secrets that I’ve shared with my clients is that leg curl variations are much better at targeting your hamstrings than those bulky machines.
With the hamstrings’ primary function being to extend the hips, you must know how to isolate these muscles the right way. The best results can be found right in front of you. Follow this guide to learn exactly how to do leg curls at home in all its forms and work those lazy muscles into getting the tight lower body you’ve always dreamed of.
Bodyweight Hamstring Curl (Hamstring Towel Slide)
In all my years of personal training, this is one of my favorite ways of alternating seated leg curls at home. Not only does it engage your hamstrings, but it serves as a perfect total body workout. You’ll need to maintain your balance as it targets both your core and glutes in the mix.
It’s also great for stabilizing your knees. Shaking is expected in the beginning, so don’t worry about it. If anything, your family members will take a kick out of your facial expression as you try to keep your core tight and avoid breaking form.
Here’s the best way at it:
- Equipment needed – a small towel, folded in half.
- Place the towel under your feet.
- Be sure to lie on a flat surface on the floor. With your back against the floor, place your palms facing down on either side of your body.
- Bend your knees and press into your heels so that your lower body is raised into a bridge.
- With your feet tilted at a 45° angle from your heels, use the towel to drag and extend your legs out fully without touching the surface of the floor.
- Pull your knees back in to revert to your starting position. This makes one rep.
As you get the hang of it, try out another variation for added intensity – Single Leg Hamstring Towel Slides.
Standing Leg Curls
This is one of the most convenient of all the leg curl alternatives. Performing standing leg curls at home will help increase your thigh strength and overall balance. If you are new to the routine, I recommended starting with just your bodyweight. But if you’ve already been well-acclimatized with your workouts, it would be a great idea to include a resistance band to increase the work put on your muscles, and even more so if you’re looking for proper toning.
The safest method to follow:
- Loop the resistance band over both feet.
- Use one foot to press firmly into the ground as your pivot or balance.
- Standing upright, slightly bend both knees and squeeze your core.
- Bend the knee of the other foot upwards toward the glutes. Hold for at least 5 seconds, then release the leg back to the starting position.
Lying Leg Curl
As an alternative to the gym exercise, doing lying leg curls at home has proven to be more challenging than the old-fashioned machine. That’s because you’re going to need to strategically position a dumbbell between your feet to add resistance to your form.
The weight is entirely up to you and can be adjusted as you progress throughout the weeks. Most dumbbells come at affordable prices, but if you want excellent quality, I recommend getting the Bowflex Select Tech 552 from Amazon.
It’s conveniently designed so that you can easily adjust its weight in real-time instead of purchasing countless sets that you’ll have to pack somewhere in the house. Like the original routine, the lying leg curl exercise is excellent for improving strength and flexibility and engaging the surrounding gluteal muscles.
Be very careful with your form for this move to avoid getting seriously injured from slipping weights. Try this out:
- Secure the head of the dumbbell firmly between your two feet.
- With your stomach flat on the floor and your feet closest to the ground, squeeze your hamstrings and bend your feet as you slowly lift the weight toward your buttocks.
- As soon as your knees hit 90°, lower your legs back to their original position on the floor.
This is more like a modified Bodyweight Hamstring Curl minus the sliding towel – another great way of switching up seated leg curls at home. The method of starting is pretty much the same, but this time with a little more movement of the knees and hips.
For the best form:
- Lie flat on the floor with your palms facing downward and your legs fully extended.
- Drive your heels into the ground and press your hips upwards into a glute bridge.
- With your back rested firmly to the ground, pivot your feet at 45° from your heels and beginning making small steps forward until your legs are almost fully extended.
- Revert back to the starting position by walking back inwards upon your heels. Try as much as possible to avoid resting your hips to the ground throughout reps.
And remember, shaking is normal.
Swiss Ball Leg Curl
The swiss ball leg curl is a bit different than the other exercises. I personally love this exercise for the stability it affords my core, hips, and lower back as it activates the glutes and hamstrings. It’s one of the more challenging moves to nail but works wonders once well mastered. As another alternative to doing leg curls at home, most of my clients now swear by this method, though it does require a little more than just your bodyweight.
You’ll be sure to feel the burn if you follow these steps:
- Equipment needed – exercise ball.
- Position yourself with your back flat to the floor and your palms facing downward on either side of your body.
- Place your lower legs over the exercise ball.
- Here’s the real move: Press your heels into the ball as you lift your hips and pull the ball inwards under your body with your knees.
- Hold the position for a couple of seconds, then slowly release the ball and lower your body back to the original position over the ball. Again, avoid releasing your hips to the floor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are leg curls bad for your knees?
As a stabilizing exercise, machine-free leg curls actually help strengthen the knee joint’s surrounding muscles and are a great way to prevent knee pain and injury in the long run.
Are seated or lying leg curls better?
While seated leg curls do provide a workout for more than just your hamstrings, lying leg curls are best for directly targeting the thigh muscles. This is the general consensus for both machine-operated and leg curls at-home alternatives.
Work it out
While gyms do have their perks of friendly accountability and ample machinery, you can just as easily enjoy pumping your hamstring muscles without the need for a leg curl machine. Improve your posture and knee and back pain while gaining more tone with just your bodyweight, a dumbbell, and a swiss ball. Home and health are not that far away.
Had any luck with your home hamstring routine? Share your experience with us in the comments.