7 Best Leg Curl Alternatives For Strong, Sculpted, And Powerful Legs

Everyone loves a good leg day and we’re here to help you earn those strong, sculpted, and powerful legs that you desire to have. Here’s my gripe with the leg curl machine though and why you should be doing leg curl alternatives in addition — the machine itself doesn’t just isolate the legs very well. It works your legs, core, lower back, and if you do them wrong, it doesn’t work your hamstrings at all. Yeesh. So if you’re looking to build some powerhouse hammies without the accessory strength of the back or core on your leg focused training day, you’re going to want to bookmark this article to do the 7 best leg curl alternatives the next time you go lift. Let’s dig in already.

Here’s Why You’re Doing The Leg Curl Machine Wrong

The biggest mistake I’ve seen people make when they get on the leg curl machine in my years of personal training is this — people hop on the machine, lay down, get their legs into position, and they deathtrap the life out of the handles. Now, yes, I understand, the handles are there for a reason. BUT! If you’re over compensating the weight and movement with your hands on the handles, this is a sure fire sign that you’re overcompensating the movement with your core and upper back, not targeting the hamstrings and distributing the resistance properly. In doing so, you may feel like your biceps, shoulders, and upper back are doing an equal amount of work for you, your hips might rise vertically off the pad then you perform the leg curl itself, and you may actually set yourself up for injury.

How To Do The Leg Curl Machine Right

If you are going to incorporate the leg curl machine into your next leg day then we recommend starting with light weight and finding your optimal body position on the machine before ascending in weight. In doing so, you’ll really be able to feel the hamstrings contract, bringing the shins to the rear, and developing the muscles properly. A pro tip is to actually hold onto the seat of the machine with your hands instead of the handles, as sometimes this can align the body proportionally on the machine to target the hamstrings correctly and not allow for the overcompensation of the back, core, or upper body while performing the movement.

7 Best Leg Curl Alternatives:

1. Bulgarian Split-Squat

The Bulgarian-split squat is a single-leg squat variation. Compared to a traditional barbell squat, it removes all the pressure and load from your lower back, and places it directly into your legs. The stabilizing leg of the Bulgarian split-squat is elevated behind you, which allows greater range of motion and depth, to achieve greater muscle hypertrophy, and strength gains in your glutes and quadriceps. Bulgarian split squats are key for not only building a bigger barbell back squat, but for building quadriceps and glutes, midline stability, and it offers an awesome range of motion movement for the hip flexors. 

RELATED ARTICLE Bulgarian Split Squats: 4 Proven Benefits And How To Perform Bulgarian Split Squats

Bulgarian Split Squat Benefits

  • Build more strength
  • Improve Balance and coordination
  • Improves Mobility
  • Burns More Body Fat

How To Bulgarian Split Squat

  • Start with your feet hip-width apart. with the right foot forward and the left foot placed back behind the body on a bench or box that is about knee-height, or just below knee height.

  • Keeping your shoulders stacked directly above your forward-facing hips, begin to descend into a lunging position. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in both hands in a vertical position hanging on each side of your body.

  • Keep your back straight while lowering your left knee towards the floor

  • Go as low as you can while still ensuring your chest is staying open and the front knee is not protruding out in front of your toes.

  • When your left knee lowers, press your right foot into the ground, pull back on the right knee, and push the top of the left foot into the box to return to standing.

2. B Stance Dumbbell Deadlift

The B stance dumbbell deadlift, also known as the split stance dumbbell Romanian deadlift, is a variation of straight leg deadlifts. By incorporating a staggered stance position, the front leg is the working leg and the back leg is the support for the movement. Stability is going to be greatly improved and the body can build strength in a similar movement pattern to the squat and makes for a great leg curl alternative. If you’re looking for a bigger, better squat, then the b stance dumbbell deadlift aka the split stance dumbbell Romanian deadlift is a must accessory movement to incorporate into your training.

B Stance Dumbbell Deadlift Benefits

  • Develop the muscles of the posterior chain
  • Challenge and grow the hamstrings and glutes
  • Correct muscle imbalances
  • Improve single leg strength

How To Do B Stance (Split Stance) Dumbbell Deadlift

  • Start by holding your dumbbells at your side in a shoulder width stance

  • Move one leg back into a kickstand/supporting position for your front foot

  • Root your weight into the mid foot of the front leg and from here, begin to hinge forward, keeping the shoulders level and the core braced, pushing the booty back behind you

  • Go until your depth allows feeling the movement in your hamstrings and glutes

  • Pause for a moment, then hinge back towards the starting position

3. Nordic Hamstring Curls 

The NHE (Nordic Hamstring Exercise) or Nordic Curl is an eccentric movement that is performed with an individual on their knees with their ankles, either held or strapped, and performed by lowering the upper body towards a prone position as slowly as possible. [R] This movement can be performed just about anywhere and does not need any type of equipment (other than something to hold the ankles in place. Nordic curls are also referred to as the Inverse Leg Curl, Natural Glute Ham Raise, Nordic Hamstring Exercise, and the Russian Leg Curl. This movement is one of the best glute ham raise alternative exercises to build more strength and mass in your lower body, with improved range of motion.

Nordic Hamstring Curl Benefits

  • Help prevent hamstring injuries from the eccentric emphasis
  • Develop supporting muscles around the hamstrings to increase force and peak power output during larger compound movements
  • Improve hamstring muscle lengths
  • Improve proprioception and mind muscle connection

How To Do Nordic Curls

  • Start in a kneeling position (you might want to put a cushion under the knees)

  • Place the feet and ankles under or on something that stabilizes the body and provides support for the rest of the body.

  • Begin by tucking the pelvis in line with the spine and bracing the core so that you don’t over arch the back and without bending at the hips.

  • From the upright and erect position, slowly lean forward without bending the knees or hips, lowering the body forward towards the ground.

  • Once you can no longer stabilize the body, perform the same movement, retracting the torso back towards your heels until you reach the erect position.

Note: If you’re unable to perform this movement with bodyweight we suggest using a support band around the hips until strength and form is appropriately built up

4. Glute Bridge/Hip Thrust

Whether you associate big strong glutes with attractive aesthetics in a pair of jeans or if you see the association between a big butt and athleticism, just about everyone can benefit from the glute bridge exercise. A glute bridge is just what it sounds like, a bridge (with your body) using the power from your glutes. While there are a lot of glute bridge variations, the most straightforward and easiest to perform is by laying on the floor or with a glute bridge machine. With the feet at a 90 degree angle, you simply drive your hips to the ceiling, and right back down.

 Glute Bridge/Hip Thrust Benefits

  • Develop the posterior chain strength
  • Stabilize the posterior chain to avoid injury, bone development, and to target the glutes specifically
  • Move in a very ergonomic pattern to compliment the body and develop power and strength
  • Improve balance and coordination

How To Glute Bridge

  • Start by laying flat on your back on the ground

  • Making sure that there is no gap between your back and the floor, press your core into the ground, feeling the hips get in line with the spine (no arching)

  • From here, begin to walk the feet towards the booty, until you reach a 90 degree angle

  • Pressing your feet firm into the ground, with your arms flat out to the side, and your chin tucked so that your spine is straight, all you have to do is extend your hips towards the ceiling

  • You’ll want to still not arch your back, keeping good posture, and squeezing the booty to power the hip drive

  • Once you pause for a second at the top, gently come down with the same form, not arching, pressing the feet and the arms into the ground

  • Repeat for as many reps as desired and add a weight, or a band, or another piece of equipment to make the movement more challenging

5. Deadlifts

Deadlifts another major compound movements, have many known full body benefits and are extremely crucial in the development of total-body strength, proper hip function, core strength, and spine stabilization (which can reduce the risk of lower back injuries). Deadlifts recruit multiple muscle groups, joints, and stabilizing muscles, specifically targeting the hamstring. Deadlifts can add a ton of performance and health benefits to your leg day workout as a leg curl alternative and should always be included at least once per week in your training program.

Deadlift Benefits

  • Activate the hip extensors and power output
  • Improve athletic ability and strength
  • Improve core strength
  • Improve balance and coordination

How To Deadlift

  • Stand with feet hip- to shoulder-width apart. Rest your shins against the bar.

  • Hinge at the hips and sink back into your glutes while keeping your spine extended and chest lifted up toward the ceiling.

  • Grip the bar with one hand facing palm-up and the other hand facing palm-down. This over-under grip is for safety and can keep the bar from rolling out of your hands.

  • Squeeze the bar with your hands as you sink back into your hips. As you sink into your hips, think about pulling your back and down to engage the lats. This will help keep your low-back stable. 

  • For the pull:

  • Push your feet into the floor to straighten your legs and lift your chest as you lift the weight off the floor. As you stand up, think about pulling back on your knees and pushing your hips forward.

  • Finally, for the lockout:

  • At the top of the movement, hold your shoulders back as you keep your spine straight and tall. Pause for a moment before descending into the lowering phase.

  • Slowly push your hips back while keeping your spine long and chest lifted into the air.

  • Use your thigh muscles to resist the downward pull of gravity as the weight lowers back to the floor.

  • At the bottom, pause, reset your hips and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

  • Push your feet into the floor to straighten your legs and lift your chest as you lift the weight off the floor. As you stand up, think about pulling back on your knees and pushing your hips forward.

  • At the top of the movement, hold your shoulders back as you keep your spine straight and tall. Pause for a moment before descending into the lowering phase.

  • Slowly push your hips back while keeping your spine long and chest lifted into the air.

  • Use your thigh muscles to resist the downward pull of gravity as the weight lowers back to the floor.

  • At the bottom, pause, reset your hips and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

6. Rower Hamstring Curl

Similar to the Nordic Hamstring Curl, the rower hamstring curl is a great way for individuals to practice the training of the hamstring curl movement. This a great leg curl alternative movement if you’re in a functional gym and maybe don’t have access to someone or something to hold your feet (like in the Nordic) or an actual leg curl machine. Others may refer to this movement as sliding leg curls, and to be completely honest, we think that this is one of the most challenging movements on this list because the amount of body control, breathing, and muscle contraction that you’ll perform in every rep. But hey, that’s just us, give it a try and you be the judge. 

Rower Hamstring Curl Benefits

  • Increase strength in the posterior chain
  • Improve coordination and balance
  • Can be done isometrically or with both feet
  • Strong core activation in addition to glute and hamstring development

How To Do Rower Hamstring Curls

  • Start by bringing the seat of the rower to the middle of the rower and laying down on your back

  • Put your heels on the seat (your knees should be right at the back of the rower, with your booty risen, and the weight of your body resting on your shoulders

  • You can have your arms/hands out to the side or down next to you for additional control, but do not use them to contribute to the movement

  • From here, begin the movement by contracting the heels to the booty, keeping your back and core engaged, not arching your back, and reach full contraction

  • Hold for a count, then release the curl, returning back to the starting point

7. Banded Hamstring Curl

Banded hamstring curls are a great movement to incorporate into your next lower body training day as a leg curl alternative whether you're a leg curl expert or just starting out your gym journey. This movement only requires you to have a resistance band, something to anchor it to, and somewhere to lay down flat. The big key here though is to not go heavier than you can tolerate with good form so you can really hammer in the focus on those hammies. 

Rower Hamstring Curl Benefits

  • Increase strength in the posterior chain
  • Improve coordination and balance
  • Can be done isometrically or with both feet
  • Learn the correct movement for the leg curl machine

How To Do Banded Hamstring Curl

  • Grab a resistance band and anchor it to a rig or other standstill

  • Lay on your stomach with your heels in the resistance band

  • Do not arch your back, use your arms for stability, keep the neck in line with the spine and keep your eyes on the ground

  • Relax your shoulders and contract your hamstrings, bringing the heels to a 90-ish degree angle, without lifting your knees off the ground

  • Hold for a 1-2 second count and release to repeat the movement

Leg Curl Alternatives: Takeaway

The biggest thing to note here after bookmarking this article on the 7 best leg curl alternatives is that there is no shortage of movements and workouts that you can do on a leg day to build those legs you can’t stop dreaming about. A pro tip for any of these movements is to make sure that you are developing your mind-muscle connection and that you’re feeling the movement in the right areas. Make sure to practice your form, take a video to form check yourself, make any necessary corrections, then start to add weight to stay healthy and injury free on your journey.

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