Training

Lying Leg Curl Exercise | Form & Common Mistakes

The lying leg curl (also known as the hamstring curl) is one of the most effective isolation exercises for the hamstrings. If you’re looking to add some strength and mass to your hamstrings, it should be one of your go-to posterior chain (the muscles on the backside of your body) exercises.

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How to perform the lying leg curl:

  • Adjust the shin pad so that it makes contact with your achilles tendon, just below the calves and above the ankle joint. Lie prone on the machine and hold on to the handles to secure your upper body
  • Once in position, flex only at the knee so that your heel is pulled back towards your glutes. Contract as far as you can go (likely to be once you meet soft-tissue opposition with the pad meeting your hamstrings/glutes)
  • Slowly lower back to the starting position under control before starting the next rep

Lying Leg Curl Benefits

Uses multiple muscle groups

The lying leg curl primarily works the hamstrings. The exercise also works one of the main calf muscles, the gastrocnemius — this muscle crosses the ankle and the knee joints and plays a key role in knee flexion involved in the lying leg curl. If your technique is correct and you progressively overload (gradually increase weight and reps), you could see some considerable gains in strength, endurance and size in the back of your legs.

It’s ideal for developing strength and hypertrophy

With proper execution, focusing on controlling the movement and contracting your hamstrings hard during the concentric phase, this exercise can bring a great deal of strength and size gains for the posterior chain. If you’re a powerlifter looking to increase your deadlift or a bodybuilder trying to build some bigger hamstrings, this exercise should be one of the staple exercises for the hamstrings.

It can help to address muscular imbalances

If you weightlift often or if you enjoy movements such as squats, then you may have more developed quadriceps relative to your hamstrings. This can lead to painful injuries. Using the leg curl can help to specifically develop the strength and work capacity of your hamstrings, helping to balance out the strength ratio between the posterior and anterior chain.

It’s ideal when managing injuries

If you are dealing with an injury that limits your ability to perform other exercises— for instance, lower back pain may affect your ability to perform a deadlift— then this exercise is a good way to ensure your hamstrings still receive significant training stimuli. This can help to limit any muscle loss occurred while taking a break from large compounds such as deadlifts. Additionally, the leg curl can offer a safe and controlled way to load the hamstrings during the later stages of rehabilitation from a hamstring strain.

It can contribute to athletic development

Many sports rely on legs to produce muscular power. The hamstrings play a pivotal role in this, as they produce a lot of power for knee flexion and hip extension — both vitally important for running. Strengthening the hamstrings with an isolation exercise such as the leg curl can help athletic performance in other sports.

lying leg curl

Other Variations of Leg Curls

Whether you’re working around an injury or looking for other ways to progressively overload this movement, there are plenty of variations to choose from.

Standing Leg Curl

Essentially the same as the lying leg curl, but with slightly less hip flexion involved, meaning the hamstrings are worked in a slightly different way. This exercise is also performed unilaterally, as the opposite leg supports you to stay standing.

  • Set the pad height to be in contact with your achilles tendon on the working leg
  • Use your non-working leg to support your while you flex the heel of your working leg up towards your glutes
  • Squeeze your hamstrings at the top, before returning to the start position in a controlled manner

 

Standing Leg Curl With Resistance Band

This is performed in the same way as the standing leg curl, but you can perform this variation anywhere you can take a resistance band.

  • Stand facing the anchor point for the resistance band — this can be a squat rack or even a table. Anchor the resistance band to a fixed object, then step into the resistance band loop with your working leg only
  • Step slightly away from the anchor point until the band is slightly taut, with the contact point again on your achilles tendon area
  • Flex your heel up towards your glutes (you may only be able to make it to 90 degrees before the band slips) before returning to the start position in a controlled manner before starting your next rep

 

Prone Leg Curl With Resistance Band

When performing the standing leg curl, it might be difficult to effectively load the end range (closest to the glutes) of the exercise. The prone lying variation helps to bridge that gap.

  • Anchor the resistance band to an anchor point, then loop the ankle of the working leg through it
  • Lying prone on the floor, flex your knee to around 90 degrees — the resistance band should be slightly taut in this starting position
  • Flex your knee to bring your heel to your glutes, before returning to the starting position in a controlled manner, then start the next rep

 

Seated Leg Curl

This variation places the greatest stretch on the hamstrings in the starting position, as the hip is flexed to around 90 degrees or more with the knee fully extended. It would definitely be beneficial to try this variation as well as the lying leg curl, as they both load the hamstrings at different lengths.

  • Sit in the machine, with the thigh pad in contact with your quads, just above your knee. Ensure the shin pad is adjusted to be in contact with the achilles tendon
  • Flex your heel towards your glutes before returning to the starting position in a controlled manner, then start the next rep

 

Nordic Hamstring Curl

This variation relies on overloading the eccentric portion of the leg curl. Research has shown this increases strength and fascicle length — both are key to protecting the hamstrings from injury during high eccentric loading (such as sprinting).

  • Start in a kneeling position — you’ll need something soft to put your knees on, such as a folded-up yoga mat. You will also need an anchor point — ideally a friend who is heavy enough to offset your weight as they will need to hold your ankles down. Before starting the rep, ensure your hips are also in a neutral/extended position
  • Maintaining a rigid torso and a straight line from the shoulder to the knee, slowly lower your torso towards the floor in front of you, using your hamstrings as ‘brakes’. Do this as far as you can before your hamstrings give way (and make sure to break the fall with your arms in front of you in a press-up position)
  • Either powerfully push yourself back up to the start position using your arms, or use your hamstrings to perform the concentric portion of the exercise (if you can do that, chances are you’re not a beginner!). You’ll now be back in the starting position ready for the next rep

 

Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Using Inappropriate Loads

Using loads that are too heavy can result in you performing the exercise with incorrect technique, while using loads that are too light won’t build strength or muscle. . With the correct load, you’ll be able to perform every rep with the correct form d and to failure (ie be physically unable to contract the muscle) within the desired rep range.

Incorrect Leg Placement

Incorrect pad placement can lead to the exercise being performed less effectively, as range of movement can also be limited, thus restricting the range of movement through which the muscle is loaded.

Rushing Reps

Rushing the eccentric phase mitigates the time under tension (TUT), a driving factor for muscle growth. Subsequently, this will limit the amount of training adaptations made, so ensuring you control the full rep is essential when you’re trying to make the desired training adaptations.

 

Take home message

The lying leg curl is a great exercise for directly stimulating the hamstrings, ultimately leading to a more rounded physique and improved athleticism. Make sure this exercise is a must-do every leg day.

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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.



Scott Whitney

Scott Whitney

Sports Therapist and S&C Professional

Scott developed a passion for sport and performance through competing in long‐distance running and bouldering prior to attending university. Scott’s academic achievements include a BSc honours degree in Sports Therapy and an MSc degree in Strength and Conditioning. He is also a member of The Society of Sports Therapists and CIMSPA. Previously, he has worked with amateur and elite athletes, ranging from university sports teams to elite rugby league athletes and Team GB rowers. He currently works with various gyms in developing and delivering training programmes for amateur athletes and gym‐goers. While passive treatments remain in his arsenal as a Sports Therapist, Scott uses his skills to promote physical activity for combatting obesity, lower back pain and other sporting injuries, and simultaneously providing programmes for athletic development. Being a recent graduate, Scott strives to gain experience wherever possible, offering advice and sharing knowledge along the way. He believes it is important to practice what you preach, so in his spare time, Scott practices Olympic Weightlifting and enjoys being active outdoors in all weathers, although he still believes it is important to make ample time for social activities.


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