Leg Curl Alternative Exercises for a Superb Leg Workout

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico | Co-Founder & Marketing Director
Last updated: December 28, 2023
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As a seasoned fitness trainer, I frequently recommend that my clients incorporate leg curls into their workout routines to strengthen their hamstrings.

Knowing that integrating hamstring curls into a routine can be challenging, I conducted a week-long research and consulted with experts in the field to identify alternative exercises that effectively target the same muscle group.

In this article, I'll share valuable insights on leg curl alternatives, their benefits, and reasons why you should consider including them in your routine.

Quick Summary

  • The best leg curl alternatives include the nordic hamstring curl, stability ball hamstring curl, glute ham raise, and kettlebell swings.
  • When choosing the right alternative exercises, it's essential to consider the functions of the hamstrings to maximize their benefits.
  • A study published by the National Institute of Health indicates that low-intensity exercises such as lunges, deadlifts, and kettlebell swings can activate the hamstring muscle known as the semitendinosus.
  • As a fitness trainer, neglecting hamstring isolation may lead to quadriceps-hamstring imbalances, risking injury, especially if your quadriceps are stronger than your hamstrings.

Best Leg Curl Alternatives

A person doing leg curl alternative workouts at the gym

Here are some effective alternatives to leg curls:

1. Nordic Hamstring Curl

The nordic hamstring curl is a weight-free hamstring strengthening exercise.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Begin by kneeling on a cushion or foam pad.
  2. Wedge your legs under something heavy or have a partner support them at the ankles.
  3. Maintain a straight back and a 90-degree knee bend.
  4. Descend while keeping your hip angle as straight as possible.
  5. Pull yourself up to the starting position using your heels.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

"This exercise is similar to the glute ham raise. Because it is an excellent strength booster, limit volume to between 5 to 8 reps for three sets."

- Michael Lau, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist 

2. Stability Ball Hamstring Curl

A person doing Stability Ball Hamstring Curl workouts

For this workout, you'll need an exercise ball. The hamstring curl with a stability ball is effective for strengthening the hamstrings, core, and glutes.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Lie down with your back and heels pushed up on the Swiss Ball.
  2. Keep the arms flat on the ground and in line with the shoulders for stability.
  3. Raise the hips till they are in line with your knees and shoulders.
  4. Begin the hamstring curl by moving the ball backward toward your butts, keeping your feet flat on the ball, and your knees pushed toward the sky.
  5. Return to the starting position by reversing the motion.
  6. Repeat for reps.

In my experience, you'll really feel your hamstrings putting in the effort to control the movement of the exercise ball during this workout.

Also Read: Best Medicine Ball Exercises

3. Glute Ham Raise

Glute ham raises are challenging but incredibly effective for lower-body and hamstring training. They also serve as a great alternative to nordic leg curls for a less demanding workout.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Set up the machine with knees on the front pad and ankles at the rear.
  2. Start in a kneeling posture.
  3. Lean forward slowly, allowing knees to extend almost fully while maintaining hip and body angle.
  4. Curl your leg towards you to return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for reps.

4. Banded Prone Leg Curl

A person doing banded prone leg curl workouts at the gym

The banded hamstring curl is effective due to the band's increasing resistance.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Attach your home gym resistance band to a sturdy object.
  2. Place your legs on each side of the band, lie on your stomach, feet hip-width apart.
  3. Keep hips and quadriceps on the ground, pull heels towards the glutes.
  4. Stop when you can't pull any further.
  5. Return to the starting point and repeat for reps.

5. Sliding Leg Curl

This workout, also known as the bodyweight hamstring curl or slippery floor bridge curl, is a convenient home exercise requiring smooth, low-resistance flooring like hardwood and a towel.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Start lying on your back with bent knees and arms at your sides.
  2. Place a small towel under your feet, heels on the towel.
  3. Lift your hips, glide your feet towards your buttocks directly under your knees.
  4. Slowly extend your legs, sliding the towel with your heels.
  5. Allow your buttocks and hips to drop without touching the ground.
  6. Return your feet to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for reps.

Related: Killer Leg Workouts for Lower Body Exercise

6. Romanian Deadlift

A person preparing doing a Romanian Deadlifts at the gym

Similar to traditional deadlifts but targeting the hamstrings more, these exercises use lighter weights. They effectively work the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, complementing traditional deadlifts.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Take a shoulder-width stance and hold the weight in front of you; use straps for a better grip.
  2. Descend the bar by moving your hips back, maintaining a slight knee bend.
  3. Lower yourself until your torso is parallel to the ground.
  4. Return the bar by thrusting your hips forward, keeping it close to your legs.
  5. Repeat for reps.

7. Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell swings are an excellent leg curl alternative workout targeting more muscle groups than the leg curl.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Stand with legs shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
  2. Hold the kettlebell between your knees with a firm grip.
  3. Execute a single strong movement to swing the weight until your arms are fully stretched.
  4. For added challenge, swing the kettlebell above your head instead of in front of your chest.
  5. Return the kettlebell between your legs and drive your hips forward.
  6. Maintain momentum by drawing it past your knees and behind your torso.
  7. Avoid dropping the weight and continue to the next swing.

"Even when you're primarily concentrating on hamstring exercises, the kettlebell always offers a full-body workout."

- Tara Laferrara, Certified Personal Trainer

Learn More: Will Kettlebell Swings Burn Belly Fat

What Makes a Good Leg Curl Alternative

A person doing leg curl workout alternatives at a home gym

A good leg curl alternative achieves results similar to those of the leg curl machine but through different movements.

According to the National Institute of Health, the hamstrings play a key role in knee flexion and assist in hip extension and knee extension in a weight-bearing position [1].

Knowing these functions helps identify efficient alternatives, often emphasizing knee flexion. To target secondary hamstring functions, include exercises that involve weight-bearing knee extensions and hip flexion.

As a fitness trainer, I advise clients that not all weight-bearing knee and hip extension workouts are equally effective; some may be less effective due to their secondary functions.

Reasons To Consider Leg Curl Alternatives

A person doing leg curl alternatives at a home gym

Consider replacing the lying hamstring curl in your training for various reasons. Some of these reasons include:

  • If your gym lacks a lying or seated leg curl machine.
  • If your gym's leg curl machine is consistently in use.
  • If you're seeking a new challenge.
  • If the workout has become monotonous and you need a change.
  • If the lying leg curl is not the most effective approach to strengthening your hamstrings.

According to a PubMed study, leg curls alone may not address all aspects of hamstring development. Additionally, the research indicates that Romanian deadlifts and glute ham raises are more effective in engaging hamstring muscles [2].

In my opinion, bodyweight alternatives provide beginners with an easy introduction to leg training.

Benefits of Leg Curls and Their Alternatives

A person stretching his leg and hamstring muscles

Strengthening your hamstrings is not just about vanity; it plays a crucial role in overall productivity.

Here are some key advantages of hamstring training:

  • Injury Prevention: Slowing down eccentric activities can reduce the risk of hamstring injuries by improving eccentric power and hamstring length, according to PubMed [3].
  • Knee Health: Hamstrings act as essential knee stabilizers, supporting activities like jogging and squatting, contributing to overall knee health.
  • Better Posture: Hamstrings' dimension, flexibility, and strength influence pelvic and upper body alignment, promoting good posture.
  • Improved Squat And Deadlift Technique: Enhancing hamstring strength helps address imbalances with quadriceps, improving deadlift and squat techniques.

Read More: Best Leg Extension Machines


What Muscles Do Leg Curls Work?

The muscles worked by leg curls are the hamstring muscles. It entails bending the knees and sliding your heels toward the butt while the remainder of your body remains still.

What Type of Leg Curl Is Best?

The best type of leg curl is the prone hamstring curl. The prone hamstring curl machine recruits more hamstrings and is more advantageous because only the quads remain immobile, and the hamstrings may move freely within a range of motion.

Are Leg Curls Necessary?

Yes, leg curls are necessary. Leg curls are particularly beneficial to bodybuilders since they help build muscle mass.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7126262/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24149748/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29116573/
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About The Author

Co-Founder & Marketing Director
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James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
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Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
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