How to Do a Leg Curl: Techniques, Benefits, Variations

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Leg curls are an isolation exercise that targets the back of the leg (hamstrings and calf muscles). It can be done in a variety of positions and makes a good addition to most lower body strength training exercises.

Also known as: Coil

Target: Tendons, calf muscles, glutes, glutes, and shins

Device: Leg curlers (some variations do not require any equipment)

Level: Beginners

How to do leg curls

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Lie face down on the leg curler, straighten your legs as far as possible. Roller pads should rest a few inches above your calves, just above your heels. Grasp the support handles on each side of the machine.

  1. Exhale and bend your knees, pulling your ankles as close to your buttocks as possible. Keep your hips fixed on the bench.
  2. Hold for a short while.
  3. Inhale as you bring your legs back to the starting position in a slow and controlled motion.

You can use your toes to help target your hamstrings or calves during the movement. Flexing your toes (bending them toward your shins) engages the hamstrings, while pointing your toes (bends) isolates the calf muscles.

Benefits of Leg Curls

Leg flexors target the hamstrings (biceps, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus) and calf muscles (abs and soleus). When lowering the leg back down, the glutes (buttock), thighs (quadriceps), and front of the shin (anterior tibialis) are also activated.

Having strong and flexible hamstrings is important for overall strength, balance, and endurance. Research has also connected hamstring strength to better athletic performance, especially when performing sprint-based exercises and movements.

Strong hamstring muscles aren’t just beneficial in the gym. Conditioning these muscles can also help you avoid injury during everyday activities that involve using your lower body. This includes playing with children, completing household chores, gardening, and more.

The strength and flexibility of this muscle group will also help as your body ages — especially if you’re prone to knee problems or suffer from joint or back pain.

Other variations of leg bend

You can perform leg rolls in a variety of ways to better meet your fitness and skill level goals.

Bend standing legs

Beginners may want to do the leg crunch while standing. Standing leg rolls require less hamstring strength because you do them without weights.

To do the standing leg roll, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Shift your weight onto one leg and bend the other leg at the knee, bringing that leg closer to the buttocks. Lower the leg and repeat on the other side.

Curved foot stand with resistance strap

Adding resistance bands to your standing leg roll is one way to build strength in your hamstrings and calves if you don’t have exercise equipment. Place the bandage just above the ankle and lift the leg against resistance.

Ben Goldstein / Verywell

Sitting with legs bent

You may prefer the seated leg roll variant if you’re uncomfortable in a prone position or if you have back or neck pain. Another benefit of chair curls is the design of the machine so that you don’t lift your feet when curling your hair.

When performing a seated leg curl, the thigh pad should be directly above the knee and the shin pad just below the calf. While grasping the handle of the machine, push down on the lower leg pad, pulling it as close to your butt as possible. Hold, then return to the starting position.

Nordic Hamstring Curl

What makes this roll different is that instead of keeping the body stationary and only moving the lower leg, the Nordic hamstring roll keeps the lower leg stationary as you move the rest. of body. Research connects Nordic curls with a reduced risk of hamstring injuries.

This variation involves kneeling on the floor and placing your ankles under an immovable object (or having someone hold them), then leaning forward on your knees. Because you have to control the forward tilt of your body, this roll requires more core strength than other variations.

Curls your legs with leg extensions to strengthen your body proportionately.

Common mistake

Avoid the pitfalls of doing leg curls to keep this exercise safe and effective.

The foot pad is too high

If the cushion needs to be too high on your calves, this can put pressure on your Achilles tendon and reduce your range of motion. The first time you try leg rolls, you may want a trainer or fitness trainer to show you the correct posture and help you adjust the roller if needed.

Not using the correct weight

To do the leg roll properly, always start with lighter weights. You don’t want to force your body to overcompensate by lifting your hips and flexing your lower back. This cannot isolate calves and hamstrings and can cause injury to your back.

Choose a weight that allows you to do 8 to 12 reps with reasonable effort and good form.

If you want to build muscle mass, gradually increase the weight as you get stronger. However, keep in mind that if your goal is to increase strength and performance, you don’t want to overload the weight.

Safety and Precautions

Bodybuilders use hamstring flexors to build muscle. However, fitness professionals and athletes who play certain sports don’t always like this exercise because it can cause hamstrings to shorten (or tighten).

If you over-train and don’t stretch properly, repetitive muscle contractions and development can impair hamstring flexibility. To keep your hamstrings slim, always do stretching exercises after your workout.

Some people may want to avoid arching the leg entirely because this exercise can worsen an existing problem, slow healing, or put you at increased risk of pain. This includes people:

  • Recovering from an injury or surgery involving the back, spine or neck
  • Injury or instability in the knee
  • Recently had knee or hip surgery
  • Torn or torn ligaments in the knee or ankle, such as the Achilles ligament or anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)

As always, it’s best to talk to your doctor before starting a weight training program. If you work with a physical therapist or trainer, ask them for instructions on how to use the leg curler and whenever you feel ready to add weight. The goal is to complete three sets of 8 to 12 reps.


Incorporate this and similar moves into one of these popular exercises:

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