Hamstring curls (aka leg curls) are often used to balance out quad-dominant leg exercises. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to the machines needed for specialized movements like this. So what are the alternatives?
Like many of your home gyms, mine lacks the proper equipment for doing hamstring curls. You can thus imagine my excitement when I saw that Titan Fitness was running a Black Friday deal that brought the cost of their glute-ham developer down below $270 shipped.
Note: This is dirt cheap, as it’s essentially a clone of the Abram 2.0 GHD from Rogue Fitness. It’s not uncommon for these sturdier glute-ham developers to cost upwards of $500.
Since I have the space, I jumped all over this deal. Once it arrives (it’s currently on backorder) I’ll be able to do glute-ham raises in place of hamstring curls. And, of course, I’ll also be able to use it for back extensions, various ab movements, etc.
But what if you don’t have access to a leg curl machine or a GHD? Or the space or money to buy your own? Well, the good news is that you don’t have to neglect your hamstrings. You have options.
Do-it-yourself leg curls
For starters, if you have a low row (cable) station, you can pretty much replicate the hamstring curl movement with some ankle straps. Just put them around your ankles, clip them to the cable, and lay face down on a bench with your head away from the pulley.
A regular flat bench (or even the floor, I suppose) should work for this if that’s all you have, but… An even better option would be to use a decline bench with your legs sloping down toward the pulley. Once you’re in position, just go to town with the leg curls.
You can achieve something similar with resistance bands. Just tie them off on your power rack (or another fixed point), loop them around your heels while laying face down on the bench and just start curling.
Note that bands are a bit different from a cable setup or weight stack as they provide dynamic resistance (i.e., the more you pull, the harder they are to stretch). But the movement pattern is similar to a regular hamstring curl, so you should be able to achieve an equivalent training effect.
Last but not least, you could assume a similar position (lay face down on a bench) and grab a dumbbell with your feet. Here again, you can replicate the hamstring curl movement. Just don’t drop that dumbbell…
Other hamstring exercises
While they’re not quite the same, you can also replace your hamstring curls with other hamstring-centric exercises. This is the route that I’ve chosen, and will continue to follow until my GHD shows up.
My favorite hamstring exercises (which also target other aspects of your posterior chain) are probably stiff-legged deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts (RDLs). You might also include some kettlebell swings.
I’ve found that a particularly potent combination is to superset kettlebell swings with stiff-legged deadlifts. Just be careful not to overdo it early on and hurt yourself before your body has a chance to adapt.