The Lying Hamstring Curl 101 | Form, Benefits, and Variations!

By
Mike Kenler
November 17, 2020

The Lying Hamstring Curl

Also known as the leg curl, the lying hamstring curl is a fantastic exercise for building size and strength in your hamstrings. 

Not only will this exercise increase your lower body strength, it will help you prevent injury and improve your performance in other exercises. 

In this article, we cover all you need to know about the lying hamstring curl. 

Muscles Worked By The Lying Hamstring Curl

Primary Muscle Groups:

Given its name, it comes as no surprise that the lying hamstring curl primarily works the hamstrings. 

Four muscles in the back of your leg comprise the hamstring: the biceps femoris (a group of two muscles: long and short head), semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. 

During this exercise, you should feel a deep contraction of these muscles.

Secondary Muscle Groups:

The lying hamstring curl secondarily engages your calves. Comprised of the soleus and the gastrocnemius, the calves activate to stabilize the dumbbell during the exercise motion.

In addition, your quads and glutes activate to support your lower body as well.

Lying Hamstring Curl Benefits

1. Bigger and Stronger Hamstrings

Unlike many eccentric hamstring exercises, the lying hamstring curl emphasizes the concentric portion of the exercise in which your hamstring muscle shortens.

As a result, the hamstring curl can help you build size more easily, as this exercise boosts hamstring hypertrophy. 

With greater muscle mass, not only will your lower half look more defined, but you will be able to improve your performance in other lifts such as the barbell squat and the deadlift.

2. Reduced Risk of Injury

Hamstring injuries are extremely common. A strained or torn hamstring can take weeks to recover, which will hold back your overall fitness progress.

When performed correctly, the lying hamstring curl can improve the stability of your hamstrings, as well as bolster your lower body mind-muscle connection. 

The lying hamstring curl can be an important exercise to prevent hamstring injuries and help you achieve your fitness goals.

3. Convenience 

Unlike other lower body exercises like the barbell deadlift or the glute ham raise, the lying hamstring curl doesn’t depend on any gym equipment.

Instead, all you need is a dumbbell and an open space. Truth be told, you can even complete this exercise without any weight at all. 

With that being said, let’s delve into the mechanics of this exercise.

How To Do The Lying Hamstring Curl

Equipment:

For this exercise, you will need a dumbbell. 

Setup:

a) Lie on your stomach with your legs straight out behind you. Support your upper body with your forearms.

b) Position a dumbbell vertically in between the arches of your feet. 

c) Lift your legs so the dumbbell hovers just above the floor.

Action:

a) Contract your hamstrings to curl the dumbbell towards your glutes.

b) Squeeze your hamstrings hard at the top and pause for a moment.

c) Slowly return to the starting position and repeat!

Recommendation:

If you are new to the lying hamstring curl, choose a light weight to begin and complete 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps. 

If you are more comfortable with the form, grab a heavier dumbbell and complete 8-10 reps for 3-4 sets. 

Lying Hamstring Curl Mistakes

1. Rushing the Motion

Many lifters curl the dumbbell upwards and then allow their legs to quickly fall back to the starting position. 

While the lying hamstring curl does emphasize the concentric portion of the exercise, the eccentric portion cannot be neglected. 

To correct this mistake, be sure to slowly drop your legs to the starting position. This correction will maximize your gains and reduce your risk of injury.

2. Completing Partial Reps

When doing the lying hamstring curl, it is important to lower the dumbbell until it nearly touches the ground.

Some lifters stop lowering as soon as they feel tension in their hamstrings on the way down. This usually occurs when people try to lift too much weight.

If you are doing half reps, you are not maximizing the lying hamstring curl. Instead, choose a manageable weight and complete full repetitions!

3. Lifting Too Much Weight

The hamstring curl is not a motion you find in athletics or in most natural daily movements. Your hamstrings are rarely asked to support a large sum of weight.

For that reason, do not jump right in and choose the heaviest dumbbell on the rack. Your hamstrings will not be prepared to curl it and you can risk injury. 

Instead, focus on control and volume. Choose a lighter dumbbell and work your way up as you increase the resistance over time.

Lying Hamstring Curl Variations

1. Seated Hamstring Curl Machine

The hamstring curl machine is the perfect gym variation of the dumbbell hamstring curl. 

Assume a sitting position in the machine with your legs fully extended. The pad should rest just above your ankles. Then, contract your hamstrings to press the pad all the way down. 

Squeeze your hamstrings hard at the bottom and slowly return to the pad to the starting position. Repeat!

2. Standing Hamstring Curl

You can also perform hamstring curls unilaterally from a standing position.

To begin, assume a standing position and place one foot behind the other with your heel off the ground. 

Contract your hamstring to bring your trail foot towards your buttocks. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat!


Lying Hamstring Curl Alternatives

If you enjoyed lying hamstring curl, check out these alternative hamstring exercises to improve your lower body training:

1. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Assume a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart and hold the dumbbells with your palms facing inward. Engage your core, bring your shoulder blades together, and keep your chest held high.

With a slight bend in your knees, hinge at the waist with a straight back and lower the weights towards the ground. You should feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings as your hips move backwards. 

Now, reverse the motion as you return to the standing position and squeeze your glutes. Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

2. Nordic Hamstring Curl

Begin by kneeling on both knees with your back straight. Secure your ankles with a piece of equipment or have your partner hold them in place. Tighten your hamstrings, glutes, and abs.

Keeping your back straight, slowly lean forward until you reach the floor. *Note — most people cannot control the movement all the way down. Lean forward as far as you can until you fall forward and catch yourself.

Squeeze your hamstrings to raise your body back to the starting position. Feel free to push yourself up off the ground if you need an initial boost.

Squeeze hamstrings and glutes hard at the top to maximize the contraction. Repeat!

3. Reverse Barbell Lunge

Load some weights onto your barbell and place it securely on your rear deltoids. Start from a standing position with your feet roughly hip width apart, your chest held high, and your back straight.

With your left foot straight in front of you, step back with your right foot and lunge down until your right knee touches the ground. In this position, your left knee should be directly over your left ankle.

Next, drive upwards in a controlled fashion to the standing position. Repeat this motion for your desired number of reps. Feel free to alternate legs or complete one side at a time.


Looking For A Full Hamstring Workout?

Follow along to this intense 5-minute at home hamstring workout!

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing | Certified in Plant Based Nutrition at T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

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