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Leg Curl Alternatives That Will Accelerate Leg Growth In 2023

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1


leg curl alternatives

You might be looking for leg curl alternatives for many reasons.

Your gym doesn’t have a lying leg curl machine, you want to workout at home, or maybe you’re looking for a different leg curl variation to mix things up in your training.

Regardless of your reasons, I got you!

You’ll learn what muscles are worked during leg curls, the best alternatives to the lying leg curl machine, and get the answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Muscles Worked During Leg Curls

Different variations of leg curls will all target the hamstring, aka the back of your leg from the area above your knee to below your hip.  The muscles of the hamstring include the:

  • Biceps femoris
  • Semitendinosus
  • Semimembranosus


Certain leg curl exercises will also target your glutes.

When performing hamstring exercises, there are two different ways to target the muscles.

The first is through hip extension, which would be exercises like Romanian deadlifts, stiff leg deadlifts, good mornings, single leg deadlifts, and kettlebell swings.  You are hinging at your hips to stretch the hamstrings with these movements.  Here are other hip extension exercises you can do.

Leg curls, on the other hand, target the hamstrings through mainly knee flexion.  You are bending your knee back to curl the resistance.

Both hip extension and knee flexion exercises should be chosen for well rounded, healthy hamstrings.

leg curls muscles worked

The 7 Best Leg Curl Alternatives

3 Leg Curl Alternatives Using Sliders

Sliding Leg Curls

One of my favorite alternatives to a leg curl machine is grabbing a pair of sliders and doing this exercise.

Exercise sliders are a cheap piece of equipment that can be used anywhere and you’ll still get an awesome hamstring workout with them.

There are two ways that I teach these leg curl variations to clients based on experience level:

  • For beginners, take 3 - 5 seconds to extend your legs out.  Once extended, put your butt on the ground to bring the sliders back towards you.
  • For more advanced lifters, instead of lowering your butt to bring the sliders back, keep your hips up the whole time.  It makes the exercise much harder!

Sliding leg curls are great to use if you have a bad back and want to train your legs.  Check out this back friendly leg workout.

One Leg Sliding Leg Curls

Another lying hamstring curl alternative for more advanced lifters would be the one leg sliding leg curl.

It has all the same steps as the previous example but instead of having both feet on the sliders, one leg will be kept in the air.

This takes the difficulty to another level.

Sliding Leg Curl With Hip Abduction

The outer hips, which are known as your abductors, are not part of the muscles worked on leg curl machines.

The machine limits your ability to target additional muscles since you’re only able to go in one plane of motion.

With the sliders, you get free reign to play around with different leg curl alternatives to target other muscles.

Instead of pushing out in a straight line, go out at an angle to target your outer hips and hamstrings.

Swiss Ball Leg Curl Alternative

SHELC (Swiss Ball Leg Curls)

Use a Swiss ball to achieve knee flexion and work your hamstrings.

The ball creates instability so you’ll be working your core muscles in addition to your hamstrings.

Don’t rush through these when you perform them.  Try and curl the ball in as far as you can and slowly extend your legs out.

Doing it like that will make the exercise harder and you’ll have better form.

I’ve had many people ask for Swiss ball leg curl alternatives and I’ve found that you can also use a medicine ball or foam roller.  The degree of difficulty rises once you use other pieces of equipment to curl.

Leg Curl Alternative With Bands

Banded Leg Curls

Up until this point, all the lying hamstring curl alternatives have been on your back.

Knee flexion can also be achieved through a seated position.  Flexing your leg back and forth won’t do much so you’ll need to find ways to add resistance.

That’s where the band comes in.  

Attaching a band a few feet away from you and bending your knee towards you will activate your hamstrings.

2 Additional Leg Curl Alternatives

Hamstring Walkouts

When all else fails and you don’t have a ball, sliders, or machine for leg curls, this exercise is for you.

You’ll be performing a leg curl just like the slider variation, but instead you’ll walk your feet out instead of sliding.

Slowly marching your feet out will target your hamstrings the same way a lying leg curl would.

If you have a smooth surface or carpet, you can wear socks and actually slide your feet out.

Seated Leg Curl Machine

Lastly, a simple lying leg curl alternative could be to switch machines and go on a seated leg curl machine.

You get the same knee flexion and hamstring activation both ways.  

My gyms have only had lying leg curl machines the past few years so I don’t even have a video of myself on a seated leg curl!

If you like the feel of machines, swap out your lying leg curl for seated leg curl.

7 best lying hamstring curl alternatives

Frequently Asked Questions About Leg Curl Variations

Are Leg Curls Necessary?

Yes. For strong & healthy hamstrings you want to be targeting them through knee flexion and hip extension.  The best way to target your hamstrings through knee flexion is with leg curls.

The variation of leg curl you choose is totally up to you! Find one that you enjoy and that you can implement progressive overload with, aka more reps, sets, or weight.

Can You Do A Leg Curl At Home?

The leg curl is one of the most versatile exercises that can be done at home with minimal to no equipment. The best leg curl variations at home include:

  • Sliding leg curls
  • Swiss ball leg curls
  • Banded hamstring curls
  • Hamstring walkouts

Are Leg Curls For Quads Or Hamstrings?

Leg curls primarily work your hamstrings and some variations target your glutes.  The quadriceps are not active during leg curl exercises.

Do Leg Curls Build Glutes?

Leg curls target your glutes but they do not compare to other big lifts, such as squats, Romanian deadlifts, lunges, or barbell hip thrusts.

You are better off performing those other exercises if your main goal is to build your glutes.

Recap Of Alternatives To Leg Curls

Lying leg curls don’t have to be the only exercise you do to target your hamstrings.  There are numerous alternatives to leg curls that will give your legs the same stimulus and promote strength and muscle gain.

Use different pieces of equipment like sliders, bands, and Swiss balls to see what alternatives to leg curls you like best.

Implement those into your workout routine for a few weeks and see how your hamstrings respond!