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Leg Curl Muscles Worked, Benefits, & More (Complete Guide)

Ever wondered how a simple curl could transform your routine and elevating your fitness to new heights? Step into the gym spotlight and let's unravel the secret behind those sculpted legs with a leg curl machine.

Tailored for both the iron-pumping veterans and the enthusiastic newbies on the fitness floor, this guide aims to delve deep into the leg curl benefits, transforming the way you view this classic move. We're here to guide you through the journey that will empower you to weave leg curls into your regime with confidence and precision.

Every rep is not just a step towards stronger legs, but a leap towards your holistic fitness goals. Whether you're contemplating adding leg curls to your workout mix or seeking to perfect your form, gear up for a read that promises to enrich your gym experience and inform your fitness choices.

Leg Curls

Table of Contents

What Are The Benefits Of Leg Curl Exercises?

  1. Hamstring Hypertrophy
  2. Balanced Leg Development
  3. Injury Prevention
  4. Improved Athletic Performance
  5. Enhanced Flexibility and Mobility
  6. Convenience and Versatility

Top Leg Curl Alternatives

  1. Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls
  2. Nordic Hamstring Curl
  3. Romanian Deadlift
  4. Glute-Ham Raises
  5. Stability Ball Hamstring Curls
  6. Good Mornings

Leg Curls Muscles Worked

With leg curls, you're not only looking for aesthetic improvements, but also for functional and athletic strength. We all know how important strong legs are, whether for our daily activities or a more dynamic fitness routine.

Leg curls muscles worked


When we perform leg curls, the primary muscles engaged are the hamstrings. The hamstrings are made up of three key muscles: 

  • Biceps femoris - the muscle you see on the outer thigh, known for its two distinct heads. One head extends up to the pelvis, crossing the hip, while the other anchors itself on the femur.
  • Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus - the duo responsible for the inner hamstring area, both of which also extend over the hip joint.


On top of targeting the hamstrings, leg curls indirectly work the muscles in our calves, specifically the gastrocnemius. This muscle operates together with the hamstrings to provide stabilization during the exercise. Strengthening our calves helps in better mobility, balance, and protection from injuries

Do leg curls work on building bigger glutes?

Now, let's talk about the main focus: glutes. Do leg curls work on building bigger glutes? The short answer is—only slightly. While leg curls do engage the gluteal muscles to some extent, they're not the primary focus of this exercise.

If your main goal is to develop larger and stronger glutes, other exercises such as squats, lunges, and hip thrusts are more effective. So, it's crucial to incorporate other glute-targeting exercises within our fitness journey to achieve a well-rounded lower body.

Benefits of Leg Curls Explained

The benefits of leg curls extend beyond simple muscle building, contributing to a well-rounded fitness regimen, injury prevention, and improved performance in various activities.

Here's a detailed look at the benefits:

Hamstring Hypertrophy

Leg curls aren't just good for building and toning your legs; they're also an excellent exercise to target the hamstrings specifically. By highlighting the contraction and extension of these muscles, we can efficiently increase their mass and strength.

With leg curls, we fully engage our hamstrings, leading to optimal muscle growth and definition.

Balanced Leg Development

In any workout routine, it's crucial to maintain balanced development across all muscle groups. Leg curls complement the more popular quad-dominant exercises, such as squats and leg presses.

While focusing on both the quadriceps and hamstrings, we guarantees stability, symmetry, and reduce the risk of muscle imbalances.

Injury Prevention

Incorporating leg curls into our routine leads to injury prevention. Strong, well-rounded hamstrings can protect the knee joint from strain, particularly during high-impact activities.

This functional benefit lets us engage in sports and exercise with greater confidence and reduced risk for injuries.

Improved Athletic Performance

Hamstrings play a crucial role in various athletic movements, such as sprinting, jumping, and changing direction rapidly. By strengthening these muscles with leg curls, we improve our overall athletic performance.

Whether you're competing in sports or pushing yourself at the gym, better hamstring strength directly translates to enhanced results.

Enhanced Flexibility and Mobility

Additionally, leg curls enhances flexibility and mobility in our lower body. This increased range of motion not only supports a more extensive options of exercises but also assists in maintaining proper form during compound movements like squats and deadlifts.

Flexible hamstrings are also less prone to strain and injury.

Convenience and Versatility

Finally, leg curls are versatile and convenient, suitable for various gym settings, whether using a leg curl machine or performing them with alternative equipment, such as resistance bands.

This accessibility makes it easy for us to incorporate leg curls into our workout routines, reaping the many benefits they offer and supporting our long-term fitness journey.

Seated Vs. Lying Leg Curls

When it comes to leg curl exercises, seated leg curl and lying leg curl are two popular variations that target the hamstrings and some calf muscles.

seated vs lying

Image credits:

Seated Leg Curl

In the seated leg curl, the real action kicks in at the end when your leg is fully curled. That's where you feel a killer contraction, possibly the best you can get from any workout. It starts off easy, but as you progress, it really tests your limits.

Think of it as the ultimate pump exercise. It's a breeze in the beginning but gets tougher as you go. It's in the same league as leg extensions, bicep curls, and other exercises that get your muscles pumped full of blood. Perfect for warming up without overdoing it. The only hitch? The tension isn't consistent throughout, so some parts of the exercise might feel a bit too easy.

    How to Perform With A Proper Form:

    Step 1: Take a seat on the leg curl machine, positioning your feet hip-width apart. Engage your core, pulling your abs in tight, and flex your feet, drawing your toes up towards your shins. Adjust the machine so that your knees align closely with its hinge, and the pad comfortably rests on your lower calves, just above your ankles.

    Step 2: Ensure your head remains an extension of your spine, and retract your shoulder blades, pulling them down towards your hips. Initiate the movement by pressing your heels downwards, aiming to bring them close to your glutes, while keeping your lower back from arching.

    Step 3: Gently return the weight to its original position, ensuring a smooth transition and keeping your posture steady throughout the entire movement.

    Step 4: Continue the exercise for your planned number of repetitions, making sure to prevent any excessive arching of your lower back, avoid pointing or turning your toes outward, and keep your chin from protruding forward.

    Lying Leg Curl

    The lying leg curl machine switches things up by adding tension to the hamstrings right from the get-go. You'll find a bit of tension at the top, but the real sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. Once you hit that halfway mark or push past two-thirds of the way, finishing the curl becomes noticeably easier.

    This makes the lying leg curl a solid foundational exercise. It's the kind that challenges you consistently through the motion or hits you with tough spots around the middle. It's in the same camp as exercises like overhead presses, bench presses, and squats, where you're not likely to falter at the very top or bottom but might struggle in the mid-range.

      How to Perform With A Proper Form:

      Step 1: Position yourself face down on the leg curl machine, ensuring your feet are set hip-width apart. Engage your core and squeeze your glutes for stability. The machine should be adjusted so your knees are near the hinge point, and the pad rests on your lower calves, near the Achilles tendon. Keep your head aligned with your spine and draw your shoulder blades together, pressing them downwards.

      Step 2: Flex your feet by pulling your toes up towards your shins. Then, powerfully curl your heels towards your buttocks, aiming to bring them as close as you can. Ensure this movement is smooth, without causing your lower back to arch or your hips to rise from the pad.

      Step 3: Gently uncurl, returning the weight to its starting point with a controlled motion, keeping your body posture intact throughout the movement.

      Step 4: Continue with the exercise, performing the number of reps set in your workout plan. Remember to keep your lower back from overarching, your toes from pointing or splaying out, and maintain your head's position, avoiding any droop towards the pad.

      By combining the controlled movement of the seated leg curl with the core stabilization challenges of the lying leg curl, we'll be well on our way to building strong, functional, and well-balanced leg muscles that support our overall fitness journey.

      Optimizing Your Workout

      Diving into the realm of leg curls, we'll explore who stands to gain the most from incorporating this targeted exercise into their regimen, the ideal sets and reps for maximizing muscle growth and strength, and essential safety tips to ensure you're not only getting the most out of every curl but doing so without risking injury.

      Who Should Do the Leg Curls?


      Beginners, welcome to the leg curl club! This exercise is a great starting point for those new to the fitness world. It's straightforward, safe, and a fantastic way to build foundational hamstring strength. It can also be a stepping stone to more complex movements. It's a great way to get comfortable in the gym, learn about muscle engagement, and start building strength in a controlled, focused manner.


      Strength athletes, such as powerlifters and Olympic lifters, might not prioritize the leg curl as their go-to move, given their focus on compound lifts. But, incorporating leg curls can be a strategic move for them. It strengthens the hamstrings, providing better support for heavy squats and deadlifts, and helps prevent injuries by balancing muscle development and increasing joint stability. So, even for these powerhouses, leg curls can be a valuable addition to their training regimen for those accessory work days.


      For bodybuilders, the leg curl is like the secret sauce to chiseling those detailed, sculpted hamstrings. It's all about isolation and targeted muscle growth, and this exercise delivers exactly that. The ability to laser focus on the hamstrings means bodybuilders can work on muscle symmetry and aesthetics, ensuring no part of the leg is left behind in their quest for the perfect physique.

      Leg Curl Sets and Reps

      • Start off with a simple approach: try doing 1-2 sets of 8-12 reps. As you get the hang of it, you can up the ante with more sets.
      • If you've been lifting for a while, aim for 3 sets of 8-12 reps, using a weight that challenges you but doesn't push you to the brink.
      • New to the gym? No sweat. Kick things off with a light weight, sticking to 1-2 sets of 8-12 reps. As you build strength and gain confidence, you can gradually increase both the weight and the number of sets.

      Remember, it's not all about leg day. A balanced workout routine that targets all your muscle groups is key to a well-rounded fitness journey.

        Smart Safety Tips for Mastering Leg Curls

        • Warm up: Always begin with a proper warm-up to increase blood flow and flexibility in the muscles. You can include dynamic stretches, leg swings, or light aerobic exercises.
        • Mind the weight: Choose an appropriate weight, and avoid ego-lifting. Lifting a weight that's too heavy can lead to poor form and potential injury.
        • Keep the motion controlled: Focus on the quality of your movement to ensure you're doing leg curls correctly. Avoid using momentum or swinging the weight.
        • Balance your workout: To maintain muscular symmetry, make sure to complement leg curls with exercises that target your quadriceps, such as leg extensions or squats.
        • Listen to your body: If you experience any pain or discomfort while performing leg curls, stop immediately and seek professional guidance before continuing.

        Effective Leg Curl Substitutes

        We understand that sometimes you may not have access to a leg curl machine or you might simply want to switch up your routine. No worries, we've got some great leg curl alternatives that can effectively target your hamstrings without needing a leg curl machine.

        Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls 

        Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls offer a full lower body workout by targeting the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core. The ball's instability boosts balance and stability, engaging core muscles while being low-impact and suitable for various fitness levels and joint issues.

        Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls

        What you need: Swiss ball

        1. Start by lying on the floor with your back flat and positioning your heels and lower calves on a Swiss ball.
        2. Extend your arms out to the sides, ensuring they are in line with your shoulders and flat against the floor.
        3. Lift your hips upwards, aiming to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
        4. Engage your core and stabilize your shoulders, then contract your hamstrings to draw your heels towards your glutes. During this phase, your feet will naturally flatten against the ball.
        5. Continue pulling your heels closer until it's no longer possible, then hold this position briefly.
        6. Finally, carefully return to the starting position by reversing the movement slowly.

        Nordic Hamstring Curl

        Nordic curls strengthen hamstrings but require foot stabilization, achievable with a loaded barbell or a resistance band for support. The band aids in managing both the downward and upward phases, making it an effective progression for those struggling with the ascent.

        Nordic hamstring curl

        What you need: Nordic curl machine or Resistance bands

        1. Begin by kneeling on a cushioned surface.
        2. Have a partner squat behind you to securely hold your ankles down.
        3. Maintain a straight posture from your shoulders down to your knees during the entire exercise.
        4. You can either cross your arms over your chest or keep your hands positioned to brace your fall in a push-up stance.
        5. Lean forward slowly, using your hamstrings and glutes to control the motion.
        6. Once you're unable to maintain the lean, use your hands to softly catch yourself, transitioning into a push-up position.
        7. Aim for 3 to 5 repetitions of this exercise.

        Romanian Deadlift

        This leg workout, emphasizing the hamstrings, is key for knee protection and ensuring muscular balance with your quadriceps. Choose a barbell with a manageable weight to maintain proper form, which is crucial to prevent injuries. Once you've mastered the technique, you can gradually increase the weight to intensify the focus on your hamstrings.

        Romanian Deadlift

        What you need: Barbell

        1. Begin the exercise by holding the barbell or weight in your hands, starting from a standing position rather than lifting it from the ground.
        2. Gently lower the weight by slightly bending your knees and hinging at your hips, while keeping your back straight.
        3. Descend until your hamstrings feel a gentle stretch, typically when the weight is just below knee level, then push your hips forward and engage your hamstrings to return to a standing position.

        Glute-Ham Raises

        Glute-Ham Raises target the hamstrings through their full range, from hip to lower leg, using a machine or alternative setups like a lat pulldown machine or preacher bench. This exercise strengthens the posterior chain, focusing on the hamstrings, and improves running speed and lower-body power by combining knee flexion and hip extension.

        Glute-Ham Raises

        Image credits:

        What you need: Glute-Ham Developer (GHD) Machine

        1. Adjust the glute-ham bench's foot plate and ankle pads for comfort. Experiment with the distance and height to find the best fit.
        2. Start in a tall kneeling position, then slowly lower your body by extending your knees until your torso is just below parallel to the floor. Maintain tension in your hamstrings without rounding your lower back.
        3. To return, extend your hips and press the balls of your feet against the foot plate, lifting your heels. Use the pad for leverage as you bend your knees to come back to the starting position, mimicking the leg movement during running.

        Stability Ball Hamstring Curls

        Adding stability ball hamstring curls to your workout regimen can enhance lower body strength and stability. This exercise effectively works the hamstrings while also activating the glutes and core, offering a comprehensive lower body workout. All you need is a large stability ball, making it a must-have for home fitness routines.

        Stability Ball Hamstring Curls

        What you need: Stability ball

        1. Start by lying on your back with your lower legs and heels on a stability ball, feet hip-width apart and toes pointing up. Engage your core to press your low back into the floor and extend your arms out to the sides for balance.
        2. Lift your hips by engaging your glutes, pressing your legs into the ball. Avoid excessive hip lift to prevent low back arching. Aim for straight alignment between your legs and torso.
        3. Pull your heels towards you, flexing your feet on the ball, and raise your hips higher while keeping your torso stable.
        4. Gently lower back to the starting position.
        • Variation 1: For more balance challenge, bring your feet closer on the ball.
        • Variation 2: Increase balance difficulty by moving your arms to your sides or across your chest.
        • Variation 3: For a more advanced option, lift one leg off the ball and perform the curl with the other leg, maintaining core engagement to avoid lower back arching.

        Good Mornings

        Begin with light weights when practicing the good morning exercise to focus on isolating your hamstrings. This is essential as improper form can strain the lower back. Good mornings are beneficial for those who struggle to engage their hamstrings with Romanian deadlifts. The placement of the bar on your back facilitates the correct execution of this movement.

        Good Mornings

        What you need: Barbell

        1. Position a barbell on your shoulders, standing with your feet set shoulder-width apart.
        2. Take a deep breath in, slightly bend your knees, and hinge at the hips, lowering your torso towards the ground while pushing your hips back. Maintain a lifted chest and look forward.
        3. Lower yourself until your upper body is parallel to the floor, then pause.
        4. Raise back up to the initial standing position.

        Frequently Asked Questions

        Is leg curl or leg extension better?

        Leg curls and leg extensions target different muscles; leg curls focus on the hamstrings, while leg extensions work the quadriceps. The choice between them depends on your specific fitness goals and any existing joint issues. 

        Which is more effective leg curls or squats?

        When comparing leg curls and squats, squats are generally more effective due to their ability to engage a broader range of muscle groups, including quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core. This makes squats a comprehensive, full-body exercise that enhances functional strength and stability. Leg curls, on the other hand, specifically target the hamstrings, making them an excellent choice for isolation work but less comprehensive than squats.

        Are leg curls worth doing?

        Yes, leg curls are worth doing as they specifically target and isolate the hamstrings, which is beneficial for building hamstring strength, improving muscle balance in the legs, and reducing the risk of injuries by strengthening the muscles around the knee. They're a valuable addition to a well-rounded lower body workout routine.


        Wrapping Up: Your Complete Guide to Leg Curls

        That's a wrap on our deep dive into the world of leg curls. For those who live and breathe the gym life, you know the sweet satisfaction of nailing that perfect isolation move. Leg curls are your golden ticket to hamstring heaven, offering gains that resonate with every step of your fitness saga.

        Next time you're pacing the gym floor, eager to amp up your routine, slot in some leg curls and feel the burn where it counts. Keep in mind, though, that the real magic happens with steadfast commitment and a never-quit attitude. Here's to crushing those leg days. Happy curling!

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        About The Author

        Matt Gemkow, the author of this content section at Select Fitness USA, boasts more than 15 years of fitness experience. He started out in sports and athletic training for many years and has since 2014 transitioned into heavy-weight training and bodybuilding. As a result, he has become one of the most experienced fitness equipment experts out there, and a valuable source of information.