Leg curl exercise: benefits, types, tips, precautions and the correct way to do it

Leg curl exercise: benefits, types, tips, precautions and the correct way to do it

Our legs are some of the most ignored parts of the body, especially in the gym, despite the important function they perform of moving us from one place to another, among other things. While there are numerous exercises to work the arms, there aren't as many for our legs. Even the ones that are there do not spark such excitement with the arrival of leg day.
While a dozen curl exercises can make up arm workouts alone, the legs only feature one, quite unsurprisingly called the leg curl. Also known as the hamstring curl, this movement can also be viewed as the arm curl for the legs, as it works the big hamstring muscles on the back of the thighs.
Similar to the other exercises that involve the 'curling' movement, it is also an isolated exercise that just targets one muscle group. You can perform this exercise in two ways; one at the gym with a leg curl machine, or even at home over a bench with a dumbbell.
Movements like walking and running rely heavily on the functioning of our hamstrings, and even a slight twitch can limit our movements. Leg curls are a great way to keep the hamstrings in good shape, and compliments another exercise, the leg extensions, very well. Hamstrings work similarly as our arm’s biceps; it is located between the knee and hip joints, and helps rotate and flex the knee.
To complete your leg day it is very important to at least perform one exercise focused on the hamstrings. The leg curl not only tones the back of your leg but also enhances the look of your quadriceps, or the front thigh muscles.

Types of leg curl exercise
The specially designed hamstring curl machine is one of the few ways one can perform this exercise, or with free weights:
  • Machine leg curl
  • Dumbbell leg curl

The leg curl directly targets your hamstring muscles which give power and flexibility to the leg muscles. Practising this exercise provides you overall leg strength, and also develops the calf muscles if performed with the correct form and technique.
It prevents the risk of knee injuries, knee pain or even hip or lower back injuries by improving strength and flexibility. Regularly exercising or training your leg muscles improves your cardiovascular health and enhances the functioning of the lungs. Leg curls also help cut fat from the thighs and can prevent chronic diseases.

Before starting any exercise, warm-up your body with a few mobility exercises such as high-knees, jumping jacks, skipping ropes or a treadmill run to prevent workout injuries. To improvise, you can also add variations to target your inner or outer thighs by changing the placement of your legs on the leg curl machine. 
Muscle worked
  • Primary: Hamstrings
  • Secondary: Calves
  • Low (beginner)
Equipment required
  • Leg curl machine or a dumbbell
Sets and reps
  • 3 sets of 10-15 reps each 
Technique (with leg curl machine)
  • Lie down on cushioned platform on the machine over your belly.
  • Lock your ankles under the padded roller.
  • Curl your legs to lift the pad towards your hips. Keep your hip and hamstrings contracted throughout the movement.
  • Slowly bring down the roller to its starting position. This is one rep.
Tip: Place the roller just above the ankles and below the calves. Placing it too high can injure your achilles tendons.
Technique (with dumbbell)
  • Lie down on the floor or a mat over your stomach.
  • Place a dumbbell between your feet with legs fully stretched.
  • Curl the weight up to activate your hamstrings. After reaching the topmost position, contract your hips and hamstrings.
  • Slowly bring down the legs to the starting position. This is one rep.
Tip:  To place a dumbbell make an arch with your feet. Keep the movement stable to avoid injuries.

Movements like the leg curl or leg extensions are usually limited to the specific machines that are designed for these exercises. However, other leg exercises can also help activate and strengthen the back of the thighs.
  • Stiff leg deadlift
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Deadlifts
  • Good mornings
  • Glute bridge

It is important to train your leg muscles at least once a week, and leg curls can help you work on your hamstrings effectively. After mastering the basic movement, one must work towards developing more strength in the thighs and aim to incrementally add weight or resistance to the exercise. The thighs are big muscles in the legs, and working on the front thigh muscles aren't enough; the hamstrings must be worked simultaneously for the best results.