17 Best Leg Curl Alternatives (Dumbbell, At Home, Cable)

17 Best Leg Curl Alternatives (Dumbbell, At Home, Cable)

The leg curl is a staple leg day exercise and one of the most common exercises for hamstring training.

However, not everyone has access to one, or maybe your progress has stalled after using them for months on end.

Whatever your issue, there is an alternative to suit your needs.

The 17 best leg curl alternatives are:

  • Glute Ham Raise
  • High Stance Leg Press
  • Hack Squat Good Mornings
  • Leg Extension Curls
  • 45 Degree Back Extension
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Good Mornings
  • Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
  • Stiff Legged Kettlebell Swings
  • Cable Leg Curl
  • Cable Pull Through
  • Banded Leg Curl
  • Hamstring Slides
  • Exercise Ball Curls
  • Nordic Curls
  • Glute Bridge Walkouts

These alternatives come from a range of machine, dumbbell, cable, band and at home alternatives.

In this article, I will discuss what makes a suitable leg curl alternative, how to perform each of these and even share some of my tips on how to make them more effective in your program.

What Makes A Good Leg Curl Alternative?

Leg curls train the hamstrings, so the primary goal of a good alternative is exercises that also train the hamstrings.

But, what does the hamstring do?  The hamstrings function as a knee flexor and a hip extensor.  

So naturally, since a leg curl trains knee flexion (bending the knee so that the heel kicks the buttocks),  we should look for alternatives that train this same movement pattern.

As well, hip extension exercises (any movement that lengthens the front of your hip) can also target the hamstring and provide a wider range of exercises to choose from when seeking a leg curl alternative.

With that said though, not any hip extension exercise will do.  You will need to modify the technique slightly for these types of exercises in order to target the hamstrings to a greater extent.  Therefore, it’s important to follow the technique points I’ve listed below to get the most out of any leg curl alternative.

Leg Curl Alternative With Machines

1. Glute Ham Raise

While these are challenging, they are one of my favourite lower body exercises and fantastic for training your hamstrings.

How To Do It

  • Set the machine so that your knees sit against the front pad with the support pad against the back of your ankles.
  • Get in the machine and start in the kneeling position.
  • Slowly lean forward and allow your knees to reach nearly full extension while maintaining the angle of your hips and torso.
  • Think about leg curling the ankle pad towards you to pull yourself back up to the starting position.

Related Article: Back Extension vs Glute Ham Raise: Differences, Pros, Cons

Pro Tip

These are a real challenging exercise and many people, myself included, can only manage a few reps.

If you find the same, try incorporating eccentric reps to build more volume while still improving at the movement.

I cover many eccentric rep variations of the glute-ham raise in my article 12 Glute Ham Raise Alternatives.

2. High Stance Leg Press

While the leg press is typically used to target your quads, you can make it far more hamstring focused by changing how you execute it.

How To Do It

  • Lower the weight down, keeping pressure through your midfoot and heels.
  • Stop when you feel load shift from your hamstrings to your quads.
  • Push back up to the start position keeping force through your heels.

Pro Tip

Feeling your hamstrings on the leg press can be difficult, trial different stance heights and widths to find which allows you to work through more hip flexion while limiting knee flexion (bending at the hip vs knee).  For more resources on this, check out my guide on Leg Press Foot Placements.

3. Hack Squat Good Mornings

Many lifters struggle to execute barbell good mornings effectively and these are the perfect option if this applies to you.

How To Do It

  • Face the hack squat, setting your feet close to the bottom of the foot plate and get under the machine the opposite way to a normal hack squat.
  • Hinge backwards as per a normal good morning – think about closing a draw behind you with your hips.
  • Stop when your hips are at 90 degrees or sooner if you feel the load shift from your hamstrings to your back.
  • Push upwards by driving your hips forward. 

Pro Tip

Work through a range of motion where you feel the load in your hamstrings, rather than your glutes or lower back.  This may mean cutting the range of motion shorter than usual.

Related Article:  Good Morning vs Deadlift: Pros, Cons, Differences

4. Leg Extension Curls

A leg extension machine can function as a unilateral leg curl so this acts as a great alternative for those without access to a standard leg curl machine

How To Do It

  • Set the leg pad to the height of your ankle.
  • Stand in the gap between the seat and leg pad facing the seat. 
  • Press your knee/thigh against the seat and curl the foot pad upwards like a normal leg curl.
  • Control the load back down to full extension.

Pro Tip

Lean forward and hinge at the hips to lengthen the hamstring more.

Related Article: Leg Extension vs Leg Curl:  Differences, Pros, Cons

5. 45 Degree Back Extension

While these are typically used as a lower back exercise, with some execution changes you can make them a viable hamstring exercise.

How To Do It

  • Set the hip pad at a height just below your hips.
  • Flex at the hips allowing your torso to descend; keep the position of your torso throughout.
  • Stop when you feel the load shift from your hamstrings to your lower back.
  • Extend at the hip to bring you back to the start position – think about driving your back pockets towards your knees.

Pro Tip

Flex your spine slightly and maintain this position throughout. I find this helps me stop my erectors from taking over the exercise.

Related Article: Back Extension vs Deadlift: Differences, Pros, Cons

Leg Curl Alternative With Barbell

6. Conventional Deadlift

Conventional deadlifts are widely used to increase strength, but they also train the hamstrings and allow you to train them under more loading than many other exercises.

How To Do It

  • To lift from the floor, think about driving your hips forward while your legs push the ground away.
  • Keep your spine straight and drive the hips forward until you are stood up straight. 
  • From here, control the weight back to the ground.

Pro Tip

While powerlifters may not control the downwards phase, when training the hamstrings is the goal you should control the bar back down to the floor for more time under tension.

7. Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is another staple exercise in my lower body training.

These are similar to the conventional deadlift but have a greater focus on the hamstrings overall and typically use less load.

These are fantastic for training the hamstrings, glutes, lower back and carry over well for conventional deadlifters.

How To Do It

  • Take a stance around shoulder width apart and hold the barbell in front of you – use straps if grip is an issue as I prefer to use a double overhand here.
  • Allow a slight bend in the knee throughout the range of motion.
  • Descend until your torso is parallel to the floor.
  • Move the bar back up by driving your hips forward and keeping the bar close to your legs.

Pro Tip

Don’t simply chase load if it is causing your form to break down or for load to shift away from your hamstrings.

Struggling to feel your hamstrings? Read our article Can’t Feeling Hamstrings In Romanian Deadlifts? Try These 5 Tips.

8.Good Morning

Good mornings are great for lifters that can’t seem to use the Romanian deadlift to target their hamstrings. 

Having the bar on your back makes it easier to execute these as needed.

How To Do It

  • Set the bar on your back like a squat with a shoulder width stance.
  • Shift your hips back as if you are closing a draw behind you – allow a slight bend in the knee as you descend.
  • Cut the range of motion slightly above parallel to the floor; or higher if you feel the loading shift to your back.
  • Drive your back into the bar and hips forward to start the upwards phase of the movement.

Pro Tip

I find these even better with a safety squat bar as I can focus more on my lower body rather than trying as hard to maintain my upper body position.

Unsure which is best for you between a good morning and Romanian deadlift? Read Good Morning Vs Romanian Deadlift: Differences, Pros, Cons.

Leg Curl Alternative With Dumbbells And Kettlebells

9. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts allow for increased range of motion and for some are easier to perform due to not having a barbell against them.

How To Do It

  • Pick up the dumbbells – I recommend using straps as your grip is likely to fail before your hamstrings do.
  • Take a stance around shoulder width apart and hold the dumbbells in front of you.
  • Begin to descend by shifting your hips back as if you are closing a draw behind you.
  • Allow a slight bend in the knee throughout the range of motion.
  • Descend until your torso is parallel to the floor.
  • Move back up by driving your hips forward and keeping the dumbbells close to your legs.

Pro Tip

If you’re new to hinging, think about sitting back on your heels as you descend. This will help keep your hips moving back and tension through your hamstrings.

10. Stiff Legged KettleBell Swings

While a traditional kettlebell swing may target your glutes more, performing them in a ‘stiff legged’ execution will keep more load through the hamstrings.

How To Do It

  • Set up with a stance slightly wider than shoulder width apart – enough room for the kettlebell and your arms.
  • Sit your hips back allowing the kettlebell to come between your legs while keeping your legs straight.
  • Drive your hips forward into full extension and allow the arms and kettlebell to swing forward at the top. 
  • Keep control of the swing motion and initiate each rep with your hamstrings, rather than the upper body.

Pro Tip

Don’t rely on the momentum of the kettlebell to carry you rep to rep, keep focus on performing each rep by fully extending your hips and contracting your hamstrings.

A slight bend in the knee may make this more natural than a completely stiff leg stance.

Leg Curl Alternative With Cables

11. Cable Leg Curl

One of the simplest alternatives for a leg curl machine is to set a leg curl up with cables.

How To Do It

  • Add the ankle attachments to the bottom of the cable stack.
  • Put the ankle attachments around your ankle and lie face down on the floor; give yourself room to fully extend your knees.
  • Keeping your hips down into the floor, curl your leg up to 90 degrees.
  • Slowly extend the knee back to the start position.

Pro Tip

Cable stacks are great for drop sets – take your normal working set, drop the pin, get as many reps as possible, drop the pin again, and keep working your way down the stack.

A fantastic way to increase the volume and intensity of a session in a very short time frame.

12. Cable Pull Through

Similar to a Romanian deadlift, but a little easier to execute for those not so familiar with hinging.

How To Do It

  • Set a rope attachment at the bottom of a cable stack.
  • Stand with your back to the cable stack and hold the rope between your legs. 
  • Take a couple steps out from the stack and take a stance a little wider than shoulder width apart – this will give your arms room to go between your legs.
  •  Shift your hips back as if you are closing a draw behind you.
  • Descend until your torso is parallel to the floor.
  • Drive your hips forward to return to the start position.

Pro Tip

Trial different stance widths and ranges of motion to see which allows you to keep the loading in your hamstrings best.

If you are new to hinging and want to learn how to improve, read our article Learning How To Hip Hinge Properly: 11 Hip Hinge Cues.

Leg Curl Alternative With Bands

13. Banded Leg Curl

Banded leg curls are a great alternative for those without access to a leg curl machine.

How To Do It

  • If you have ankle attachments available, add these to the band/bands and then hook the band round a squat rack, pillar or even a heavy dumbbell.
  • Put the ankle attachments/bands around your ankle and lie face down on the floor – the further away you lie, the more tension in the bands.
  • Keeping your hips down into the floor, curl your leg up to 90 degrees.
  • Slowly extend the knee back to the start position.

Pro Tip

Drop sets are a great way to increase the intensity here with the limited loading. 

Start with a heavier band, or multiple, and drop down as you reach near failure.

Leg Curl Alternative At Home

14. Hamstring Slides

These are one of my favorites at home, require no equipment, and are more effective than they may seem.

How To Do It

  • Using either a wooden or tiled floor with a smooth piece of fabric; a pillowcase or similar works well.
  • Lay with your back on the floor and fabric under your heels. From here, bridge up by extending at the hips. 
  • Slide your heels back underneath you, keeping your hips extended, until your knees are at a 90 degree angle.
  • Slide your legs back out to the start position while keeping control of the movement with your hamstrings.

Pro Tip

If you find these too easy or that rep ranges are getting higher than you want, look to do them one leg at a time or add a tempo eccentric phase.

15. Exercise Ball Curls

If you can get an exercise ball at home, these make a fantastic leg curl replacement

 How To Do It

  • Lay on the floor with an exercise ball underneath your heels.
  • Extend at the hips so that you are supported on your traps and the ball.
  • Curl the ball back under you until your knees reach 90 degrees.
  • Allow your legs to straighten while keeping control of the movement to return to the start position.

Pro Tip

You can reduce the amount of hip extension you have to make these easier. 

You can also use this to your advantage for drop sets.

Start with full hip extension, and then perform a set immediately with more hip flexion.

16. Nordic Curls

These are very similar to a glute-ham raise, but require next to no equipment, or even just a partner to hold your legs.

How To Do It

  • Kneel on a foam pad or pillow.
  • Wedge your legs under something heavier than you, or have a partner hold your legs down by the ankles.
  • Start with an upright posture and 90 degree knee bend.
  • Descend as close to the floor as you can while maintaining your hip angle.
  • Pull yourself back up to the start position through your heels.

Pro Tip

If you struggle to complete full reps, push yourself up gently off the floor to help yourself through the hardest part of the range of motion.

Unsure what the differences are between a glute-ham raise and Nordic curl are? Read Glute Ham Raise Vs Nordic Curl: Differences, Pros, Cons to learn more.

17. Glute Bridge Walkouts

A more beginner-friendly at-home option is glute bridge walkouts.

 How To Do It

  • Lay with your back on the floor, with your hips resting, toes pointed up and knees bent to 90 degrees.
  • Extend your hips so that you are up on your traps and heels, with a 90 degree knee angle still.
  • Walk your feet out inch by inch while maintaining your hip angle – this will gradually extend your knee and keep increasing the demands on the hamstrings.
  • Walk your feet back to the start position when you can walk them out no further.

Pro Tip

Drive your heels into the floor each step to keep tension through the hamstrings.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Do Leg Curls Without A Machine?

You can set up a leg curl with cables, bands or an exercise ball. Alternatively, you can train the hamstring as a hip extensor using Romanian deadlifts or good mornings.

What Can I Do Instead Of A Leg Curl At Home?

The best at-home leg curl alternatives are the sliding hamstring curl, exercise ball curl, Nordic curl or glute bridge walkouts. I recommend beginners start with sliding hamstring curls, whereas more intermediate and advanced lifters try Nordic curls.

Other Lower Body Alternatives

About The Author

Jacob Wymer

Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.