Do Leg Curls Help Deadlifts? Yes, Here’s How

Do Leg Curls Help Deadlifts Yes Here's How

Hamstrings are known to be important muscle groups in the deadlift and lifters often involve accessory exercises that target the hamstrings to improve the deadlift. 

Leg curls are one such exercise that powerlifters and strength athletes incorporate to build hamstring strength.  

But, do leg curls help deadlifts? Yes, leg curls do help deadlifts by increasing hamstring strength, size, and work capacity. Leg curls also help with hamstring strength in the middle range of motion of the deadlift where hamstrings are longest, and subsequently can also help with lockout strength too.

In this article, we will go through exactly how leg curls carry over to the deadlift, who should and should not have it in their training, and how it can be implemented into your program to help the deadlift.

How Do Leg Curls Help the Deadlift? (5 Ways)

Five ways that the leg curls help the deadlift are:

  • Leg curls increase hamstring strength and size
  • Leg curls help with the middle range of motion during deadlifts
  • Leg curls can help with the deadlift lockout
  • Leg curls increase repetition work capacity for deadlifts
  • Leg curls can reduce the risk of hamstring injuries

1. Leg Curls Increase Hamstring Strength and Size

Hamstring

Leg curls are one of the best isolation exercises for the deadlift.  So if you find your hamstrings are the weak link, because they fatigue quicker than other muscle groups, then incorporating them into your training can build both size and strength.

One of the hamstrings’ roles in the deadlift is to help the glutes extend the hips to the bar during the lockout. Even though it is not a prime mover, it is important to keep the hamstrings as strong as possible especially when it comes to deadlift maximal intensity loads. This is because when the glutes start failing, the hamstrings will kick in to help. 

So by using the leg curls to increase hamstring size and strength, you improve your ability to use the hamstrings to assist the glutes.

Having stronger and bigger muscles is important for the potential for long-term strength gains as research shows that muscle mass is correlated with maximal strength performance among powerlifters.

Related Article: Can’t Feel Hamstrings In Romanian Deadlifts? Try These 5 Tips

2. Leg Curls Help With the Middle Range of Motion During Deadlifts

middle range Deadlift

Hamstrings help to stabilize the knees by stopping them from overextending during the midrange of the deadlift. The midrange of the deadlift is also when the hamstrings are at their longest muscle length.

During the execution of the initial range of motion of the deadlift, the quadriceps work hard to push the barbell off the floor and extend the knee. 

As the barbell approaches the knee, the knee extends and needs to go back so that the barbell can come up in a straight line to stay above the midfoot. This is important to keep the weight distribution balanced.

To stop the barbell and the knees from going too far back, the hamstrings are engaged to manage and counter the activity of the quadriceps. The leg curls would be useful for training the hamstrings for this purpose.

3. Leg Curls Can Help With the Deadlift Lockout

Deadlift Lockout

If you find that your deadlift lockout is weak, then you’ll want to strengthen both your glutes and hamstrings.  The glutes should be your main focus, but since both the glutes and hamstrings contribute to hip extension, you don’t want to neglect your hamstrings either.

Leg curls, particularly lying leg curls, would be ideal for training the hamstrings in a way to help the lockout. 

In addition, the hamstrings have a role in keeping your pelvis neutral in the lockout.  So training the hamstrings is a way that you can stop the lower back from over-extending.

4. Leg Curls Increase Repetition Work Capacity for Deadlifts

If hamstrings fatigue, they may struggle to consistently contribute their efforts to help the rest of the body during deadlifts. This may mean that technique may start to break down and reduce your capacity for more successful and complete repetitions.

So training the leg curls, particularly at higher repetitions and lower loads can help with improving repetition work capacity for deadlifts.

Improving work capacity will lead to the potential for more repetitions to be completed in training lending itself to potentially more deadlift gains afterward.

5. Leg Curls Can Reduce the Risk of Hamstring Injuries

Injured Hamstring

Hamstring strains are a common type of injury during deadlifts. Muscle strains occur when the tension being imposed is greater than the muscle’s tolerance. Leg curls can increase muscle strength to improve load tolerance.

To increase the muscle’s tolerance, the muscle should be trained for strength and muscle mass to make it more resilient to injury during lifting of heavy loads. This may be achieved through training a variety of rep ranges and intensities on the leg curls for the hamstrings. Anywhere between 6 to 15 repetitions is a good start for leg curls.

Related Article: Hamstrings Sore After Deadlifts: Is This Good or Bad?

Who Should Do Leg Curls for the Deadlift?

Leg Curl

Here are 3 types of people who should use leg curls to increase deadlift strength:

  • If you have a sticking point at mid-range
  • If you have recovered from a hamstring injury
  • If the barbell drifts forward in the bottom half of motion

Check out my complete guide on 18 Exercises That improve Deadlift Strength.

If You Have a Sticking Point at Mid-Range

If you have a sticking point around the middle range of deadlift motion from mid-shin to above the knees, then it would be useful to include leg curls in your program.

The middle range of motion in the deadlift is also when the hamstrings are in their longest range of motion, so a sticking point here can be improved by strengthening the hamstrings.

The variation you should choose for this one is the seated leg curl as this replicates a similar muscle length that you would be in during the deadlift. You should try going for 6 to 10 repetitions on this variation.

If you struggle with specific ranges of motion throughout the deadlift, check out:

If You Have Recovered From a Hamstring Injury

If you have just recovered from a hamstring injury, the hamstring tissue will be weaker compared to before the injury and the injury occurs because the hamstring could not tolerate the loading.

There will be a necessity to prioritize hamstring muscle mass building to recover some of the strength and also reduce the chances of the injury happening again.

A predictor of future injuries is also passed injuries. What you should do is start with low-load seated leg curls and perform them one leg at a time. The reason why you should do single-leg curls is so that the weaker hamstring can catch up with the strong hamstrings in terms of strength.

You should try going for 12 to 15 repetitions, to begin with, and leave plenty of repetitions in reserve and slowly progress the load week after week.

If the Barbell Drifts Forward in the Bottom Half of Motion

If the barbell drifts forward in the bottom half of deadlift motion when the barbell approaches the knees, your center of mass is moving forward and is no longer balanced across mid-foot. This may indicate a poor ability to load the hamstrings in a longer muscle length.

If your center of mass moves away from mid-foot, you risk losing balance during the exercise and also make the deadlift movement less efficient as you are also then likely to scrap the barbell across the shins and knees.

What the leg curls can do in this situation is to train the hamstrings through its longest muscle length so you can be better at moving the knees back out the way during the bottom half of the deadlift.

Who Should Not Do Leg Curls for the Deadlift?

Here are 2 reasons why you should not do leg curls for deadlifts:

  • If your hamstrings are currently injured
  • If your hips rise faster than your shoulders

If Your Hamstrings Are Currently Injured

If your hamstrings are currently injured, then what you need to do is to rest them until the pain has been alleviated. What you do not want to do is to elicit more stress on an injured muscle belly as this will delay the healing process.

As with any injuries, you should be seeking an appropriate medical professional or physical therapist for appropriate advice on the recovery process.

If Your Hips Rise Faster Than Your Shoulders

If your hips rise faster than your shoulders when you deadlift, it is an indication that you are loading your hip extensor muscles (glutes, hamstrings) more than you are your leg muscles (quads).

Training the hamstrings with exercises such as the leg curl would not help with this issue. What you need to focus on is being able to load the leg muscles more i.e. the quadriceps with exercises such as front squats or leg press.

Other resources to check out regarding your hip and back position in the deadlift: 

How Should Leg Curls Be Performed To Improve the Deadlift? (4 Variations)

Leg curls can be performed in different ways so here are 4 great variations to try, and what problems they can solve:

  • Machine Seated Leg Curls
  • Machine Lying Leg Curls
  • Machine Single Leg Curls
  • Dumbbell Leg Curls

Machine Seated Leg Curls

Machine seated leg curls use a Seated Leg Curl machine. This version of the leg curl exercise starts with you in a seated position with your hips flexed to 90 degrees roughly. The seated hamstring curl has been shown to be more superior to the prone lying leg curl in terms of gaining muscle mass.

This variation is best for those who:

  • Struggle with the mid-range for deadlifts
  • Those who want to build hamstring strength and mass

Machine Lying Leg Curls

The machine lying leg curl or prone leg curl uses a Lying Leg Curl Machine. This version starts with your body facing down and with your hips mildly flexed but almost straight.

This variation is best for those who:

  • Overextend their lower back

Machine Single Leg Curls

The machine single leg curl uses a Standing Leg Curl Machine, Lying Leg Curl Machine or Seated Leg Curl Machine. This version can start in different positions depending on what machine you have access to.

This variation is best for those who:

  • Have strength asymmetry in their legs
  • Have just recovered from a hamstring injury
  • Hip shift during their deadlift

Dumbbell Leg Curls

The dumbbell leg curl exercises require (1) a flat bench, and  (2) a dumbbell. This version of the leg curl exercise starts in a similar body position to the Machine Lying Leg Curl where the body is prone on a bench pad. The advantage of this variation is that it does not require a leg curl machine, and can provide the most tension when the hamstrings are most stretched out.

This variation is best for those who:

  • Do not have access to a gym
  • Are training at home
  • Have just recovered from a hamstring injury.

Sample Leg Curl Program for the Deadlift

Beginner Leg Curl Program For Deadlifts

Week 1

  • Leg Curls
  • 3 sets 8 reps
  • Light-moderate load OR 5 reps in reserve

Week 2

  • Leg Curls
  • 3 sets 10 reps
  • Same load as last week

Week 3

  • Leg Curls
  • 3 sets 11 reps
  • Same load as last week

Week 4

  • Leg Curls
  • 3 sets 12 reps
  • Same load as last week

Intermediate Leg Curl Program For Deadlifts

Week 1

  • Leg Curls
  • 3 sets 8 reps
  • Moderate load OR 4 reps in reserve

Week 2

  • Leg Curls
  • 4 sets 8 reps
  • Same load as last week

Week 3

  • Leg Curls
  • 3 sets 10 reps
  • Same load as last week

Week 4

  • Leg Curls
  • 4 sets 10 reps
  • Same load as last week

Other Hamstring Resources

Further Resources


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com