Bodyweight alternatives to leg curls

Single-leg deadlift

The single-leg deadlift not only strengthens your posterior chain — including your hamstrings and glutes — but also challenges your balance.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet together. Put your weight into your right foot and, keeping your back and neck straight, start to hinge at the waist while keeping your right knee soft.
  2. While hinging forward, direct your left leg up and back as high as you can, stopping when your body forms a straight line from head to toe. Your hips should stay square to the floor throughout the movement.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position and complete the desired number of reps. Repeat on the other leg.

Single-leg bridge

An effective move for advanced exercisers, the single-leg version of the glute bridge targets your glutes and hamstrings in a serious way.

Focusing on full hip extension — driving your hips up — will ensure you’re getting the most out of the move.

How to do it:

  1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor, and arms down at your sides. Straighten your right leg so it extends at a 45-degree angle from the floor.
  2. Inhale and, keeping your leg extended, push up through your left heel, using your glute and hamstring to raise your butt as far as you can off the floor.
  3. Pause, and then slowly return to the starting position. Complete the desired number of reps, and then switch legs.

Nordic curl

Normally a Nordic hamstring curl is done with a partner who holds your ankles or with a piece of equipment that provides counter-resistance to your body. Try using your couch instead to make this exercise at-home-workout friendly.

How to do it:

  1. Face away from your couch and kneel on the floor, placing a cushion under your knees for padding.
  2. Slip your feet, with the tops facing down, underneath the couch so you can use its weight as a counterbalance.
  3. Slowly allow your torso to drop forward, feeling your hamstrings work to hold you back.
  4. Once your hamstrings can no longer hold you, fall forward in a controlled motion into a pushup.
  5. Push back up to the starting position.
Leg curl alternatives using equipment

Good morning

Isolate your hamstrings with a good morning. It’s better to start out with a light weight here until you’ve mastered the movement, since your lower back will take the brunt of bad form.

How to do it:

  1. Load a barbell onto your shoulders and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Inhale and, keeping your knees soft, hinge at the hips, slowly dropping your torso toward the floor and sending your butt backward. Keep your chest proud and your gaze ahead.
  3. Lower as far as you can, but stop when your torso is parallel to the floor. Return to the starting position.

Hip thrust

Similar to a glute bridge but performed off of an elevated surface and with added weight, the hip thrust targets your glutes but also works your hamstrings.

How to do it:

  1. Sitting on an elevated surface like a bench, place a dumbbell or plate on your hips.
  2. Scoot your back down against the bench with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Your legs should form a 90-degree angle, and the bench should be positioned right below your shoulder blades. Your body, from shoulders to knees, should form a fairly straight line.
  3. Keeping your chin tucked and your feet stationary, lower your butt toward the floor while holding the weight for stability.
  4. Once you can’t lower any more, push up through your heels until your thighs are parallel to the floor again. Contract your glutes at the top, and then return to the starting position.

Stability ball hamstring curl

Add a targeted core element to this hamstring burner by using a stability ball to execute a hamstring curl. This move is best suited for more advanced exercisers, as it requires quite a bit of whole-body strength.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with your feet up on a stability ball and your hands down at your sides.
  2. Using your posterior chain, press your body up off the floor so your body forms a straight line between your upper back and feet.
  3. Inhale and pull the ball toward your butt with your feet, using your hamstrings as the main mover.
  4. Exhale and push the ball back out. Ensure that your core stays strong and your hips don’t sag.

Barbell deadlift

Touted as the king of strength exercises, the barbell deadlift works your posterior chain — including your glutes, hamstrings, rhomboidstraps, and core — in a super effective way.

How to do it:

  1. Position yourself right behind a barbell on the floor. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keeping your back straight, hinge at your waist, slightly bend your knees, and grip the barbell just outside your shins. Roll your shoulders down and back.
  3. Inhale and pull the barbell up to waist level by straightening your legs.
  4. Once your legs are straight, start to hinge at the hips, bending your knees and returning the barbell to the starting position.

Kettlebell swing

An exercise that’s dedicated to developing power, the kettlebell swing is a whole-body move that targets your hamstrings — great as a substitute for a leg curl.

How to do it:

  1. Stand behind a kettlebell on the floor.
  2. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees slightly to reach the handle, holding it with both hands. Keep your chest up, back straight, and neck neutral.
  3. With straight arms, push the kettlebell back between your legs, and then drive your hips forward, using the force of your glutes and hamstrings to push the kettlebell up until your arms are parallel to the floor. Follow the kettlebell with your gaze.
  4. Allow the kettlebell to return to its starting position between your legs with one fluid movement, again hinging at your hips and slightly bending your knees.
Tips to get the most from leg curl alternatives

To develop your hamstrings, aim for 3 sets of 12 reps of each exercise to start. One or 2 days per week of dedicated hamstring work should produce results in just a few months.

Remember to constantly challenge yourself with the amount of resistance or number of reps to ensure you don’t plateau — the last rep should be a struggle.

The bottom line

If leg curls aren’t in your exercise library, there are a handful of alternatives that will isolate and strengthen your hamstrings in quite the same way. Many of these exercises will help develop accompanying muscles in your lower body as well — more bang for your buck!