Hamstring work is an important but often neglected part of leg training. People tend to focus more on the quads due to the fact that they’re a “mirror muscle” and that they’re chiefly responsible for achieving a powerful extension of the leg, which is important for a wide range of sports such as running, cycling, football and basketball. However, a strong set of hamstrings not only ensures longevity where leg health is concerned, but can also have a direct impact on athletic performance.
The leg curl is an exercise favoured by many when it comes to isolating the hamstrings for hypertrophy. Since one of the primary functions of the hamstring is to flex the knee, adding resistance to the movement via a leg curl machine is one of the most standard approaches to increasing hamstring strength and muscle mass.
Unless you’re training at a commercial gym however, finding a leg curl machine may not be the easiest of tasks. If your fitness abode is something more akin to a garage/studio gym or a CrossFit box, chances are slim that they’d dedicate precious floor space to a machine that serves only one purpose. Valslides/slideboards and stability balls may not be always readily available either!
This variation of the leg curl requires only a solid utility bench and a dumbbell, and can be just as intense (if not more!) as a slideboard or stability ball curl. The other advantage is that the use of a dumbbell allows for a more linear rate of progression.
Location and equipment courtesy of TripleFit
Starting with a light dumbbell (5kg is a good starting point if you’re new to direct hamstring training – trust me), set it at leg’s length away from the back of the bench. Lie face-down on the bench length-wise with your hips hanging off the edge and grab either the edges of the bench or its leg with your hands. Secure the dumbbell with your feet in a “scissors-grip” – make sure that it’s not sliding back and forth! Squeeze your glutes to stabilise the hips and then flex at the knee to bring the dumbbell up and away from the floor. Once you reach the top of the movement, lower the dumbbell under control till your knee is just shy of a complete extension before executing the next repetition.
While the dumbbell hamstring curl is effective at addressing its target muscle, the glutes also get a fair workout by having to work isometrically to maintain an extended lower back. If the “hips off” version is too hard, it can always be scaled down by having the hips supported by the bench. Doing so will also allow more weight to be used. Hamstrings respond well to both lighter weights done for higher repetitions and heavier weights for fewer repetitions, so feel free to play around with different set/rep schemes to keep the growth coming!