If your leg day is starting to make you yawn, and you’re looking for a new leg exercise, adding in the lying leg curl could be the perfect way to spice up leg day!
Today, we’ll dive in to:
- How to Identify a Lying Leg Curl Machine
- How to Perform a Lying Leg Curl
- Common Mistakes When Performing a Lying Leg Curl
- What Muscles Are Worked During a Lying Leg Curl?
- Similar Exercises to the Lying Leg Curl
All right, hold on to your hamstrings! We’re diving in.
How to Identify a Lying Leg Curl Machine
Okay so first, disclaimer: not every gym has a lying leg curl machine. It can be a bit of a specialty machine, and it’s really only designed just for one unique exercise: the lying leg curl!
So before you do anything, you’ll wanna check to make sure your gym actually has a lying leg curl machine. You can identify it by the following features:
Leg Pad: Just like a regular leg curl machine, you won’t miss the padded leg support or roller at the far end of the machine. This is the telltale sign of a leg machine.
Padded Bench: Also similar to a regular leg curl machine, you’ll see a padded bench on the lying leg curl machine; however, this bench is not designed for you to sit your behind in it. Instead, you’ll be chilling out and lying down on your stomach.
The bench for a lying leg curl machine has a longer section for your stomach and abdomen. Then, the bench bends slightly, providing a smaller section for your thighs. The leg roller will be just beyond the smaller section of the padded bench.
Handles: Most lying leg curl machines have handles that you can grip toward the front of the machine.
How to Perform a Lying Leg Curl
Now that you checked your gym to see if you have a lying leg curl machine, you’re ready to master your form and become a pro at the lying leg curl.
I get it. It’s always hard the first time you try out a new machine, but today, I’ll give you the full scoop–everything you need to know about how to perform a lying leg curl, so you can walk toward that lying leg curl machine with a pep in your step and a confident look in your eyes!
All right, you may have your “cool gym walk” down, but once you get to the machine, you need to know how to do it. Here’s the deal:
1. Lie face down on the bench – on your stomach.
2. Don't get too comfy. You may need to make a few adjustments here. Your knees should be just below the smaller bench for your thighs–not on the bench. Also, you’ll need to adjust the position of the leg pad, so it hits you just above your ankles.
3. Now that you’re all adjusted, hook your feet under the roller pad–just above your ankles.
4. Before you even get started, you’ll want to engage your hamstrings–tensing them up slightly, so the weight is off the stack.
5. Curl the weight up towards your butt–as far as possible. Squeeze your hamstrings as you perform this motion.
6. In a slow, controlled motion, lower the weight back down–keeping your hamstrings squeezed super tight as you return to the starting position.
7. Repeat till exhaustion: 6-10 reps is ideal.
What Muscles Are Worked During a Lying Leg Curl?
The lying leg curl is an isolation exercise, meaning it focuses on a singular muscle group and a single joint. This is different than compound exercises, which tend to engage multiple muscle groups and joints at the same time.
I like to view isolation exercises kind of like add-ons to a workout set of compound exercises. While compound exercises are generally better because you get more bang for your buck with the exercise, isolation exercises can really give you that extra push with a specific muscle you’re targeting.
In the case of the lying leg curl, the muscle you’re working is the hamstring–fondly known as the hammy.
What is the Hamstring?
The “string” part of the name here might be deceiving because these muscles are anything but strings. When we talk about hamstrings, we’re actually referring to three different muscles that can be found in the back of the thighs. These muscles are no joke: they’re super strong, and we use them for a ton of daily tasks. 
First, let’s break down the three distinct muscles:
This muscle is called the “bicep” for a reason. It’s just like the bicep muscle in your arm…except…you guessed it…for your legs.
Compared to the other two muscles in the hamstring, this muscle is closer to the outer side of the thigh, and it is attached to the sit bone and the back of the thigh bone. Anytime you bend your knee or extend your hip, your biceps femoris gets involved. 
Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus
These guys work together and are fairly inseparable, so I didn’t want to break them apart. Both located on the inner part of the back of the thigh, they are made up of very strong tendon-like tissue.
What Do Hamstrings Do?
While lying leg curls may be an isolation exercise–working out just the hamstrings–it is important to note that hamstrings are responsible for a ton of stuff. They’re totally worth the extra attention. Here are some of their responsibilities:
Knee Flexion: As I already mentioned, anytime you bend your knee–whether kicking a ball, riding a bike, or performing a squat–your hamstrings enable you to do so.
Hip Extension: When you extend your hip by movements such as standing up, running, or pushing off when starting a race, you’re able to do this because of the hammies.
Pelvis Stabilization: Hamstrings work with other muscles in the body to stabilize the pelvis, ultimately contributing to better posture.
Deceleration: Hamstrings help you slow your roll–quite literally. Whenever you’re walking or running, it’s your hamstrings that stop your legs from hyperextending too far.
So, when you hit the mile marker on the treadmill, and you can finally lower that speed–it’s your hamstrings that help you slow your run down to that relieving after-run walk.
Benefits of Performing a Lying Leg Curl
So now that you’re sold that hamstrings are worth their weight in gold, here are some benefits of working them out and learning how to do lying leg curls:
Athletic Performance: If you’re looking to enhance your athletic performance, lying leg curls will be your friend: since they target the hamstrings, you'll find yourself with stronger legs for all your sporting needs, especially sprinting. The stronger your hamstrings, the faster you’ll be able to run.
Injury Prevention: Lying leg curls help prevent potential injuries to your hamstrings by working to strengthen them. This means you’ll find yourself less fatigued through daily activities, such as walking, running, lifting, and yard work.
Lower Back Support: Since hamstrings help you develop better posture, this ultimately leads to reducing the chances of getting lower back injuries when you work your hamstrings out through exercises, such as the lying leg curl.
Aesthetics: Many people want to build stronger hamstrings to enhance the appearance of their legs. Whether you’re looking for just a little more muscle tone–or really bulking up your thighs–lying leg curls can aid in your journey to better-looking legs that’ll turn all the heads at the beach.
Common Mistakes When Performing a Lying Leg Curl
Allowing the Pelvis to Lift During the Lying Leg Curl
The easiest way to cheat when performing a lying leg curl is by allowing your pelvis to lift off the padded bench slightly, sticking your butt up in the air. This causes lumbar extension and potential lower back injuries.
I remember committing this mistake myself, and my personal trainer gave me two helpful hints for how to do a lying leg curl with good form:
Imagine pushing your thighs into the bench: If, as you lift the weight, you envision your thighs pushing straight down into the bench, this helps prevent your pelvis from rising up and off the bench. This visual helped me switch up my form, avoiding any injury to my lower back.
Engage your lats as you grab the handles: Grab the handles of the lying leg curl machine like you mean it. If you do this, you’ll engage your lats, which also gives you a stable stance on the bench, preventing your pelvis from lifting.
Too Much Weight During a Lying Leg Curl
You can go heavy with the weight on a lying leg curl, but not so heavy that you cannot bring your feet as far up towards your butt as they can go. As soon as you start going lower, you no longer optimize the full muscle contraction of the hamstrings.
Not Bringing the Weight Down Slowly During a Lying Leg Curl
A lot of people allow the weight to come down way too fast. With a slower, more controlled motion, you’re allowing the hamstrings to engage during a lying leg curl.
Lying Leg Curl Variations
When you perform a regular lying leg curl, you engage all three hamstring muscles. However, with a few slight variations, you can target outer or inner thigh muscles. Here's how to do lying leg curl variations:
Legs Closer / Toes In: When you bring your legs closer together and point your toes in rather than keeping your feet straight as you would during a regular lying leg curl, you’ll target your inner hamstring muscles.
Legs Wider / Toes Out: And likewise, by widening your legs on the roller pad and pointing your toes out, you’ll target the outer hamstring muscles specifically.
Single-Leg Variation: Using the lying leg curl machine one leg at a time is a great way to switch it up and ensure equal strength across both of your hamstrings.
You’ll find that the single-leg variation is extra challenging, and you’ll probably want to use at least half the weight you normally use for a regular lying leg curl.
How Can You Stretch Your Hamstrings Before a Lying Leg Curl?
Okay, so you’re sold on using a lying leg curl. You found a lying leg curl machine at your gym. You confidently know how to do a lying curl.
Why not give those hamstrings a stretch before you head to the gym?
In my opinion, the best hamstring stretch you can get is through the Elephant Walk. Not only does it light up your hamstrings, but it also helps stretch your lower back, providing lower back pain relief.
You can watch a helpful video on how to perform an Elephant Walk here:
But let’s get into the basic steps:
- Tuck in your belly, bracing your core.
- Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears.
- Now, bend over, allowing your hands to touch the floor. Your core should be parallel to the ground.
- Alternating legs, straighten one leg at a time–putting your whole body into the motion of straightening your leg, and allowing the opposite leg to remain slightly bent. This motion is called flossing.
- Repeat for 40 reps–20 each leg.
Flexible Back 2.0
If you’re a fan of the Elephant Walk, let me recommend our lower back flexibility program–Flexible Back 2.0. This is a loosening, 3-week regimen that will guide you through powerful stretching routines in the morning and evening.
The Elephant Walk is just one of the many great stretches found in this program.
And trust me, the stretches in Flexible Back 2.0 will carry you through the day feeling flexible, pain-free, and spry!
The QL Claw
I’d also recommend checking out our at-home, deep tissue massage tool, the QL Claw. The QL Claw will come in clutch for you as you work out, allowing you to get relief from any lower back pain resulting from the daily grind.
The QL Claw provides relief from lower back and glute pain, and its innovative, claw design literally targets your pain points. With the QL Claw, you’ll feel empowered to take care of any lower back pain–all from home and without being dependent on someone else.
 Davies, Clair, and Amber Davies. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. 3rd ed., New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2013.