Strength Exercise Instruction: Leg Curl

Leg Curl Exercise. Neutral start position, by Wenzel Coaching

Lying, Seated or Standing Leg Curl

The leg curl that Wenzel Coaching includes in its lifting routine is intended to strengthen muscles, tendons and ligaments of the lower body. The primary muscles that are activated are the hamstrings. Secondary muscles are the gastrocnemius (calf), hip flexors (only in lying leg curl) and sartorius (abductors).

Ideally strength exercises simulate the body positions and range of motion of the sport for which you are preparing but no leg curl machine simulates riding particularly well even though hamstrings are very important in pedaling. The types of machines that Wenzel Coaching recommends you use for this exercise are Lying Leg Curl Machine (belly down), Standing Leg Curl Machine, or Seated Leg Curl Machine. Alternatively, you can use a cable machine that has a foot harness.

Hamstring leg curl instruction. Wenzel Coaching. Lying Leg Curl Machine

Lying Leg Curl Set Up

 Tip: Engage the core

Core stabilization is the basis of everything when lifting. Draw in your abdominal muscles. Then think of pulling up from your pelvic floor up to your rib cage (also known as bearing down), while simultaneously drawing the bellybutton to your spine. Imagine someone is about to punch you in the gut—that’s how firm your core should be.

  • Lie belly down on the bench so that the torso, hips and thighs are centered on the pads and not too far left or right.
  • Line up your knees with the axis of rotation of the machine. Your patellae should hang over the end of the thigh pad.
  • If ankle pad is adjustable, adjust so that it rests at the back of your ankles, just above the tops of your shoes.
  • Thighs, lower legs and feet are hip-width apart.
  • Hold the handles or torso pad with your hands.

Lying Leg Curl Upward Movement

  • Begin by flexing the knees.
  • Exhale as you flex the knees.
  • Keep legs and feet parallel. Don’t let your thighs shift inward or outward.
  • Keep the upper body and thighs still. Grasping the handles will help minimize unnecessary movement.
  • Do not use your upper body to move the weight.
  • Keep your hips on the bench during the entire movement.
  • Continue the movement until you reach the final position you’ve determined with the lighter weight.
  • See below for pacing.

Leg Curl Exercise. Fully flexed position, by Wenzel Coaching

Lying Leg Curl Downward Movement

  • Extend the knees to lower the heel pad slowly enough to maintain control. Don’t bang the weights.
  • Inhale as you lower the weight.
  • The pads should remain touching your torso, hips, thighs and lower leg through the entire movement.
  • You’ve reached the end of the movement when your legs are nearly straight. Avoid hyperextending the knee.

You should never feel pain in your knees while doing this exercise. If you do, reduce the weight and/or make sure your knees are in line with the axis of rotation of the machine. If that doesn’t clear up the problem, talk to your coach.

Seated Leg Curl Machine

Seated Leg Curl Set Up

  • Sit straight up in the seat with your back and hips pressed evenly on the pads.
  • Raise the thigh pad if you need to room to get in.
  • Extend your legs and place your lower calf or back of your ankles on the roller pad. If the roller pad is adjustable, adjust so that it is above the top of your shoe or on the lower part of the calf.
  • If the range of motion is adjustable, adjust so you have a slight knee bend rather than hyperextending your knees at the top.
  • Align your knees with the axis of rotation of the machine. If the back-support pad is adjustable, move it until your knees are at the axis of rotation of the machine. If the back pad is not adjustable, you may have to slide your butt forward a bit. If you have long thigh bones, you may not be able to get far enough back.
  • Thighs, lower legs and feet are hip-width apart.
  • Lower the thigh pad so it presses against your thighs near your knees.
  • Hold the handles or seat pad with your hands.

Seated Leg Curl Downward Movement

  • Keep legs and feet hip width apart while allowing the rolling pad to rise.
  • Exhale as you flex your knees from straight to bent.
  • Keep the upper body and thighs still. Grasping the handles will help minimize unnecessary movement.
  • The calves and thighs should remain in contact with the roller and pads at all times.
  • Continue the movement until you reach the final position you’ve determined with the lighter weight.
  • See below for pacing.

Seated Leg Curl Upward Movement

  • Inhale as you extend your knees at a controlled pace.
  • Keep legs and feet hip-width distance apart. Don’t let your thighs shift inward or outward.
  • Keep the upper body and thighs still. Grasping the handles will help minimize unnecessary movement.
  • Continue the movement until your knees are almost fully extended. Don’t over-extend your knees.
  • When done with the exercise, raise the thigh pad to step out of the machine.

 

Standing Leg Curl Machine

Standing Leg Curl start position.

Standing Leg Curl Set Up

  • Adjust the machine to fit your height. The axis of rotation of the machine should be at the same height as your knee joint. Facing forward, if your machine allows it, lean forward with your torso bent at the waist at about 30-45 degrees. This angled position is more favorable for hamstrings recruitment.
  • Keep the pad of the lever on the back of your leg, just at the top of your shoe or a little higher. Keep the front of the leg pressed against the thigh pad.
  • Keep the torso bent forward and hold the handles of the machine.
  • Position your toes straight. This is the starting position.

Standing Leg Curl Upward Movement

  • As you exhale, curl your leg up as far as you determined with the light weight without lifting the upper leg from the pad. Once you reach the fully contracted position, hold it for a second.

Standing Leg Curl flexed position.

Standing Leg Curl Downward Movement

  • While inhaling, bring the leg back to the initial position in a controlled fashion.
  • Complete the recommended repetitions with one leg before continuing with opposite leg.

Cable Standing Leg Curl Machine (Last choice option)

Cable Standing Leg Curl Set Up

  • Stand facing the cable pulley machine.
  • Select recommended weight. Attach foot harness to a low pulley.
  • With foot harness on one ankle or toe, grasp support bar with both hands, lean against it and step back with other foot to take the slack out of the cable.
  • Elbows remain straight or slightly bent to support body. Your harnessed foot is slightly off the floor.

Standing Leg Curl Upward Movement

  • Often a cable extension area will not have a front thigh pad so keep your hip straight by engaging your glutes during the lift.
  • Make your foot go straight back rather than to either side
  • Exhale as you pull cable attachment back by flexing knee as far as you determined with the lighter weight.

Cable Standing Leg Downward Movement

  • Inhale and return knee to original position by straightening knee. Avoid hyperextending the knee.
  • Complete the recommended repetitions with one leg before continuing with opposite leg.
Tip: Breathe

Don’t hold your breath. Inhale through pursed lips as you extend your legs. This keeps the core engaged. Exhale when flexing the legs (the up movement except on the seated machine) to bring the rollers to touch or come close to your gluteus muscles.

Pacing for All Leg Curl Lifts

  • Pacing will depend on your recent experience with this lift.
  • If you are new to the leg curl or have not done it consistently in the last few weeks, the pacing should be slow and controlled, perhaps two counts up and two counts down. (One-one thousand, two-one thousand)
  • If you have recently been doing leg curl two or more days per week for at least five weeks and you feel ready for it, you can do the lifting part of the movement explosively.
  • No matter how much experience you have with leg curl, the lowering phase should be done at a controlled pace to avoid knee or hamstring injury.

Talk to your coach if the weight, reps or sets don’t feel right. The number of reps and sets are meant to challenge you as you progress with the plan, but never should you feel pain during this lift. You should always be able to finish your sets with a steady rhythm. If you can’t, your coach can help you decide if slowing the tempo or reducing the weight will benefit you.

Coach Rhonda Morin, EMT, is a state cyclocross champion and national bronze medalist for master women. She is also a core and corrective exercise practitioner.

Sources: National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM); Bodybuilding.com; ExRx.net.

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