This popular leg exercise is usually performed on a machine at the gym. It works the hamstrings (the backs of your thighs) and also challenges your calf and lower back muscles. You know the drill: You lie down on your stomach, hook the back of your lower legs around a lever attached to a weight stack and pull the weight toward your butt, attempting to bring your heels as close to your glute muscles as possible. It burns, but in such a good way!
But you can also execute this simple yet effective, no-impact exercise at home, and it's easier to do than you think. Ready to give the lying leg curl a try? All you need is a single dumbbell and a few simple instructions.
How to Do the Lying Leg Curl
The lying leg curl engages many of your leg muscles, including the quads, glutes, hip flexors and hamstrings, says Tony Carvajal, a certified CrossFit trainer with RSP Nutrition. You'll also engage your adductors, or inner thighs, as you squeeze the dumbbell tightly with your feet.
Choose a lighter dumbbell than you think you’ll need — at least until you’re comfortable with the exercise. It'll take some finesse to get the hang of gripping the dumbbell with your feet, and you'll have an easier time getting started if the weight is on the lighter side.
- Place the dumbbell on the floor, standing on one end. Lie down on the floor on your stomach with your legs straight and feet close to the dumbbell. Place your feet on either side of the dumbbell's handle.
- Squeeze the dumbbell between your feet and bend your knees to lift it off the floor. The top weight on the dumbbell will rest on the bottom of your feet.
- Bend your knees slowly up toward your butt, keeping the bottoms of your feet facing the ceiling throughout the movement. Slowly lower the weight back down. Stop just before the dumbbell touches the floor, and then repeat.
Perfect Your Form
When placing the dumbbell between your ankles to do the lying leg curl, make sure that your toes are pointed straight, Carvajal says. "You should be squeezing all of your muscles from the core down to your calves," he explains. Control the movement and engage all those muscles, including the dominant quads.
Avoid hitching your hips up as you bend your knees to pull the weight toward your seat. Ensure you have a good (foot) grip on the dumbbell before you initiate the movement, too. It'll definitely get your attention should you drop the weight mid-exercise, which could result in an unnecessary injury.
Perform the exercise lying on a flat bench if you'd like to ramp things up at the bottom of the movement; the bench allows you to straighten your legs completely, making the curl harder.
Lying Leg Curl Modifications
If using a dumbbell is too challenging, you can make the lying leg curl easier by using a resistance band instead. Carvajal suggests connecting the band to the bottom of your bench (or some sturdy furniture nearby) and wrapping it around your ankles.
Alternatively, you can perform the exercise without any weight. "If you feel as if the dumbbell or band is too intense, remove the weight and perform the same movement focusing on squeezing all your muscles while doing as many reps as possible until burnout," Carvajal says.
Or, you can switch up the move entirely. One option is a supine leg curl using a stability ball. Lie on your back with your feet on the ball. Raise your hips and bend your knees to pull the ball toward you. Extend your legs to complete one repetition.