The hamstrings are easily one of the most neglected muscle groups in the entire body. Most trainees just tack on a couple sets of leg curls at the end of their workouts. This is a huge mistake!
If you want to develop big, strong hamstrings muscles then you must learn the art and science of hamstrings training. This article will set you on the right track with the 21 greatest leg curl tips of all time!
- Tip #1: Train The Hamstrings For Structural Balance!
- Tip #2: Train Leg Curls For A Bigger Squat And Deadlift!
- Tip #3: You Must Use PERFECT Form On Leg Curl Machines!
- Tip #4: Superset Hamstring Curls With Squats For Healthier Knees!
- Tip #5: The Hamstrings Are Primarily A Fast-Twitch Muscle!
- Tip #6: Stretch The Quads In-Between Sets Of Leg Curls!
- Tip #7: Unilateral Leg Curls Are Superior To Bilateral Leg Curls
- Tip #8: Vary Your Leg Curl Machines!
- Tip #9: Train All Three Hamstrings Muscles!
- Tip #10: Train For Structural Balance Between The Medial And Lateral Hamstrings!
- Tip #11: Plantarflex Your Toes To Maximize Motor Unit Recruitment Of The Hamstrings!
- Tip #12: Use The Poliquin Method To Eccentrically Overload The Hamstrings!
- Tip #13: Use The 2/1 Method To Perform Supra-Maximal Eccentric Training!
- Tip #14: Make Your Sets Last Between 20-30 Seconds For Maximum Hypertrophy!
- Tip #15: Use Tri-Sets To Blast Through Hypertrophy Plateaus!
- Tip #16: Use Origin-Insertion Supersets To Blast Through Hamstring Hypertrophy Plateaus!
- Tip #17: Use Partials Reps In The Lengthened Position After Reaching Failure!
- Tip #18: Use Yielding Isometrics To Beef Up Your Hamstrings!
- Tip #19: Make Your Sets Last Between 1-20 Seconds For Optimal Strength Gains!
- Tip #20: You Must Use Multiple Sets Of Low Reps To Get Stronger Hamstrings!
- Tip #21: Break Strength Plateaus With Eccentric Training!
In this article I am going to teach you everything you need to know on how to use leg curls to build big, strong hamstrings.
The leg curls have two primary functions: flexing the knee and extending the hips. This article is going to focus on the knee flexion function of the hamstrings.
If you want to learn more about hip extension articles then you may want to check my article on training the spinal erectors. Many of the same concepts apply.
I have included many sample training routines in this article to help illustrate the training concepts discussed. If you have any trouble reading these training routines then please consult my article on how to read a training program.
You don’t know how lucky you are – you’re about to get a master class in hamstrings training for size and strength.
Now let’s get down to business…
Tip #1: Train The Hamstrings For Structural Balance!
Leg curls get a bad rap by many “functional fitness” trainers.
This is a shame, as the distal hamstrings (portion of the hamstrings closer to the knee) play a critical role in overall lower body structural balance.
And this is the exact part of the hamstrings that leg curls train!
Let me explain.
One of the most devastating injuries an athlete or weight trainee can experience is tearing or “blowing out” their ACL.
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is a ligament located inside the knee joint that helps to stabilize the knee during athletic movements.
When your knee is placed under more stress than the ACL can handle, it tears.
A lot of research goes into trying to figure out how to prevent ACL tears as they are so devastating when they occur. It turns out that training progressively on leg curls is one of the best preventative strategies!
This is because the distal hamstrings perform the same basic function as the ACL: they prevent anterior translation of the tibia (lower leg bone) on the femur (upper leg bone).
This means that if you are super strong on leg curls, then your risk of injuring your ACL drops dramatically!
Of course, the single most important factor in preventing an ACL tear is strengthening the vastus medialis muscle. But getting strong on leg curls will also help you to keep you knees healthy over the long run.
Tip #2: Train Leg Curls For A Bigger Squat And Deadlift!
Almost all machines are absolutely worthless for athletes. Read that again: they are absolutely worthless for an athletic population!
And when I say athletes I am including strength athletes such as powerlifters and strongmen competitors.
Any bodybuilders reading this article can skip this first tip as it does not apply to you. Bodybuilders don’t care at all about athletic performance – they just want to look good!
The scientific literature and real-world experience has shown over and over again that machines DO NOT carry over to free-weight exercises or real-world athletic tasks.
If you are trying to use a leg press machine to improve your squat or a shoulder machine to improve your overhead press, then you are wasting your time!
There are two exceptions to this rule: the leg curl and the reverse hyper.
Both the leg curl and the reverse hyper HAVE been shown to improve athletic performance in real-world activities. This includes free-weight exercises such as the squat and deadlift.
This makes leg curls an extremely valuable exercise!
The take-away here is that leg curls are a warranted exercise if you are a powerlifter or strongman competitor. Leg curls can help you improve your long-term performance on squats, deadlifts, and other lower body exercises.
I highly recommend you spend some time training progressively on the various leg curl machines if you are at least a few months away from your next competition.
They do little to help your squats and deadlifts in the short-run but in the long-run they can make a big difference.
Tip #3: You Must Use PERFECT Form On Leg Curl Machines!
Watching most trainees perform machine leg curls is like watching a chimpanzee procreate with a cactus.
As soon as the set begins their hips and shoulders start flying all over the place.
While these trainees may be working hard they are definitely not working smart. In fact their hamstrings have very little to grow bigger or stronger as the quality of the training stimulus is just too low.
When you are performing isolation exercises it is absolutely CRITICAL that you isolate the working muscle as much as possible!
With leg curls this means keeping every part of your body EXCEPT the knees and lower legs COMPLETELY still!
Your hips should not be coming up off the seat, and your upper body should be completely still.
The more you jerk your body around or use “body English” to get the weight moving, the less you are recruiting the hamstrings muscles.
And isn’t recruiting the hamstrings muscles the entire point of hamstring curls?
I don’t care if you are doing hamstring curls seated, standing, or lying down.
I don’t care if you train them with your toes pointed in or out, or with fast or slow tempos.
I also don’t care if you train them primarily for size or strength, in a hat or with a fox, or while eating green eggs and ham.
You bottom-line is you must make sure you are ONLY using your hamstrings during leg curls!
Tip #4: Superset Hamstring Curls With Squats For Healthier Knees!
I learned this tip from Charles Poliquin.
One of the best ways to improve the health of your knees is to alternate one set of leg curls with one set of squats.
For example, you could perform a set of back squats, rest 90 seconds, perform a set of lying leg curls, rest 90 seconds, and perform another set of back squats etc.
Performing leg curls early in your leg workout like this really pumps your knees full of blood and gives some “cushion” to your knees.
If you are an older lifter with banged-up knees then you will LOVE this tip.
In reality both methods work well. Which one you choose depends on the overall structure of your training routine.
Tip #5: The Hamstrings Are Primarily A Fast-Twitch Muscle!
According to muscle biopsies (where they stick a large needle into someone’s muscle and take a tiny muscle sample) 98% of people have fast-twitch hamstrings!
And this is in a general population where most people’s idea of a workout is getting up off the couch to grab another bag of chips.
In an athletic or weight-training population this number is probably even higher as these activities tend to attract individuals gifted with more fast-twitch muscle fibers.
What does this mean for you? When training the hamstrings with leg curls you should the vast majority of your sets in the 1-8 rep range.
Actually, performing more than 8 reps on leg curls is almost a waste of time! The hamstrings barely have any lower-threshold motor units so why would you waste valuable time and recovery ability trying to train them?
Still, you will likely see a dramatic improvement in your rate of progress if you focus the bulk of your time training leg curls in the 1-8 rep range when your goal is hypertrophy.
When your goal is maximum hypertrophy sets of 4-8 reps on leg curls tend to work best. On the other hand sets of 1-5 reps tend to work best when your primary goal is increased strength.
The bottom line is you have to know a muscle’s fiber type to train it properly and the hamstrings as knee flexors are about as fast-twitch as they get.
So train accordingly!
Tip #6: Stretch The Quads In-Between Sets Of Leg Curls!
This tip is designed to maximize motor unit recruitment in the hamstrings during leg curls.
Any time you activate a muscle group your body will simultaneously activate the antagonistic muscle group.
Your antagonistic muscles are acting as your body’s natural “brakes” in this mechanism to prevent you from applying dangerous levels of force.
The antagonistic muscle group won’t be firing as hard the agonist but it will be active to some degree.
This is just your body’s way of trying to prevent injury. It cares more about keeping you healthy than it does setting lifetime PR’s in the gym. Your body is basically a big jerk, isn’t it!
The problem is your body tends to OVER-REACT in this regard and activate your antagonistic muscle groups too much.
A simple tip to “turn off” your quad muscles during leg curls is to stretch them in-between sets of leg curls!
The idea is rather straightforward: you perform a set of leg curls, then stretch your quads while you rest, then perform another set of leg curls.
By stretching your quads they naturally start to relax and will be less active during your next set of leg curls. This increases the number of motor units you can recruit in your hamstrings. Talk about a home run!
This tip works best when you are training hamstrings on their own day seperate from quads, or if you train hamstrings last in your workout after first training the quads.
If you stretch your quads prior to squatting then your squatting performance will probably suffer.
Tip #7: Unilateral Leg Curls Are Superior To Bilateral Leg Curls
When I say unilateral leg curls, I am talking about performing a leg curl with only one leg at a time. The other leg simply rests until the set is over, at which point you would switch legs.
Why would anyone want to perform leg curls one leg at a time? The reason is simple:
Unilateral leg curls recruit more motor units per leg than bilateral leg curls! This has been repeatedly demonstrated in the scientific literature including multiple electromyography studies.
This means you are actually recruiting and fatiguing more muscle fibers with unilateral leg curls than bilateral leg curls! How cool is that?
As you may know from my other articles, the more motor units an exercise recruits, the more effective it is.
This means that, all other things being equal, unilateral leg curls are superior to bilateral leg curls!
Of course, this does not mean bilateral leg curls are worthless.
However, as a general rule of thumb, favor unilateral leg curls over bilateral leg curls for more rapid strength and size gains in the hamstrings!
#8: Vary Your Leg Curl Machines!
Most quality commercial gyms will have three different hamstring curl machines:
- The standing leg curl machine
- The seated leg curl machine
- The lying leg curl machine
Let’s take a look at each one.
Here is the kneeling leg curl machine:
Here is the seated leg curl machine:
And here is the lying leg curl machine:
Each of these machines has their advantages and disadvantages. They all recruit a different portion of the hamstrings motor unit pool and therefore they all deserve a place in your long-term programming.
The bottom line is for best results you should rotate between all three of these leg curl machines!
For example, you could use the standing leg curl machine for 2 weeks, the seated leg curl machine for 2 weeks, and the lying leg curl machine for 2 weeks.
Some of you may be wondering which machine is THE BEST out of these three.
While I would never restrict myself to just one leg curl machine, the kneeling leg curl machine does the best job of recruiting the hamstrings muscles.
The main benefit of this particular leg curl machine is that it places a huge stretch on the hamstrings at both the hip and knee joints.
I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
The bottom line is that all three major leg curl machines are warranted exercises. For optimal results you should rotate between these machines at regular, pre-determined intervals (once every 2-4 weeks is a great place to start).
Tip #9: Train All Three Hamstrings Muscles!
Many people aren’t aware of this but there are actually three seperate hamstrings muscles:
- The Biceps Femoris
- The Semitendinous
- The Semimembraneous
The biceps femoris is located on the lateral side of posterior thigh while the semitendinous and semimembraneous are located on the medial side of your thigh.
It is incredibly important to understand your hamstrings anatomy because you can specifically target each of these muscles by changing the angle of your feet on leg curls!
No, I am not suggesting that you can fully “isolate” any one of these three muscles. However it is possible to shift the emphasis onto one of these heads.
This is no different from shifting emphasis to the long head or lateral head of the triceps brachii etc.
The biceps femoris is located on the lateral side of the back of your thigh. It is recruited the most when your toes are pointed laterally during leg curls.
The Semitendinosus is one of the medial hamstrings. It is recruited the most when your toes are pointed straight ahead during leg curls.
Finally, the Semimembraneous is the other medial hamstrings muscle. Unlike the semitendinous, the semimembraneous is most strongly recruited when the toes are pointed medially during leg curls.
Most people exclusively use the “toes pointed straight ahead” foot orientation during leg curls, so the semitendinous is often overdeveloped relative to the other hamstrings muscles.
This is a huge mistake and can significantly harm your long-term training progress. That would be like performing endless sets for your anterior deltoids while completely neglecting your posterior deltoids.
The bottom line is that you must be conscious of the relationship between your foot orientation during leg curls and recruitment patterns for the three hamstrings muscles. Of course things brings me to my next tip…
Tip #10: Train For Structural Balance Between The Medial And Lateral Hamstrings!
It’s no secret that I am a huge advocate of training for optimal structural balance.
In my experience one of the most common reasons people get injured or otherwise fail to progress as quickly as they should is piss-poor structural balance levels.
In my many years of coaching clients, I have NEVER worked with a first-time client who had zero muscular imbalances when he first came to me!
Structural balance is a massive topic and it would be beyond the scope of this article to cover it in depth here. However, what I can do is teach you a very simple tip to test for muscular imbalances within the hamstrings muscles.
I learned the following tip from Charles Poliquin.
Hop on a leg curl machine of your choice and set the resistance to your estimated 6-rep max.
You are going to perform one set to failure with your feet pointed straight ahead.
As you hit muscular failure your toes will naturally rotate medially or laterally to help you complete the set.
If your toes rotate medially on your last rep then you know your lateral hamstrings are too weak and you need to emphasize leg curls with your toes pointed laterally for a while.
On the other hand, if your toes rotate laterally on your last rep then your medial hamstrings are too weak and you need to focus on performing leg curls with your toes pointed medially for a while.
Trust me, this simple structural balance assessment is well worth the time investment.
If you are smart enough to use this information your hamstrings development will reach new heights!
Tip #11: Plantarflex Your Toes To Maximize Motor Unit Recruitment Of The Hamstrings!
As you may already know the more you isolate the target muscle during isolation exercises the better. Of course using perfect form is one way to more effectively isolate the hamstrings during leg curls.
Of course there are other methods as well. One such method involves plantarflexing the toes throughout the entire exercise!
When I say plantarflex, I am talking about pointing your toes away from your shins.
The reason this increases motor unit recruitment in the hamstrings is a little complicated.
As it turns out the hamstrings are NOT the only muscle group that flexes (bends) the knee! In reality the gastrocnemius (the upper calf muscle) also helps with flexing the knee.
But the gastrocs ONLY help your hamstrings when your toes are dorsiflexed (pointing towards your shin).
When your toes are plantarflexed, the gastrocnemius “taps out” and leaves the hamstrings to do all the work on leg curls. This means your body will recruit more motor units to get the job done when you plantarflex your toes.
The take-home point is that plantarflexing your toes during leg curls will allow you to recruit and fatigue even more muscle fibers in the hamstrings!
Tip #12: Use The Poliquin Method To Eccentrically Overload The Hamstrings!
Here is another training tip I picked up from Charles Poliquin.
If you want to eccentrically overload your hamstrings during leg curls, then the Poliquin Method is one of the best ways to do it.
The Poliquin method involves dorsiflexing your toes during the concentric range of the exercise and plantarflexing your toes during the eccentric range.
The gastrocnemius (upper calf) muscle assists with knee flexion when the ankles are dorsiflexed, but NOT when the ankles are plantarflexed.
With the Poliquin method your gastrocs are assisting the hamstrings during the concentric range of leg curls. However, the gastrocs tap out during the eccentric range leaving the hamstrings to perform 100% of the work.
Guess what? This means the Poliquin Method on leg curls lets you eccentrically overload the hamstrings! How cool is that?
There are of course some drawbacks to this method. Like most forms of eccentric training the Poliquin method on leg curls is rather taxing to the neuromuscular system.
For example, you may find that you have a more difficult time recovering from 6 sets of leg curls with the Poliquin method than you do 6 sets of traditional leg curls.
There are many strategies that you can employ to circumvent this problem.
For example, you may want to perform slightly fewer sets of leg curls using the Poliquin Method. If you normally perform 10 sets of leg curls in a workout then you may find 8 sets with this method is plenty.
Another option would be to utilize the Poliquin Method only every other workout. This would give you more time to fully recover from the enhanced eccentric stress.
For example, here is what your training might look like if you train legs twice per week using an upper body / lower body split:
- Monday (week 1): Poliquin Method leg curls
- Friday (week 1): Traditional leg curls
- Monday (week 2): Poliquin Method leg curls
- Friday (week 2): Traditional leg curls
- Monday (week 3): Poliquin Method leg curls
- Friday (week 3): Traditional leg curls
On week four you may want to switch to a different routine where all of the loading parameters are varied including the choice and order of exercises, methods and modes of contraction, sets, reps, tempo, and rest intervals.
Varying all of the loading parameters every 2-4 weeks is critical for optimal long-term progress.
Of course some trainees will need to vary workouts more often than this, while others can stick with the same routine for much longer.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons I consistently deliver superior results for my clients. Very few coaches in the fitness industry understand the importance of varying all of the loading parameters at precise pre-determined intervals!
Tip #13: Use The 2/1 Method To Perform Supra-Maximal Eccentric Training!
The 2/1 method is a more “extreme” version of eccentric training than the Poliquin Method.
I talk about it quite a bit in my article on eccentric training methods. The idea is simple: you are going to lift a load concentrically with two limbs and then lower it back down eccentrically using one limb.
This training method is a viable option with many exercises and body parts. However, I find it is particularly effective for overloading the hamstrings on all types of leg curls.
Be warned: this is an extremely demanding training method!
The amount of muscular damage that you can on leg curls with the 2/1 method absolutely dwarfs that of the Poliquin method.
The results you can expect from the 2/1 method on leg curls are simply unbelievable. However, there is a dark side to this superior training method.
The 2/1 method places EXTREMELY high demands on the musculo-skeletal system.
You need to have at least 2 years of hardcore training experience under your belt before you can even THINK about using this training method!
I don’t care how macho or alpha you think you are. If you have been training for less than 2 years then you have no business doing this method.
It takes about 2 years to build up enough strength in your connective tissue to handle this kind of training stress.
Don’t worry, if you have been training less than 2 years then you certainly don’t need supra-maximal eccentric training to make awesome progress.
You can very easily gain size and strength using less demanding methods.
Using this training method before you are ready for it can result in anything from acute hamstrings tendinitis to a serious long-term hamstrings or knee injury.
Do yourself a favor and wait until you are ready!
Tip #14: Make Your Sets Last Between 20-30 Seconds For Maximum Hypertrophy!
I have trained in gyms all over the continental United States for months at a time (I’m a bit of a nomad at heart).
I have also personally coached hundreds of bodybuilders, powerlifters, Strongmen, and Average Joe’s just wanting to look better naked.
If my experience working with and observing other individuals has taught me anything it is this: tempo really is the most neglected of all the loading parameters.
I can honestly say that it is EXTREMELY rare to see someone put any thought into the speed at which they perform their lifts.
Every rep is always the same: drop the weight down as fast as they can then lift it back up as fast as they can. In other words, nearly everyone performs nearly every set with an X/0/X/0 tempo.
It does not matter if it is deadlifts, bench presses, curls, squats, chin ups, or any other exercise: the tempo is always the same.
This is a BIG MISTAKE!
After all, the total time under tension of a set dictates the training effect of that set.
As a rule of thumb, fast-twitch muscles like the hamstrings tend to grow their fastest when the total time under tension per set lasts between 20-30 seconds.
This may sound like a very long time for people who just rush through their sets! In reality 20-30 seconds is on the shorter end of the time under tension spectrum.
Keep in mind that for most body parts your sets should last between 40-70 seconds when training for hypertrophy.
The faster-twitch muscles (such as the hamstrings, brachialis etc.) are the exceptions to the rule.
Let’s say you are doing sets of 6 on leg curls (remember, it is generally best to do sets of 4-8 reps on leg curls when training for hypertrophy).
So you are doing sets of 6, and you want your set to last between 20-30 total seconds. This means each rep should take you approximately 3-5 seconds to complete.
- 6 reps x 3 seconds per rep = 18 seconds of time under tension (this is close enough to our lower limit of 20 seconds of time under tension).
- 6 reps x 4 seconds per rep = 24 seconds of time under tension (this is right in the middle of our time under tension goal).
- 6 reps x 5 seconds per rep = 30 seconds of time under tension (this right at our upper limit of 30 seconds time under tension).
If you wanted to perform sets of 6 for leg curls during an accumulation phase, then each rep should take between 3-5 seconds to complete. Performing reps that take less than 3 seconds or greater than 5 seconds would be suboptimal.
For example, a 3/0/X/0 tempo would be a great choice for this routine. Each rep would take approximately 4 seconds to complete which puts you at an estimated 24 seconds of time under tension per set.
For example, here is what your leg curl routine might look like:
- A1: Standing unilateral hamstring curl (Poliquin Method / feet neutral), 5 x 6, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
Of course you may want to include another exercise or two for the hamstrings and perhaps some quadriceps work as well to round out this lower body workout.
Tip #15: Use Tri-Sets To Blast Through Hypertrophy Plateaus!
It is no secret that I am a huge fan of using tri-sets to bust through hypertrophy plateaus. I find that tri-sets are effective for practically every body part and the hamstrings are no exception!
Tri-sets work so well because they prolong the time under tension of an individual set and allow you to fatigue more motor units in a shorter period of time.
There are many ways to use tri-sets to boost hamstrings hypertrophy. One of the most effective methods is to perform a tri-set using three different types of leg curls.
Don’t worry, you won’t need to hog three different hamstrings machines to perform this workout. You are going to use one machine but vary the orientation of your feet.
As we discussed earlier in this article you can specifically target the three different hamstrings muscles by changing the way you angle your feet!
- A1: Lying hamstring curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed out), 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Lying hamstring curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral), 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Lying hamstring curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed in), 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
Let’s take a look at some training videos:
A1: Lying hamstring curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed out)
A2: Lying hamstring curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral)
A3: Lying hamstring curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed in)
This is an extremely effective leg curl routine that will surely help you add inches to your thighs. This routine works great for someone who has a relatively weak or underdeveloped biceps femoris (the lateral hamstring muscle).
If you instead have a weak semimembraneous (medial hamstrings muscle) then you may want to perform the first exercise with your feet pointed in and the last exercise with your legs pointed out.
The beauty of this routine is that you simply change the orientation of your feet to blast your hamstrings from three different angles!
The three different angles, combined with the overall prolonged time under tension afforded by tri-sets, creates a very powerful hypertrophy stimulus!
Of course you will have to decrease the weight on the “A2” and “A3” exercises to stay in your target rep range. This is perfectly normal.
If you want to create a more complete hamstrings routine then a great option would be to perform some hip extension exercises after this leg curls tri-set.
For example, here is what the second half of the above hamstrings workout might look like:
- A1: Good morning, 2 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Snatch grip Romanian deadlift, 2 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: 45 degree back extension (holding DB at chest), 2 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
Let’s take a look at some training videos:
A1: Good morning, 2 x 8-10, 2/0/1/0
A2: Snatch grip Romanian deadlift, 2 x 10-12
A3: 45 degree back extension (holding DB at chest), 2 x 12-15
Trust me, this hamstrings training routine (including both the “A” exercises and the “B” exercises) is guaranteed to leave you limping for several days!
If you need to increase the size of your hamstrings in record time then the above tri-sets routine would be an excellent choice.
Tip #16: Use Origin-Insertion Supersets To Blast Through Hamstring Hypertrophy Plateaus!
Origin-insertion supersets are one of the most effective methods that you can use when your goal is muscular hypertrophy.
When most people think of origin-insertion supersets they automatically think of the biceps and triceps.
It is true that supersets are a very popular way to train the arms. However, they can also be brutally effective for hypertrophying the hamstrings!
Every muscle has both an origin and an insertion. The proximal attachment of the muscle is known as the origin while the distal muscle attachment is known as the insertion.
For example, the part of the hamstrings that attaches near the hips is known as the origin while the part that attaches near the knee is the insertion.
Most exercises place relatively more stress on one of these attachment sites.
For example, in the case of the hamstrings leg curls emphasize the distal hamstrings more while deadlifts and back extensions emphasize the proximal hamstrings more.
The idea behind origin insertion supersets is that you can cause a tremendous amount of micro-trauma to a muscle by supersetting exercises that overload these opposite ends of the muscle.
Or as the world’s premier bench press coach Josh Bryant put it, “supersetting an origin exercise with an insertion exercise is supersetting on steroids!”
Here is a great hamstrings origin-insertion superset you may want to try:
- A1: Seated leg curl (Poliquin Method / feet neutral), 3-5 x 5-7, 2/1/X/1, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Romanian Deadlift, 3-5 x 12-15, 4/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
In case you were curious here are some video demonstrations for each exercise:
A1: Seated leg curl (Poliquin Method / feet neutral)
A2: Romanian Deadlift
This is technically a pre-exhaustion superset because an isolation exercise is performed immediately before a compound exercise.
Typically pre-exhaustion supersets are less effective at building muscle tissue than post-exhaustion supersets. However, the hamstrings are the exception to the rule.
You always want to train the high-threshold motor units early in your workouts before moving onto work for the lower threshold motor units.
Therefore it is better to perform leg curls before deadlifts in this routine.
Give this routine an “honest” try and I guarantee you’ll have trouble sitting down for at least a few days!
Tip #17: Use Partials Reps In The Lengthened Position After Reaching Failure!
Of course this technique is anything but new. Larry Scott built his legendary arms back in the 1960s by performing partial reps in the bottom position of preacher curls!
In more recent times John meadows has popularized the using partial reps in the stretched position of leg curls to overload the hamstrings after reaching muscular failure.
For example here is John Meadows coaching one of his clients through a set of partial reps on lying leg curls:
This can be an incredibly effective training method to bust through plateaus in hamstrings hypertrophy.
Here is what a leg curl workout using partial reps might look like:
- A1: Lying leg curl (bilateral, feet plantarflexed / pointed in), 5 x 6-8**, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
**Perform 6 partial reps in the stretched position after reaching muscular failure
Partial reps are a fantastic training tool but you need to be careful not to overdo them. I recommend you use partial reps on leg curls for 2-4 weeks before switching to some another type of routine.
Remember, a workout is only as good as the time it takes for you to adapt to it! Even the best training program will stop working for you after a period of time.
The exact amount of time that you can run a specific workout before stagnating is a function of your training age, strength levels, and of course your neurotransmitter profile.
Tip #18: Use Yielding Isometrics To Beef Up Your Hamstrings!
Yielding isometrics are a fantastic method that you can use to prolong the time under tension of a set of leg curls.
There are two kinds of isometrics contractions:
- Overcoming isometrics
- Yielding isometrics.
Overcoming isometrics involve applying force into an immovable object (pushing into a brick wall, for example).
Yielding isometrics, on the other hand, are a little different: they involve preventing an external load from moving you!
For example you can perform a yielding isometric contraction for the shoulders by holding two dumbbells out at arm’s length for as long as you can.
Here is Dr. John Russin performing yielding isometrics interspersed throughout an otherwise normal set of leg curls:
Yielding isometrics are actually quite similar to eccentric training.
And as you already know, the fast-twitch hamstrings respond extremely well to eccentric-style training protocols!
Here is how you might want to do a yielding isometric leg curl workout:
- A1: Standing unilateral leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointed out), 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
**During your last eccentric rep perform 3 separate 8-second yielding isometric contractions
This routine is particularly demanding and will help you to increase your strength in addition to packing on slabs of hamstrings muscle!
If you are afraid of a little hard work then this is not the routine for you…
Tip #19: Make Your Sets Last Between 1-20 Seconds For Optimal Strength Gains!
As we talked about earlier, the fast twitch hamstrings muscles tend to grow best on sets with between 20-30 seconds of total time under tension.
But what about training for strength?
As a rule of thumb your sets on leg curls should last between 1-20 total seconds when training for strength.
I know many of you are probably used to banging out sets of 12+ reps in under 10 seconds, but 1-20 seconds is actually an extremely LOW amount of time under tension for a set!
For example, let’s say you are doing sets of 3 on seated leg curls (a great rep range when training for strength).
You know your sets should last between 1-20 seconds total. With some simple math you realize your reps should take between 2-5 seconds to complete.
For example, let’s say you want your reps to last 3 seconds total. 3 reps x 3 seconds per rep = 9 seconds total time under tension. This is right where we want to be!
Here is how you might set up a sample routine for strength using sets of 3 and a target time under tension of 9 seconds per set:
- A1: Kneeling leg curls (unilateral, Poliquin Method / feet pointed out), 8 x 3, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
For example, here is what this exercise would look like in practice:
With a little math you too can learn to optimally train the hamstrings for strength!
Tip #20: You Must Use Multiple Sets Of Low Reps To Get Stronger Hamstrings!
I am constantly amazed at the number of people banging out sets of 10+ reps on leg curls who think they will somehow magically improve their hamstrings strength.
No, No, No!!!
As I have previously stated the hamstrings are composed almost entirely of fast-twitch muscle fibers. This is true regardless of your neurotransmitter profile.
Like most fast-twitch muscles the hamstrings respond best to multiple sets of low reps when training for strength.
The emphasis here being MULTIPLE SETS!
I’ve written before about how you should perform AT LEAST 6 sets of an exercise when training for strength.
If your goal is to boost your strength on leg curls, then you could do a lot worse than train with 10 sets of 2-4 reps in a given workout.
For example, here is an excellent ten sets of three workout that you can use during an intensification phase to boost your hamstrings strength.
Check it out:
- A1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels flat), 10 x 3, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral), 10 x 3, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 3 x 6-8, 3/1/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: 90 degree back extension (barbell on back), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/1, 120 seconds rest
Here are the exercise videos:
A1: Front squat (narrow stance / heels flat)
A2: Lying leg curl (feet plantarflexed / neutral)
B1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels elevated)
C1: 90 degree back extension
There are of course countless set and rep schemes that you could choose from to improve your hamstrings strength.
However, in my experience the 10 x 3 method is easily one of the best.
Tip #21: Break Strength Plateaus With Eccentric Training!
Eccentric training is easily one of the most under-utilized training methods in the iron game.
There is no other training method that can match eccentric training when it comes to helping intermediate and advanced athletes bust through strength and hypertrophy plateaus.
Of course eccentric training is probably overkill for most beginner trainees. These guys are probably better off focusing on controlling their eccentric tempos.
It takes about 2 years before most trainees are finally ready to begin experimenting with accentuated eccentric training protocols.
In my experience there are three eccentric training methods that work best for leg curls:
- The Poliquin Method
- The 4+2 Method
- The 2/1 Method
Let’s discuss each one a little more.
The Poliquin method involves dorsiflexing your ankles during the concentric range and plantarflexing your ankles during the eccentric range.
This is the least demanding of the three routines and should be attempted first.
The 4+2 method is much more challenging. It involves performing four reps with your 4-rep max, then INCREASING the weight by 1-40% and performing 2 additional eccentric-only reps using an 8/0/1/0 tempo.
You use both legs to help lift this increased weight and then lower the weight using only your working leg. This method is much more challenging and works incredibly well for boosting both strength and size.
The 2/1 method is by far the most demanding method included in my list. It involves performing multiple eccentric-only repetitions by lifting the weight with 2 legs and lowering it with only one.
Each rep should be lowered under 8-10 seconds for optimal results. If you are training for strength then I recommend you perform 2-3 reps with this method per set.
This is extremely taxing but the results are more than worth it.
After reading this article I hope you stop treating leg curls as an afterthought in your routines and start attacking them with the focus and intensity that they deserve.
Leg curls may not give you the same return on investment as squats and deadlifts but they have the potential to dramatically improve your long-term hamstrings training progress.
And now for some shameless self-promotion: if you want to take your training to the next level then you need to sign up for my 1-on-1 online coaching program right now!
I guarantee that I can dramatically increase your rate of progress and help you reach your fitness goals in record time. I know how important your goals are to you and I will do whatever it takes to help you achieve them.
Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes, the body will follow.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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