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Leg Curls are for Wankers

Written on March 14, 2007 at 11:08 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: I just read your article on leg extensions, and I’m wondering if leg curls are bad, too. I’m rehabbing a mild hamstring pull, and I’m wondering if light-weight leg curls are okay.

A: I’m not a fan of leg curls at all. Your hamstrings will never work in isolation like that; they’ll always be co-contracting with the glutes, adductor magnus, and smaller hip extensors. When you do a leg curl, you really just encourage an overactive muscle to tighten up even more than it already has.

In our Building the Efficient Athlete DVD set, Mike Robertson and I go into great detail on how when you see a muscle strain, you should always look for a dysfunctional synergist. Think about the functions of the gluteus maximus: hip extension, abduction, and lateral rotation.

If it shuts down, you can get hamstrings or adductor magnus strains (synergists in hip extension), piriformis issues (synergist in lateral rotation), tensor fascia latae (TFL) strains (synergist in hip abduction) or even quadratus lumborum tightness/strains (hip-hiking/lateral flexion to compensate for lack of hip abduction). You also might get lower back tightness or lumbar erector strains from lumbar hyperextension to compensate for a lack of hip extension range of motion (secondary to glute weakness not being able to finish hip extension). Finally, you might experience hip joint capsule irritation anteriorly because your glutes aren’t providing enough posterior pull to counteract the tendency of the hamstrings to allow the femoral head to glide forward during hip extension.

Yes, I know I’m a longwinded geek, but I do have a point. That is, always look for inefficiencies and dysfunction; don’t be lazy and just stop at pathology. Several pathologies can result from a single inefficiency/dysfunction/syndrome. If you understand how to identify and correct these inefficiencies, you can use comparable protocols to fix a lot of problems.

They say that one of the best ways to win people over is to take their pain away. If you’re a trainer or therapist whose income depends on getting people healthy, you NEED to know this stuff.

Oh, and as for your hamstrings issue, get the glutes firing with various activation exercises and stick to hip extension movements such as pull-throughs, deadlifts, forward sled dragging, box squats, and back extensions to get co-contraction of the glutes. It goes without saying that I would also include plenty of single-leg exercises. If you want to start training knee flexion, when the time is right, incorporate some glute-ham raises.


7 Responses to “Leg Curls are for Wankers”

  1. Alex Gold Says:

    Brushing up on the language for your trip to England eh Eric! 😉

    Keep up the good work,
    Alex Gold.

  2. Franz Snideman Says:

    I would agree 100%. When I sprinted in track and field it seemed the I would get hamstring issues and it was not a mystery looking back at why.

    Great blog Eric! Keep up the great posting and great products!

  3. Matt Savinar Says:


    I had a long time mild hip flexor (psoas) strain and pretty bad hamstring pull from about two years ago.

    Long story short: by late summer last year my right adductor and right knee were in a lot of pain.

    I got MM, started the exercises, at least the ones that didn’t cause pain.(The side-to-side squats were horribly painful at first, now just uncomfortable)

    I also added a lot of foam rolling with emphasis on the right quad and right tfl, enough glute activation work you’d think I was a chick trying to get buns of steel, and single leg work up the wazoo.

    The single leg lunge off a box seems to have made the biggest difference of all. Sumo deadlifts off a box seem like they’ve made a significant difference as well but the lunge off a box was practically a miracle worker for whatever my particular dysfunction is.

    The pain on a scale of 1-10 is about a 2 right now down from about a 7 when I first started in earnst back in late summer/early fall. Sometimes I don’t even feel it. (It’s getting better with each workout.)

    Just wanted to drop a line, you and Mike’s work is the best stuff this side of Poliquin and in some ways better as he doesn’t address how to fix dysfunctions like you two do.

  4. Matt Savinar Says:

    Also, is there an estimate on what a resonable weight in the lunge off a box is? I got 185 x 5 and 155 x 12 the other day, each rep performed deep with a pause. (this is done 1 leg at a time and I do the weaker leg first)

    My deadlift is 375 x 5 (with a 2 second pause in between each rep to kill momentum) at a bodyweight of 195 give or take a few pounds depending on the time of day. My goal is 425 x 10 at a bodyweight of less than 200.

  5. Mike T Nelson Says:

    Nice blog work EC!

    Keep up the great work reminding people to look for inefficiencies.

    That is why I love the Z Health system, as it gives you (or anyone) a system to spot issues AND a potential solution to fix them in minutes many times. It works amazingly well for decreasing pain also.

    I see there is a Z Cert in Boston this Fall. Is that at Excel?

    Take care and keep up the great work!
    Mike T. Nelson

  6. Jason Paris Says:

    If you do not do leg curls what do you get people to do that can put a great load on the hamstrings? Quads are so easy to overload and over work that i find people do not have a good ratio of quad to ham strength. This poor ratio can cause problems.

  7. Andrew Says:

    Your article doesn’t really make sense to me. It seems to be saying that if you train the hamstrings, and only the hamstrings, bad things will happen. That is true of every isolation exercise.

    Since when is someone going to go to the gym and only do leg curls without doing squats, etc?

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