Vertical Leg Curls on Benches

Vertical Leg Curls on Benches

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Leg curls can tone your hamstring muscles.

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Leg curls are functionally similar to arm curls -- the lower part of your limb moves toward the upper half while the rest of your body remains still. You can perform leg curls in a variety of positions, including standing, sitting and lying down. You also have options when it comes to your exercise tools. If you perform leg curls on a bench, however, you'll use either a cable machine or a dedicated leg curl machine to supply the resistance. Your body must be horizontal to do a leg curl on a bench, but your lower leg will move into a vertical position when you perform the exercise.

Muscles Worked in the Leg Curl Exercise

Leg curls come in many varieties, but the typical leg curl is an isolation exercise that targets the hamstring muscle group in the back of each thigh. Assisting muscles may include the gastrocnemius in your calves, the popliteus around your knees plus the sartorius and gracilis in your thighs. Stabilizing muscles vary depending on your position. You'll engage more stabilizers for standing curls than for seated or lying versions. If you're lying face down on a bench, the rectus femoris in your thigh and the tibialis anterior in your shin help stabilize your movements.

Performing the Leg Curl on a Bench

Lie face down on the bench to perform a lying leg curl. If the bench is part of a leg curl machine, slip your ankles below the resistance pads at one end of the machine. If you're using a cable machine, attach a pair of cuffs to a low cable and strap the cuffs onto your ankles before you lie down on the bench. Position the bench so the cable is taut when your legs are extended -- but not locked -- with your knees just past the edge of the bench closest to the machine. In either case, flex your knees and press against the machine's resistance until your shins are roughly vertical. Return slowly to the starting position to complete one repetition.

Exercise Variations

You can shift the exercise's focus a bit, depending on how you position your feet. Point your toes straight down to the floor and spread your feet hip-width apart in the starting position to work all of your hamstrings evenly. Angle your toes toward each other and spread your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart to focus on your inner hamstrings. Point your toes outward and narrow their spacing to place more emphasis on the outer hamstrings. Extending your ankles to point your toes away from your body shifts some focus from the hamstrings to the gastrocnemius.

Leg Curl Considerations

To execute leg curls most efficiently and safely, warm up first with five to 10 minutes of light cardio activity and then perform dynamic hamstring stretches, such as straight-leg swings. Do 15 forward and backward swings with each leg. When you're ready to exercise, perform eight to 12 leg curls per set with a sufficient load to make the final repetitions difficult. Depending on your fitness goals, you can work your hamstrings one to three times per week, on non-consecutive days.