Today I will be discussing the benefits of leg curls! Leg curls are any hamstring exercise that concentrically moves the weight through knee flexion. An example of this would be the seated or lying hamstring curl.
Your hamstrings attach both near the top of your thigh and at the back of the knee. During hip hinge/deadlift type exercises, your hamstrings are being worked through inducing a stretch on them. As our hips flex/hinge back, it lengthens our hamstring muscle (assuming our knees stay relatively straight).
In leg curl exercises, our hamstrings are relatively stretched at the starting position, but as we move the weight, they shorten/contract to move the weight.
You don’t want to be training a muscle through only stretch position loaded or contracted position loaded exercises. In this scenario, you wouldn’t want to only do deadlift variations that work the hamstrings in a stretched position. Just the same as you wouldn’t want to work the hamstrings exclusively through contraction based exercises.
There are different benefits to both. These may include the amount of volume being placed on a muscle due to how much load it receives depending on the length of the muscle during the lift (longer muscle lengths = more of the resistance being applied to the muscle).
Or how much tension the muscle can accumulate depending on how strong of a contraction is being induced.
As you can see, unlike some muscle groups, the hamstrings benefit greatly from 2 types of exercises, stretch based exercises and contraction based exercises.
Mind Muscle Connection:
Having a strong mind-muscle connection can be beneficial for hypertrophy, specifically when looking at the contracted state.
Sure, you can feel the hamstring stretching during hip hinge exercises, but being able to actively feel the hamstring contracting, then lengthening, can be beneficial for muscle fibre activation and for ensuring your technique is proper so the muscle is doing the work it is supposed to be doing.
Isolation exercises, and specifically isolation exercises that have peak tension being placed on the muscle in its maximally contracted state, are awesome for developing a mind-muscle connection.
When a muscle has peak tension being applied in the contracted position, it requires you to have your muscle fibres fully engaged as much as they need to be at that moment. This forces that muscle group to be engaged, helping to develop a mind-muscle connection.
Additionally, with isolation exercises, there is less going on and therefore, less to concern yourself with. You can simply focus on the contraction and lengthening of the muscle.
In the seated hamstring curl, we achieve peak tension in the peak contracted position because the muscle must resist the most amount of resistance in this position since the weight is perpendicular to the limb moving the weight.
With the lying hamstring curl, at the peak contracted position, the weight is at roughly a 45-degree angle relative to the limb moving the weight. But at the bottom/starting position of the lift, it is perpendicular/at a 90-degree angle and has gravity acting straight down on it.
So I see the lying hamstring curl as an awesome exercise to combine both the contraction benefit of hamstring training.
Hitting Your Volume & Respecting Recovery Limits:
For each muscle group, we should have a weekly volume goal depending on our goals, how well we recover and where we are in a program relative to progressive overload.
Let’s say your volume goal for hamstrings for this week is 12 sets.
If you did all 12 sets with heavy deadlifts and dumbbell Romanian deadlifts, that would induce a ton of recovery demand on your body. Not only will this likely not work well in the end, but it isn’t the most optimal since you aren’t implementing any of those contraction based exercises.
Compound movements that are trained heavy tend to elicit a much greater recovery demand than isolation movements that are trained in the moderate to light weight range.
If we only did heavy hip hinge exercises, we would not be training efficiently. This both from an exercise selection standpoint and from a recovery standpoint.
If we chose to do 4 sets of barbell Romanian deadlifts, 4 sets of seated hamstring curls and 4 sets of lying hamstring curls (likely best spread apart across 2 or 3 sessions), we would be combining the exercise selection and recovery components much better.
The heavy compound exercise for a heavy training stimulus and for progressive overload via weight, but not too much of that exercise that it is tough on recovery. This exercise would also be good for working the hamstrings in the stretched position.
The seated hamstring curl for a contraction based movement that is trained moderately heavy and isn’t too hard on recovery.
Then the seated hamstring curl for an exercise that combines stretch and contraction based training, that isn’t trained super heavy.
That is the gist of the benefits of leg curls! From training in a contracted state, to the mind-muscle connection, to using hamstring curl exercises for recovery regulation.
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Thanks for reading everyone and I’ll see you back here for my next article this coming Monday!
Until Next Time,
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