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Seated leg curls are one of the more seldom seen posterior chain exercises. This is because many gyms don’t have a seated hamstring curl machine. However, if yours does, it could behoove you to add the movement to your program. Learn some of the “do’s” and “don’ts” of seated leg curls below so you can get the most out of the exercise.
Unlike its lying counterpart, seated leg curls are probably a movement that will feel somewhat awkward in the beginning. In fact, you might even feel weak. This is okay as you just need to acclimate your body to the exercise. You should find your performance improving quickly, which will find you feeling more comfortable after just a few workouts.
As such, don’t worry about working the movement super hard at first. Instead, let volume take the lead. 5-6 sets of 8-10 reps will work well, as you’ll likely have to use much less weight than normal to become acclimated. However, once you are, 3-5 sets of 10-12 reps can suffice, depending on what the rest of your leg workout looks like and if you’re doing more posterior chain movements in general.
One thing that will help you improve your seated leg curls in short order will be your rep cadence. You want to be as explosive as you can with the concentric, contracting the hamstrings as hard as possible. Once you’re in the contracted position, hold it for a second or two. This will not only work the muscle harder, but improve CNS efficiency.
While seated leg curls are a fairly safe exercise, the top part of the movement can leave you open to hyperextending your knee if you’re not careful. In fact, it’s another reason why rep cadence is so important. If you’re performing the eccentric under control, the chances of hyperextending the knee radically decrease. It’s also why this is an exercise best done for moderate volume and with moderate weight. Leave the heavy work to other hamstring movements.
Minimizing the risk of hyperextending knee is another reason why taking the time to properly setup your machine in the beginning is crucial. Be sure you have the seat, the pad on the lever, the lever height, and brace placed over your quads just right before diving into your work sets.
Of all these, the lever height might be the most important. Your machine should allow you to change up the angle at which the lever sits when there’s no tension placed upon the machine. Make sure that the lever isn’t set such that if you fail or lose control on a rep that it can bring your lower leg too high up and hyperextend the knee.
Risk aversion aside, a properly setup machine can also help ensure that all the emphasis is placed solely on the hamstrings. Done with the wrong setup, your seated leg curls could inadvertently transfer the focus to the calves, groin, or hip flexors.
Some leg exercises can slightly shift where emphasis is place based on how you point your feet. For instance, pointing your toes in on calf raises will hit the outer head of the calves, while pointing them out tends to hit the inner head. No need to do any of this with seated leg curls, though – just keep your feet straight and toes pointed up.
Seated leg curls might not be overly popular, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. Treat them with respect by taking the time to setup your machine properly, put the focus on the hamstrings, use the right cadence, and ease your way into harder work sets. Doing so will be a new way to work the hamstrings and can add a whole new dimension to your leg workouts.