Last week I talked about how the Leg Extension could be doing more harm than good in part 2 of a 5 part series of exercises to avoid. I will continue on with part 3 this week and talk about another popular exercise in the gym that isn’t as effective as everyone thinks it is. I will also show you a different exercise you can do instead that will be more functional and have a higher metabolic effect.
What is this popular exercise?
It’s another leg exercise that isolates your hamstrings which are the muscles on the back of your upper leg. The exercise is a Machine Leg Curl and there are actually a few different versions of it. The machines that I’ve seen at gyms are the lay down version, the seated version, and the kneeling version that further isolates your hamstrings by doing one leg at a time. Unless you’re a body builder trying to build huge definition for a competition by isolating these muscles, there really isn’t any use for them and you can get much better results with a compound movement that is more functional and has a higher metabolic effect.
Let’s take a look at the Leg Curl and see the reasons why it isn’t very effective.
First, Dr. Kareem Samhouri (a Neuro Metabolic Fitness and Rehab Expert) says that from a muscle balance perspective, the majority of the force is placed through your distal hamstring (away from the mid-line of your body) rather than your proximal hamstring (close to the mid-line of your body). This will increase the pressure behind your knee.
Also, you are going to have to change positions in order to recruit your medial hamstrings and glutes which should be used as a muscle pair.
Second, and again with this exercise, there is no real functional benefit to doing the Machine Curl. It is another isolation exercise and in every day life you are not just using your hamstrings. Every muscle in your lower body and even your core is used when you stand, sit, walk or run so you’re much better off doing functional compound movements like squats, lunges, deadlifts, etc.
Finally, since this is strictly an isolation exercise, there is a very low metabolic effect. You just aren’t going to burn the same amount of calories and raise your metabolism up as you would with a functional compound exercise.
As I mentioned earlier, your hamstrings are recruited when you do squats, lunges, and deadlifts. Another exercise you can do is a Romanian Deadlift or a Stiff Leg Deadlift as I like to call it. This can be done with two legs or for a bigger challenge that will work on your balance at the same time, you can do this exercise with one leg.
When performing the Stiff Leg Deadlift, keep a slight bend in your knee and bend over at the waist keeping your back straight the whole time. When you feel a nice stretch in your hamstring muscles return to the starting position standing up nice and tall. Make sure to never round your back as doing so can cause back injury and take the emphasis off of your hamstrings. This exercise does work your lower back muscles as well but you want to make sure they are being worked properly by keeping your back straight.
Below is a video of the one leg version. It is challenging but it will work on your balance as well as your hamstrings. Take it slow when doing this one and start with no weight until you get used to the movement.
So there you have another popular exercise that might not be as effective as you thought. Next week I’ll share another exercise to avoid when doing your workout and a more functional exercise you can do instead!