The Stability Ball Leg Curl is a very effective exercise used to target the hamstrings.
However, as beneficial as Stability Ball Leg Curls may be, sometimes you may find yourself needing an alternative. The most obvious of which is that you don’t have access to a stability ball. But, it could be that you’re simply looking to add some variety to your workouts.
Whatever the reason, you’re in the right place. In this guide, I’m going to give you 10 of my favorite hamstring movements to use as an alternative for Stability Ball Leg Curls.
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Table of Contents
- Alternatives to Stability Ball Leg Curls
- Floor Slider Leg Curls
- Nordic Hamstring Curls
- Lying Leg Curls (on machine)
- Glute Ham Raise
- Manual Leg Curl
- Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
- Single Leg Dumbbell RDL
- Banded Good Mornings
- Final Thoughts
Alternatives to Stability Ball Leg Curls
This list of alternative exercises has a lot of variety within it. Some exercises still require equipment – medicine balls, weight plates, stability ball – but many exercises don’t require any equipment at all.
My goal with this list was to give you a bunch of ideas so you could pick and choose which exercises you like the best to serve as a replacement for Stability Ball Leg Curls.
Floor Slider Leg Curls
- Furniture Sliders (Big enough to fit the heel of your foot on)
- Lie down on your back and bend your knees at about 90 degrees.
- Place the sliders under the heels of your feet.
- Drive your elbows into the floor and keep your abdomen tight.
- Drive your hips to the ceiling and engage your glutes.
- Keeping your core nice and tight, slowly slide your heels away from your body until your knees are almost fully extended.
- At the end range of this movement, your body should be straight, hips up, and core engaged.
- Engaging the hamstrings, pull your heels back to the starting position and squeeze the glutes to resume the starting position.
One of the most important points about Floor Slider Leg Curls is the surface you are sliding on and the type of slider you’re using. I personally like these Super Sliders with a hard plastic bottom. They are big enough for even large feet and I’ve had the most luck with them on multiple surfaces. (They’re also super cheap)
The furniture slide should freely move with little resistance, I would say carpet is ideal if available. If there is resistance, this may affect your technique and coordination.
Remember to always squeeze with the glutes and actively engage the hamstrings. Do not round the back and push your belly to the sky. Keep the anterior core locked in throughout the movement.
Controlling the eccentric portion of this movement is critical. Your hamstrings will engage and get a good stretch at the end range of this movement, so go slow, pause, and then curl back to the start.
Remember during the concentric movement, keep the hips up as you curl your heels in. Quality movement is better than exhausting quantity here.
Nordic Hamstring Curls
- A Partner (or something that can hold your feet on the ground)
- Start on your knees with a partner holding your feet (dorsiflexed, toes in the ground).
- Hold your hands in front of your chest, brace your core and lock in your hips.
- Now, keep your body in a straight line (shoulders, hips and knees) and lean forward.
- Lower slowly and under control as long as possible.
- Touch your chest to the ground, using your hands if necessary (they will most likely be necessary)
- Finally, give yourself a little push to get started and then use your hamstrings to curl yourself back to the start.
The ultimate goal with Nordic Hamstring Curls is to be able to lower yourself to the floor, touch the ground with your chest, and then curl yourself up without using your hands. However, this takes practice and a ton of hamstring strength. Be patient and focus on your progress each time.
Don’t allow your hips to shoot out, breaking the straight line going through your shoulders, hips and knees.
Only use as much push with your arms coming off the ground as needed. How much is the right amount? Trust me, when you get it just right – you’ll know.
Lying Leg Curls (on machine)
- Lying Leg Curl Machine
- Hamstrings (Biceps Femoris, Semimembranosus, Semitendinosus)
- Calves (Gastrocnemius)
- Begin by adjusting the machine to your body size and lying face down on the bench.
- Position your legs so that your ankles are resting on the padded lever.
- Grasp the handles on either side of the bench for support.
- Keeping your hips pressed down against the bench, curl your legs up towards your glutes by contracting your hamstrings.
- Pause at the top of the movement, and then slowly lower your legs back to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps.
Extend your feet to place more emphasis on the hamstrings. Dorsiflex the toes to emphasize the gastrocnemius.
Lying Leg Curls can also be done one leg at a time.
Stay under control of the weight. Don’t rush through and/or allow the weight stack to crash into itself at the bottom of reps.
Glute Ham Raise
- Glute-Ham Raise Machine
- First, you are going to want to get the glute-ham raise machine adjusted to the correct length.
- I recommend adjusting the machine so that your hip crease is at the end of the padding of the machine.
- Locking your feet in, facing the ground, keep a neutral spine by focusing your eyes on the floor below.
- Take in a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and keep your hands on the handles until you are ready to perform the eccentric movement.
- Once ready, take your hands off the handles, extend your body, keep your arms at your side, and control your body down until your torso is about perpendicular to the floor.
- Pause for 1 second in the bottom of the position to maintain stiffness in the muscles before coming back up.
- After 1 second of the isometric hold, pull yourself back parallel to the floor, engaging the glutes, hamstrings, and low back, while also keeping stiffness in the abdomen and upper back.
- At this point, you have completed a hyperextension.
- From this position, you are going to keep the toes flexed up toward the shin, pull with the hamstrings, and extend the glutes until your torso is perpendicular to the ceiling.
- Slowly lower your body back down to the parallel to the floor position to prepare for the next repetition.
One of the common mistakes I’ve seen with Glute-Ham Raises is athletes will pull with the hamstrings and not engage the glutes.
What this looks like is the athlete leaves their hips behind and they don’t quite get to perpendicular because they didn’t extend the hips and engage the glutes.
Manual Leg Curl
- Hamstrings (Biceps Femoris, Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus)
- Calves (Gastrocnemius)
- Lay on your stomach with your legs straight.
- Have your partner grab the backs of your heels.
- Curl your feet toward your butt and have your partner give you resistance as you do.
- Now, have your partner pull your feet back to the floor, but resist them from pulling you down.
- Continue until all reps are completed.
One of the keys to Manual Leg Curls is to not miss out on the eccentric portion of the exercise. Make your partner really have to work to pull your feet back to the floor. Depending on your hamstring strength, your partner may end up having to work as hard as you do!
Having a good partner is critical. They should be modifying how much resistance they’re applying throughout the movement so that you’re constantly challenged but still able to move through the range of motion.
Romanian Deadlift (RDL)
- Weight Plates (Bumper or Iron)
- Address the bar with feet shoulder-width apart, and toes straight ahead.
- Use a pronated grip about a thumb length from the start of the knurling.
- Now, with a good flat back, pick the bar up to a standing position.
- From here, put a slight bend in the knees and ‘set the back’ by squeezing the shoulder blades and engaging the lats.
- Brace the core and hinge forward by pushing the hips back.
- The bar should almost drag right down the legs, across the knees and straight down the shins. The whole foot should stay flat on the ground, but the weight should be on the mid-foot to heel.
- Maintain the neutral spine position throughout the descent and once you feel a good stretch in the hamstrings, drive the hips forward (hip extension) and return to the starting position.
The ‘depth’ that each person gets when doing Romanian Deadlifts will be different and absolutely solely dependent upon hamstring flexibility.
Do NOT try to ‘reach’ the barbell toward the ground because you believe the plates should touch the floor. If you have tight hamstrings you may be doing well to get the bar to mid-shin.
Single Leg Dumbbell RDL
- Keep a neutral spine, take in a deep breath, hinging at the waist and slightly bending the knee, and grab the dumbbell.
- Standing nice and tall, squeeze the shoulder blades back and create tension in the abdomen.
- On the opposite side of the arm holding the dumbbell will be the up leg.
- For example, if you are holding the dumbbell in your right hand, your left leg will be off the ground and hinging backward.
- Keeping a neutral spine, fixing the eyes forward (DO NOT CRANE THE NECK BACK).
- Initiate the movement by lifting one foot off the ground, bending the off-leg knee slightly, pushing the hips back, hinging at the waist, and keeping a slight bend in the knee.
- Create and maintain tension in the arch of the foot and imagine squeezing the floor with your toes. This will help maintain balance and engage the small musculature of the foot and shin.
- The eccentric movement will continue until the dumbbell is about 3/4 down your shins. Keep the dumbbell in front of the down leg. Do not let the weight drift over the midline.
- For example, if you are holding the dumbbell in your right hand, keep the dumbbell right in front of the right shin.
- Once the dumbbell is about 3/4 of the way down your shins, start to extend the hips, keeping tension in the abdomen and keeping the upper back nice and tight, straightening the knees until you return to standing in the starting position.
- Squeeze the glutes in the last 1/4 upward movement to maintain engagement and help with balance.
When doing Single-Leg RDLs, do not let the weight drift over the midline. You will train for more structural stability if you keep the dumbbell in front of the down leg.
Maintain the arch of the foot. When performing single-leg movements, it is very important to maintain balance to yield all the benefits of single-leg exercises.
It is important for the lifter to maintain a neutral spine, maintaining tension in the abdomen and upper back.
Remember to breathe in and hold the breath during eccentric (lowering the weight) and breathe out as you perform the concentric movement (bringing the weight back up).
Banded Good Mornings
- Stand on a resistance band and pull it up over the head and across the back of the shoulders.
- Stand tall with feet hip-width apart, hands holding and securing the band in place.
- Put a slight bend in the knee and pull the shoulder blades back.
- Now, hinge at the hips by pushing the hips back and bending at the waist. Push your knees out slightly as you descend.
- Keep the back slightly arched throughout the movement.
- Continue the hinge until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings.
- Stand back up tall and push the hips forward to the starting position.
- Repeat until all reps are completed.
Banded Good Mornings can serve as a warm-up movement or as a strength-building exercise, usually as part of a circuit.
Listen to your body. Depending on your hamstring (and sometimes glute or low back) flexibility, you may be able to lower down quite far or not very much at all. The key is to move just to the edge of your range of motion. Don’t try to force anything.
- Bumper or Iron Plates
The deadlift is a very basic movement; there is a setup, a concentric movement (pulling the bar off the ground), an isometric hold (locking the repetition in), and an eccentric movement (lowering the bar back to the ground before the start of the next repetition).
When the athlete approaches the barbell, they should:
- Place their feet slightly wider than shoulder-width (The width of a stance for an athlete choosing a wide stance will vary based on height and comfortability).
- Slightly turn their feet outward (engaging the glutes).
- Take a deep breath to brace the abdominal muscles.
- The athlete should hinge at the waist and bend at the knee simultaneously until they can comfortably squeeze the barbell with both hands pronated (I will talk more later about mixed grips later in the article).
- As the athlete pulls themselves down into their setup position, they should maintain a neutral head posture, with their eyes fixed on something about 1-2 feet in front of them.
- In the final setup position, the athlete should pull their chest up, and shoulder blades back, while still maintaining a brace in their abdominal muscles and ready to lift.
The athlete is now ready for the concentric movement of the Deadlift. The athlete needs to pull the “slack” out of the barbell.
This is where the lifter needs to create tension by slightly pulling into the barbell and pushing their feet into the floor before maximal contraction/attempts.
Once this tension is created, the lifter drives their feet through the floor, drives the hips forward, keeping tension in the abdomen and upper back (DO NOT ROUND YOUR BACK), maintaining the barbell over the midfoot, the lifter stands tall with the barbell, and locks the repetition in.
It is important that each repetition is locked in and controlled at the top of the movement. This is considered an isometric hold. This hold generally only needs to be about 1 second.
Specifically for powerlifting, a judge will tell the lifter when they can lower the weight but it is also important for athletes and general lifters to maintain good control of their repetitions at all times and with all attempts.
After locking in the repetition for about 1 second, the athlete is ready to lower the weight. The athlete will take in a big breath, maintaining a braced core and shoulder blades pulled together. The hips will push back and the knees will bend simultaneously.
The bar should maintain a position over the midfoot and should never rest on the thighs during this movement. The athlete will continue to lower the barbell until the weights rest on the floor and prepare for the next repetition.
Now, let’s talk about gripping the bar. For most field and court sports athletes, gripping the bar with an overhand grip is what I would recommend.
The main reason I recommend this grip is that the athlete is deadlifting to gain strength and athletes should be training symmetrically as much as possible.
This is not to say that a mixed grip is bad for lifters. A mixed grip in some cases will help the lifter pull more weight. But again, I must stress, that lifting more weight for “more weight’s” sake is not a good reason.
Some lifters may switch which grips they mix (right-supinated, left pronated and vice versa) but this will be hard to track after hundreds of reps and sets over the course of a lifter’s career.
In regards to your setup and form; treat every rep like it’s a 1 rep max. Put a tremendous amount of detail in your setup (Do it the exact same way, every rep).
Make small gains in weight over time. Deadlifting is not a race.
Stability Ball Leg Curls are a solid exercise for hamstring development, however, sometimes Stability Ball Leg Curls are just not possible. You may not have the proper equipment or you may just want something a little different to add some variety to your training program.
In these situations, you’ll need a substitute and I hope that at least one of the alternative exercises I’ve listed here fits what you were looking for.