Q: You categorize seated leg curls as a contracted-position exercise for hamstring. In his Physics of Resistance Exercise book, Doug Brignole says it’s the best exercise for the hams, and it also provides the stretch effect. So is it a stretch- and contracted-position exercise and is it ideal? Unfortunately, when I start adding weight, it hurts my knees.
A: Excellent observations. I like the seated leg curl machine, but I have two main problems with it:
1) It has a continuous-tension resistance curve. In other words, the resistance stays the same all the way through rather than tailing off at contraction as it should. That’s why I classify it as a contracted-position exercise.
2) The hamstring stretch is too mild because the resistance curve problem limits the weight you can use through the full range—it’s too hard at contraction and too easy near stretch.
That’s why you’re getting knee pain on the seated leg curls: You’re trying to use a weight that let’s you feel the stretch effect, but that’s hyperextending your knees…
In my commercial-gym days when I was using seated leg curls, I classified it as a contracted-position exercise only, despite having moderate stretch—I needed more…
It’s why I included moderate-weight Romanian, or semi-stiff-legged, deadlifts. That’s the only exercise that I feel that full, controlled stretch on my hamstrings…
These days I train at home, so I no longer have access to any leg curl machine, seated or lying. But I do have a cable machine, so I do either one-leg standing cable leg curls, which provide the best resistance curve for the hamstrings, or floor rolls, my go-to ham exercise in my bare-bones home-gym Old Man, Young Muscle workouts. Before I got the cable machine, floor rolls were the best I could do…
I usually alternate those two at different workouts now, ending with one set of Romanian deadlifts…
I’m with Doug in that I don’t consider Romanian, or semi-stiff-legged, deadlifts a stand-alone ham exercise; it’s actually more of a glute move with residual ham stretch.
But even without an available leg curl, my home gym can still smell like bacon sizzling after only three or four sets.
New: Get the ideal exercise for each muscle, the best add-on moves for ultimate mass, complete 35-minute workouts, exercise start/finish photos, and details on building muscle fast and efficiently in Old Man, Young Muscle.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
Former Editor in Chief, Iron Man Magazine
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