Get Better: A New Look at Leg Curls

Cross-posted from

Let me tell you about my favorite anatomy joke.  Here’s the set up:

  • Q: “Hey Harold, what’s your favorite exercise for biceps, and for triceps?”
  • A: “It’s the supine hip-extended leg curl.”

Typically I see a puzzled face, then I get to nerd out.  There are the biceps and triceps that we know and love, and those are the ones in your arms.  Unless you’ve taken an anatomy course or like muscles, we don’t often know about the biceps femoris or triceps surae, commonly called hamstrings and calfs.  Both muscles are on the back side of the leg, so unlike arm work, you actually get to use them at the same time.  Thus, the supine hip extended leg curl, or SHELC, is my favorite exercise.

It’s a relatively straight forward move:  Lay down, dig your heels into the ball, and roll it from your butt to the wall.  Thing is, that simplicity can often make things a little bit easier than we’d like, and reinforce a position that we can easily avoid.  Let’s check the .gif that was used in the article:

Easy-peasy, right?  This is one that I’d feel comfortable with almost everyone, and of course I have that one tweak that can make it that much better.  Let’s talk about hip position.

In the .gif above, you’ll see what biomechanists call “Anterior Pelvic Tilt,” that is, her pelvis is tipped forward in relation to space, which shortens the extensor muscles of the lower back, shortens the hip flexors, and puts additional pressure on the vertebrae and discs of the lumbar spine.

It’s a position that a whole lot of us are accustomed to, and one that anyone who feels a “tight” back from sitting a lot has experienced.  Our go-to method for “loosening” things back up is to stretch, but that can often just tell your brain to really turn those muscles on.  Then, they’re not only put into a shorter position from our sitting, but then they’re neurologically ‘stuck’ in that contracted position.

Sound like a bit much?  We can help find a more fun position with a simple 90/90 Hip Lift:

That hip lift can tilt our pelvis backwards, closer to a neutral position, and help us use more hamstrings, glutes, and abs in the process.  If there’s one thing I’ve never heard a complaint about, it’s folks using their glutes and abs more.

If there’s a puzzle piece that’s often missing from a set-up-and-go leg curl, it’s the posterior pelvic tilt. Using a 90/90 Hip Lift to help find that position is a great way to re-find a great hip position.  Then, challenge that position with some hamstring andcore engagement.  Now, we’re back to the leg curl.

Let’s take a look at a video of this that I recorded while emphasizing that posterior pelvic tilt position:

If you compare that pelvis position to the one in the above .gif, you’ll see that it’s pretty different.  Seeing is believing, and by that I mean trying.  So here’s what we’re going to do:

Next time you’re around a stability ball, lay down, pop up your heels, and then do some leg curls.  Make it as natural as possible.  Rest for a moment, check your Twitter feed, then set up on the wall for a 90/90 Hip Lift.  Breathe through that lift several times, reset it, then breathe again.  After 2-3 sets of 5 exhales, get your heels back on the ball.  Now we’re zooming in.

Before you start moving, recreate the same lift that you practiced with your feet on the wall.  You want to pull those hamstrings down, and shift your tailbone up a wee bit.  That’s home base.  As you move through the leg curl again, focus on holding thatposition at all costs.  You’ll notice that both your hamstrings and abs are working harder than they were.  Everyone wins!

The stability ball leg curl is a great exercise, for your lower body bi’s and tri’s.  Anatomy jokes aside, I see it as a great addition to most training programs, provided that you’re a stickler for the set-up.

Practice the 90/90 Hip Lift first, and once you’re set, move on to a ball.  Set that position, and slowly drive those heels forward.  Bring your knees back to the ceiling and repeat.  That posterior pelvic tilt should really up the ante, and get even more out of your workout.

Give this one a try and let me know how it works.


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