Q&A: Glute Hams vs. Leg Curls

Leg Curl machine

Mike,

Thanks for sharing this story – very insightful.

\”You know the feeling – the first time you do a glute-ham is like none-other, and you quickly realize that the leg curl machine is pretty much useless.\”

But at risk of incurring your wrath (since you’ve likely been asked this a thousand times before), do you see leg curls as having a place for any goal at all? For this question, assume that the person is already doing things like GHR’s, slideboard leg curls, Swiss Ball SHELC, etc. (not to mention hitting deadlifts hard, using reverse hypers, and all of the other productive stuff lifters should be using at one time or another) and is considering these as something to add on for brief periods of time rather than as a way to avoid doing the “hard stuff”.

Not that a top coach using any given exercise is proof of its value, but Charles Poliquin has leg curl machines in his facility, and I am assuming he doesn’t have them there simply for the sake of increasing his expenses or having something worthless sitting around the facility.  Furthermore, you’re one of those coaches who rarely singles anything out as totally worthless, merely as a tool that may have broad or limited application depending upon the context.  As such, I figured you’d be one of the go-to guys for answering this question.

Thanks!

I get a lot of questions about the differences between leg curls and glute-ham raises, so let’s discuss this a little bit further.

One of the key benefits of glute-ham raises is the fact that you can get a co-contraction of the gluteals and abdominals while performing the exercise.  This is similar to a stabilization pattern that we’d like to see in many of our athletes.

In contrast, what we often see are athletes that hang on their hamstrings, hip flexors and lower back muscles to get said stability.

If our goal was to create clients and athletes that utilize proper stabilization patterns, then we need to train those patterns in each and every exercise that we choose. Leg curls are typically performed in a hips flexed position, which only further magnifies these poor stabilization patterns.

A properly executed glute-ham raise engages the core and gluteals (maintaining hip extension), while then utilizing the hamstrings to promote the movement.

To answer your question, there are times when I might consider using the leg curl in a specific client’s program. For example, if a client was a bodybuilder, figure athlete, or any sort of physique athlete, their goal may be solely to develop hypertrophy in the hamstrings. In this case, a leg curl may be beneficial.

Remember, if your goal is solely to maximize muscle hypertrophy, machine-based training could be of value. It may not be my first option, but it would definitely achieve their goal of building bigger hamstrings.  When in doubt, remember this simple equation:

More Stability = Greater Primer Mover Activation

In most cases, I would always choose glute-ham raises over leg curls. However, I like to see both sides of the equation and could make an argument for leg curls with clients who have physique-specific goals.

Stay strong

Mike

2 Comments

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  1. Hey Mike, interesting article!
    Just wondered if you were intending on expanding this discussion any further? I’ve always deadlifted alot but struggled to work the hamstrings via knee extension/flexion.
    I have never come across anywhere near me that has a GHR machine so recently when i started trying to perform the exercise i was forced to do it with my legs held down by a bench and my knees resting on a stretching mat or two on the floor.
    The issues i’ve found are firstly that this is really uncomfortable on the knees (probably doesn’t help i’m 230lbs). Also i get to a certain point and just drop, this is probably partly a strength issue but it seems GHR machines have a pad that the thighs ‘pivot’ on as you go forward that would help with this issue? Is that what its there for? And have you got any tips for easier progressions to build towards the GHR?
    Thanks Mike

  2. Hi Mike,
    Certainly enjoy your article content and very much the podcasts. I am a new gym owner and have considered purchasing either (but not both) a GHR or a Reverse Hyper from Elite FTS. I am convinced that the posterior chain must be developed in all athletes for many reasons of injury prevention and performance. I use the SL/DL deadlifts as a staple in my programs to enhance knee health and accel/decel performance. Just would like your take on the equipment.
    Thanks again….

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