In exercise terms, a “curl” has nothing to do with your hair, although these curls can help you look good as well. Instead, the term typically refers to curling an arm or leg up toward the front of your body. A reverse curl moves in the opposite direction, so a reverse leg curl moves your leg toward your back. Reverse leg curls are also known as hamstring curls because this muscle benefits the most from this workout.
Leg Curl Machine
You’ll typically perform reverse leg curls on a machine with a bench and a resistance arm. Always adjust the machine before you use it, because one size doesn’t fit all. Align your knees with the machine’s pivot point, which leaves your knees hanging just past the end of the bench. The arm pad rests on your Achilles tendon, right above the edge of your shoe if you’re wearing standard low gym shoes. Set the appropriate amount of weight on the machine to receive the maximum benefit. Lie face-down on the bench, grasp the handles, then exhale as you curl your feet toward your back. Inhale and lower your feet in a slow, controlled movement to the starting position. Keep your hips pressed firmly against the bench throughout the exercise.
If you can't access the right machine you do have an alternative. Lie on your belly, flat on the floor from your mid-chest to your knees. Keep your head up and clasp your hands in front of you with your elbows pointed to your sides. Squeeze a small dumbbell between your feet and raise your shins vertically. Lower your feet very slowly until the dumbbell touches the floor, then raise your feet into the starting position. You can also perform the exercise on a bench, in which case you’ll lower your shins until they’re almost parallel with the floor.
As the alternate name suggests, reverse leg curls target the hamstring muscles in the backs of your thighs. This four-muscle group which runs from your knee up to your upper thigh includes the biceps femoris, both long and short head, plus the semitendinosus and the semimembranosus muscles. Strengthening these muscles should improve knee movements such as flexion, plus external and internal rotation. You’ll also improve your hip extension -- the side-to-side movements. You’ll also increase your hamstrings’ flexibility. If you sit for much of the day, make reverse leg curls a part of your regular routine to avoid walking around with stiff hamstrings. Last, but definitely not least, strengthening your hamstrings helps tone your thighs.
Performing reverse leg curls also strengthens a couple of smaller thigh muscles, the sartorius and the gracilis, along with the popliteus in the back of your knee and the gastrocnemius, which is a major calf muscle. Your movements will also be stabilized by the quadriceps muscles in the front of your thighs, and the tibialis anterior in your calf.
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.