Hamstring Curl Vs. Romanian Deadlifts for the Upper & Lower Hamstrings

Build enviable hamstrings with leg curls and deadlifts.
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The biceps femoris long head, biceps femoris short head, semimembranosus and semitendinosus are the four muscles located on the back of the thighs that are collectively referred to as the hamstrings. These muscles are responsible for flexing the knee and extending the hip. The hamstrings are the most active muscles during forward propulsion, and strengthening them can dramatically increase running speeds. Two common exercises for the hamstrings are the hamstring curl and Romanian deadlift.

Hamstring Curl

On a prone hamstring machine, lie on your stomach and anchor your ankles under the machine's pad. Grip the handles firmly and focus on maintaining a straight spine and neck. Your chest and hips should not come off of the pad at any point during the movement. Exhale as you bend your knees and contract your hamstrings to pull your ankles toward your glutes. At the top of the motion, the pad should be touching or nearly touching your glutes. Inhale as you slowly return your legs to the starting position, but be careful not to let the weights hit the stack. There should be constant tension on your hamstrings throughout the entire set.

Romanian Deadlift

To perform a Romanian deadlift, place a barbell on the ground in front of you. Grab the barbell with your palms facing down and hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and keep your back straight. Your back and arms should not bend at all during the motion. Exhale as you stand, moving your hips forward to pull the bar up. Once you are standing straight up, slowly lower the weight back to the ground by bending your knees.

Which is More Effective?

A 1999 study published in the "Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research" measured and compared hamstring muscle activation during the squat, deadlift and leg curl. Researchers found that the deadlift and leg curl worked the hamstrings at the same intensity, but the squat produced only about half as much hamstring activation. The study concluded that both the leg curl and deadlift exercises are excellent and should be included as part of a hamstring resistance-training program.


Care should be taken when performing the Romanian deadlift, as improper form can lead to back and neck injuries. It is not recommended that those with lower back problems attempt deadlifts. Also, performing the deadlift in a jerking motion or rounding the back during the lift can cause injury. If you are unsure of proper form, consult a fitness professional before attempting this exercise.

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