Leg curls are great lower body exercises that can be performed using various pieces of gym equipment. There are numerous variations to the leg curl. You can perform the exercise seated, standing or lying down and with cable or lever machines. All the variations focus on the back of your legs, and while they do not specifically target your glutes, some variations use the glutes as secondary muscles.
The leg curl is considered an isolation exercise because it isolates or uses one joint, in this case the knee joint. Regardless of your positioning or the equipment you are using, leg curls involve slowly flexing your knees and bringing the heels of your knees towards you buttocks. You then slowly lower your legs to the starting position and repeat.
A study in the May 1999 issue of the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" concluded that the leg curl is an effective exercise for strengthening the hamstrings or the back of the legs. The synergist muscles or those that assist in the exercise and are thus also strengthened are gastrocnemeus in the calf, the sartorius and gracilius in the upper leg and the popliteus or knee flexors. Depending on the variation of the exercise that you are using, you may also be able to work your glute muscles to a lesser extent.
The glutes are made up of three different muscles: The gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. Some variations of the leg curl use one or more of these muscles as secondary movers. The stability ball leg curl uses the gluteus maximus as stabilizer while the cable standing leg curl and the cable bent-over leg curl uses the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus as stabilizers. The lever kneeling leg curl uses the gluteus medius and the gluteus maximus as stabilizers.
A study published in the 1999 issue of the American Council of Exercise’s magazine “Fitness Matters” ranked the top glute exercises. The study noted that quadruped him extension is the best exercise for strengthening both the gluteus maximus and the gluteus minimus. The study further noted that this exercise is much more effective than the traditional squat which has long been thought to be the gold standard for strengthening the glute muscles.
Andrea Chrysanthou began writing professionally in 1993. Her work has been published internationally by "The Cyprus Mail," MochaSofa and My Favorite Trainer, among other magazines and websites. She holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts in journalism from Ryerson University. Chrysanthou is a certified fitness instructor and personal-training specialist with more than 10 years of experience in the fitness industry.