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Leg curls target the hamstrings on the upper backs of the legs and the glutes of your buttocks. This exercise is not always the easiest for many people -- your hamstrings and ankles might not be accustomed to lifting heavy objects. There are alternatives to leg curls that use your legs more comfortably while toning the back of your thighs and buttocks with the same efficiency.
Straight Leg Deadlifts
Straight leg deadlifts can be done with a barbell or dumbbells. To perform these deadlifts, stand with your feet hip-width apart as you grasp the weights so your palms are facing you body. Hold the dumbbells or barbell close to your body with your arms extended downward as you keep your hands shoulder-width apart. Stand tall by tightening your abdominal muscles and pulling your shoulders back and down. This is your starting position. Without bending your knees, lower the weight toward the floor until your knuckles are directly above the top of your foot and you feel painless tension in your hamstrings. Use your hips and waist to return to your starting position. Deadlifts are well known for causing back injuries, so always start with a light weight and gradually increase the weight as you become more comfortable with the exercise.
Glute-hamstring raises can be done with a partner or with ankle roller pads on a vertical platform. A weighted barbell can be used to brace your feet in place, but this method is often uncomfortable. If you use a partner, start with your knees on the floor and have your partner hold the back of your ankles down. Start on your knees, but stay up right so your buttocks are not resting on your ankles. Cross your arms in front of your chest and begin lowering your body toward the floor without bending at your waist. As you approach the floor, catch yourself with your hands. Keep your hands in front of you so you can catch yourself if you lose your balance. Flex the muscles of your hamstrings and calves to raise your body back to a vertical stance. The exercise is the same with ankle roller pads except you do not place your hands in front of you to catch yourself since your weight is supported by the machine.
Squats can be performed without equipment, using dumbbells or with a barbell. A barbell is held behind your neck and dumbbells can be brought in front of your shoulders with your palms facing inward. Your arm placement during body-weight squats is up to you since your arms only help with balance. Start with your feet hip-width apart as you tighten your abdominal muscles and pull your shoulders back and downward. This position helps stabilize your spine during the exercise. Lean slightly forward at the waist while keeping your spine straight and simultaneously bending your knees. As you bend your knees, your hips move backward and down as if you were trying to sit in an invisible chair. The squat is complete when your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Push off the ground with your heels as you push your hips upward to stand.
Always consult with your doctor before starting a new strength-training program, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition or injury. When you're just learning a new exercise, it's best to use a light weight until you're comfortable performing the technique. A personal trainer can help you with your technique to reduce your risk of injury. If you're using weights for any of these exercise, choose a weight that's heavy enough to exhaust your hamstrings by your 12th repetition, advises MayoClinic.com. If you're using only body weight, perform three sets of 12. However, if you're using weights and exhausting your muscles by the 12th repetition, one set of 12 repetitions is sufficient.