Lying Hamstring Curl With a Dumbbell : Strength & Conditioning Journal

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Exercise Technique

Lying Hamstring Curl With a Dumbbell

Snarr, Ronald MEd, CSCS1; Esco, Michael R. PhD, CSCS2

Editor(s): Dawes, Jay PhD, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D, FNSCA

Author Information
Strength and Conditioning Journal 36(2):p 82-84, April 2014. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000038
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The lying hamstring curl with a dumbbell is a lower-body isolation exercise designed to increase muscular capacity of the hamstrings group.


Hamstrings group (biceps femoris, semitendinosus, semimembranosus), popliteus, gastrocnemius, soleus.


The hamstrings are a commonly overlooked muscle group in training programs; yet, they are highly important with regard to athletic performance and resistance to injury. For example, muscular imbalance between the hamstring and quadriceps (i.e., insufficient hamstring to quadriceps ratio [H:Q]) is associated with common knee injuries (2,6). The muscular strength ratio of the hamstrings to the quadriceps should preferably be 2:3 (1). This has shown to be the optimal H:Q for reducing the risk of injury and increasing athletic performance (1,2,6).

Strength and conditioning practitioners, in most cases, should develop exercise programs that are designed to increase hamstring strength relative to the H:Q. In other words, exercises that target the hamstrings should be a primary focal point of any training routine, especially for athletes who are following rehabilitation of a related injury.

Unfortunately, the lack of hamstring-specific strengthening equipment within fitness and conditioning settings make exercise prescription difficult. Therefore, practitioners are often required to be creative when attempting to provide adequate variety of hamstring exercises. The lying hamstring curl with a dumbbell is an effective open-chain exercise that is intended to isolate and strengthen the hamstrings group, in addition to improving dynamic knee joint stabilization. The exercise involves using minimal equipment allowing it to be useful within underequipped facilities. The proper technique is described as follows.


For this exercise, a spotter is required for the positioning and removal of the dumbbell and to ensure that the technique detailed below is followed.


  • Select a dumbbell and place it on the floor next to a flat weight bench.
  • Lay prone on the bench with the knees together and tops of the kneecaps placed in direct contact with the edge of the bench.
  • Flex the knees to 90° with the feet together and in a dorsiflexed position.
  • Secure the arms by grasping the top or sides of the bench with upper arms and forearms pressed against the pad to stabilize and prevent movement of the upper body during the exercise.
  • The head and neck should remain in neutral position throughout the exercise.


  • Once in the starting position, pick up the dumbbell and place the handle vertically midway between the toes and heels of the dorsiflexed feet of the athlete (Figure 1).
  • Instruct the athlete to secure the dumbbell between the feet by continually squeezing the feet together and “pressed” toward the dumbbell throughout the exercise (Figure 2).
  • Be sure the dumbbell is secure before releasing.
Figure 1:
Placement of the dumbbell between the feet of athlete/starting position.
Figure 2:
Correct position of dumbbell between feet.



  • Begin the motion by slowly extending the knees while allowing the ankles to plantar flex (this motion will assist in keeping the dumbbell between the feet) (Figure 3).
  • Continually squeeze the glutes and feet throughout the range of motion to keep the dumbbell stable and maximally challenge the hamstrings.
  • Avoid any movement of the upper body by keeping the hands and arms secured to the weight bench.
  • Do not allow the lower back to arch throughout the exercise movement.
  • Continue lowering the dumbbell toward the floor until the hips and knees are fully extended and the ankles are plantar flexed (Figure 4).
  • Inhale during this phase of the exercise.
  • The tempo for this portion of the movement should be approximately 2–4 seconds.
Figure 3:
Mid-point of each repetition.
Figure 4:
Ending position of phase 1.



  • Begin the ascent by slowly flexing the knees.
  • Avoid arching the lower back and moving the upper body by keeping the hands and arms secured to the bench.
  • Continue flexing the knees until the starting position is reached while squeezing the glutes and feet together (Figure 5).
  • Allow the feet to return to a dorsiflexed position during this phase.
  • Do not flex the knees past 90°.
  • Exhale during this phase of the exercise.
  • The tempo for this portion of the movement should be approximately 2–4 seconds.
Figure 5:
The beginning and ending position of each repetition.


  • Once the athlete has completed the set and returned to the starting position, safely remove the dumbbell from between the athlete's feet and place it on the ground.


It is not recommended that a 1 repetition maximum test be performed for this exercise. Therefore, individuals are encouraged to begin with a weight that they are able to perform the prescribed number of repetitions safely and under control. During the exercise, any and all arching of the back should be avoided. However, should this occur, a decrease in dumbbell weight is suggested (1).

The following sets, repetitions, and rest periods for the hamstring curl with a dumbbell are based on the guidelines set forth by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (5) and can be modified based on the needs and goals of the individual (e.g., principle of specificity).

  • Strength: 3–5 sets, 3–6 reps, 2 - to 5-minute rest period.
  • Hypertrophy: 3–6 sets, 6–12 reps, 30- to 90-second rest period.
  • Endurance: 2–3 sets, ≥12 reps, ≤30-second rest period.

Using the 2-for-2 progression rule, once an individual is able to perform 2 or more repetitions past their target amount on consecutive occasions, an increase in dumbbell weight is advised for the following exercise session (5).


Practitioners should be aware that a proper H:Q ratio is essential for all individuals and especially important to athletes wanting to improve sports performance and decrease injury risk. Therefore, proper exercise prescription should include an effort to increase overall hamstring strength using a variety of exercises. Exercises that isolate muscle groups, such as the lying dumbbell hamstring curl, are effective at targeting and increasing the capacity of the soft tissue. Isolation exercises are beneficial to prepare muscles for more intense multi-joint and sport-specific movements. This arrangement may reduce muscular imbalances between the quadriceps and hamstrings to a greater extent than typical resistance training exercises alone (3,4).


1. Christ S, Knortz K. Kinesiology Corner: The hamstring curl. Strength Cond J 3: 52–53, 1981.
2. Crosier JL. Factors associated with recurrent hamstring injuries. Sports Med 34: 681–695, 2004.
3. Hewett TE, Stroupe AL, Nance TA, Noyes FR. Plyometric training in female athletes. Decrease impact forces and increased hamstring torques. Am J Sports Med 24: 765–773, 1996.
4. Holcomb WR, Rubley MD, Lee HJ, Guadagnoli MA. Effect of hamstring-emphasized resistance training on hamstring: Quadriceps strength ratios. J Strength Cond Res 21: 41–47, 2007.
5. Baechle TR, Earle RW. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2008. pp. 389–409.
6. Sherry MA, Best TM, Silder A, Thelen DG, Heiderscheit BC. Research applications for preventing the recurrent injury. Strength Cond J 33: 56–71, 2011.
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