To Your Health

Recently, I responded to a reader who asked about her trainer’s recommendation she do the stiff-legged dead lift exercise for her hamstrings and glute muscles.

Because the stiff-legged dead lift de­mands advanced trunk coordination to protect the low back, though, the leg curl exercise may be more suitable if you’re new to training to minimize injury risk.

But even though the leg curl exercise is relatively easier than the stiff-legged dead lift, you must be careful to constantly maintain a neutral SUBMITTED PHOTO - Proper technique imperative -- To properly initiate a leg curl, one's knees should be slightly bent, feet hip-width apart, belly button drawn inward and lower back in neutral. Before initiating movement, you should feel tension in your hamstrings but not in your lower back.

“Neutral pelvis” is the most comfortable position for your low back region, which can be difficult to maintain during the exercise because you’ll constantly want to arch your low back to make things easier on the hamstrings. This dangerous compensation is obvious when humans perform exercise in general, since we are genetically programmed to avoid discomfort (keeping a neutral pelvis makes your hamstrings work harder, thus increasing discomfort in this area).

To start the leg curl, your knees should be slightly bent, feet hip-width apart, belly button drawn inward and low back in neutral. Be­fore initiating move­ment, you should feel tension in your hamstrings but not in your low back.

It’s tempting to think that all you need to do is curl the weight up. Quite the contrary, curling the weight up while keeping the pelvis and low back completely still is incredibly challenging. To reiterate, humans automatically and subconsciously default to the easiest and most comfortable position during resistance training. During the leg curl, that means arching the low back because it alleviates work of the hamstring muscles. By keeping the pelvis still and not arching the low back, the hamstrings must work harder to move the resistance.

You’ll know if you’re not doing the leg curl properly because your low back will be sore during and/or afterward. A large part of doing any exercise properly is choosing adequate but not excessive resistance.

If you’re new to the leg curl exercise, it’s a good idea to initially practice the movement with very light weight to get the feel of the movement before pushing yourself with greater resistance. Having a workout partner can also help, as he/she can give you immediate feedback to correct potentially dangerous body positions you’re not aware of.

Before and after the leg curl exercise, stretch your hamstrings to lower injury risk. One way to do it is with the standing hamstring stretch. To perform, both feet are pointed straight ahead to optimize stretch. If done properly and held long enough, this stretch also works your glute muscles on the non-stretched side as well as your balance.

Remember that your trainer and even health care provider works for you. If something doesn’t seem right, share your concern and hopefully the right changes will be made.

Colin Hoobler is a licensed physical therapist, hosts a live health segment on KGW Channel 8 and has written two books on exercise as treatment for disease and injury

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