Worst Leg Exercise for Low Back (NOT WHAT YOU THINK!)

Worst Leg Exercise for Low Back (NOT WHAT YOU THINK!)

What’s up, guys? Jeff Cavaliere, ATHLEANX.com. A little time for a quiz here. If I were to ask you which leg exercise has
led to more low back problems than any other in the gym, what would your answer be? Now, likely the top two answers are probably
squats, and deadlifts. I am absolutely going to disagree because
those well-executed exercises do far more good for your entire body, than they are damage. I’m actually talking about the exercise
right here. For those of you that know I don’t really
like the leg extension, that’s not even what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the other version of this. I’m talking about the hamstring curl. The hamstring curl, ironically, is one of
the exercises that well-intentioned people do to strengthen their hamstrings, and it
screws up more people’s lower backs than any other I’ve seen. As a matter of fact, the irony behind the
entire exercise itself is, they’re doing it to strengthen their hamstrings, but when
we talk about function – when we talk about training athletes – very rarely, in function,
does an athlete ever need to have overwhelming strength of the knee-flexion component of
a hamstring’s function. We talk about hip extension, that’s a whole
other ballgame. That’s something you really want to focus
on, but doing something that isolates knee flexion here, under heavy load is not going
to do the trick. It is going to screw up your low back. This is why. I literally had to dust this damned thing
off. You can see, Jesse, all the dust particles
all over this thing? See them floating gall over the place, in
the air? Because it’s been in my basement. It never officially made it to the gym for
the official move. But I still have it for demo purposes. What we do is get down here, get into position
to do the exercise, and this is what causes all the problems. When I’m down here and I start to move heavier
weight, or get fatigued, what do we do? We start to – as we’re trying to pull
up – we start to lift our butt up into the air. Some machines even place us in that position
to start. They keep us up with our hips elevated, which
is even worse. But when we’re doing this here, and we start
to do this, what’s really problematic about that is what’s causing that. Why do we do it? We do it because we know that we’ve got
to get our heels toward our butt. Get the heels up toward our butt. When we start to have problems what we do
is say “If I can’t get my heel to my butt, I can get my butt to my heel.” So, if I lift my butt up I’m going to shorten
that distance and make it easier, but what I’m also doing is shortening that moment
arm to make it a little bit easier on the hamstring itself, to execute that motion. That’s all well and good, but what it’s
actually doing is, to cause this lift I’m driving with my hip flexors into the pads. Right here, I’m driving up. We know that if my hips are driving, actively
into this pad I can’t move them anywhere because they’re stuck. They’re stuck in place here on that pad. So, if I can’t bring them through like this,
what I could do is, it will bring my body up, and back in that direction. That is the recipe for disaster because what
happens is, as you really press hard on those hip flexors to drive up and help those hamstrings
work you can most often cause some pretty significant spasms, or unwanted tension into
the hip flexors themselves. It goes through the body and attaches right
down into the lumbar vertebrae causing all kinds of low back spasms, and pain, and strain,
and everything else you don’t want there. That could be pretty longstanding. You may have actually experienced this after
having done some leg curls and getting up, even if not just right away, maybe later on
that night, or the next day your back is killing you. This is what’s happening. It’s no better if we try to do the standing
leg curl. If I do – come on this side – if I do
the standing leg curl, the same deal is, I still have my leg anchored in here, and as
I try to get my heel up I try to lift and push into the pad here as well. The same thing is happening on that hip flexor,
up against that pad. What could we do instead? Again, let’s be a little more athletic about
it. Let’s not focus on strengthen the knee flexion
component of our hamstrings. Again, if we were trying to do something athletic,
and I want flexion, normally any athletic movement on my feet, all I have to do is let
gravity win. Meaning, if gravity wins I bend my knees. I don’t have to actively pull myself down
to get there. So, we don’t need that so much. Even for the people that might argue “Well,
when I’m running, doesn’t your leg come up?” Not really. When you’re in stance mode, if I’m running,
as I get here, through mid-stance, and I pass through; the leg is actually being brought
and powered through with the hamstring into hip extension. But then it’s a momentum where my leg continues
to go up into the air and kick past there. But you certainly don’t need a lot of power
and force to lift up against the force of gravity here. So, we want things that are going to allow
two things. Number one: A little more athletic where we
can get co-contraction of the glutes and hamstrings at the same time. I’ve covered this before on an exercise
like the glute-ham raise. What we have with the glute-ham raise is the
ability of the hamstrings and glutes to work at the same time. Now, properly executed is the key. You don’t want to do what I’m showing
you here. Which is, once again, shortening that movement
and doing the same thing where you drive your knees into that pad. If you maintain a long torso and come all
the way up, now you’re actually making sure that the hamstrings are doing their job, but
they’re getting a heavy dose of work, and assistance from the glutes. If you have to do anything here to help yourself
up you just use your hands as a self-spotting technique, but you don’t compromise and
start driving those knees into the pad, causing the same problems with hip flexion. But you can actually do a better thing here
by lying on the floor and doing alternative exercises. Like the barbell hip thrust. A great exercise for athletes because we’re
taking away the opportunity for the hips to be driving isometrically into some pad that
would cause the low back to start having problems. We can even do this with no barbells at all
by doing these bridge curls. We’re basically allowing ourselves to let
the legs slide out, and then bring them back in again. Again, always trying to focus on keeping the
pelvis up high to make sure the hip extension component of the hamstring strengthening is
key. Finally, we can even do this with a physio
ball if we need the extra assistance here and to make it a bit easier. But no matter what we do we want to train
like athletes, guys. The focus is, you’ve got to get the things
that matter the most when it comes to training a muscle and try to discard the things that
don’t work. Here, I know it’s a popular exercise. I know it’s something we always do. But why? You have to ask yourself that question sometimes. If the answer doesn’t really line up with
the science, then maybe you’ve got to rethink your training. Guys, if you’re looking for a program that
puts the science back in strength, as a physical therapist and someone that has to prioritize
the things that work because I’m applying it to real athletes and real situations where
they have to thrive; that’s what ATHLEANX is all about. You guys can train the same way. Train like an athlete over at ATHLEANX.com. If you’ve found the video helpful leave
your comments and thumbs up below. Let me know what else you want me to cover
and I’ll do my best to do that for you in the days and weeks ahead. All right, see you soon.


  • roger guerrero amezquita says:

    i am digging those sweat pants !

  • Andrew Boardman says:

    Great vid, had knee surgery, and after physio released me, did these a couple times thinking they just gave me exercises I could do without a gym, but u convinced me to stick to ones they gave me, which were ones you showed here, they said especially those bridge curls def keep doing.

  • A.H.Z says:


  • Alisha R says:

    Is the leg press machine and smith machine bad?

  • dc rob says:

    You can't sprint without knee flexion. You are explosively bringing your heel to your butt. I never hurt a hamstring until about 3 months after I quit doing hamstring curls. a trainer said I didn't need them because they weren't functional.

  • Sean Hughes says:

    I'm at 2:14 so haven't seen the solution yet but when I do leg curls I always focus on pushing my pelvis forward into the bench as if I'm extending my hips through the movement, I get a much better contraction that way and I'd imagine it saves your back from this issue too..

  • Wander says:

    Outstanding JC..! Right now I’m uninstalling that attachment from my bench since the exercises targeted are obsolete and proven dangerous… thanks you are the BEST!

  • Tanya says:

    Ho. Lee. Shit. My only recent back spasms have come from after doing (recommended) hamstring curls. Game. Changer.

  • Greg Myrland says:

    Thanks. One more faulty exercise deleted from my leg routine. Didn’t know my back pains source but suspected the leg curls because that’s always when it cramped. Back never hurts from squats since I fixed my form after viewing another video. This is the Thinking mans channel for sure.

  • Aquarian Beauty says:

    Thanks Jeff, I will definitely let this routine go!!

  • Shawn Mazzola says:

    I'm not sure about the back thing, but I do know that there are probably dozens of better exercises than leg curls to build your hams… especially since the machines in a lot of gyms are not really all that safe.

  • Walter Williams says:

    Very true

  • Nilo 6927 says:

    What if you put the bench on an incline would that fix the problem?

  • Aabid Shah says:

    So are your programs available only for US? I am not on US, How do I pay?

  • fbi ric says:

    Doesn't your hampstring bicep need knee flexion to grow

  • C says:

    I never understood that hamstring machine in the gym- you gotta lie face down, and its near impossible to spot your own form if a mirror isn't around. Not to mention that machine is basically impossible to use if you're a shorter person like I am (probably a good thing though). The seated hamstring machine is much less insane, though still not my fav.

  • 505 Booker 2049384 says:

    I fuckin knew it… God dammit I was so close to connecting the dots on this one… You may have beaten me on this on buddy and saved me from more pain… Thanks Jeff I'm going to investigate further on the tip

  • TheFunnyManHQ says:

    nooooooo ive always liked this exercise.

  • W. Bronesby says:

    Thanks as always Jeff! I have mounting lumbar area pain (watched your vids on hernia avoidance, single arm row, correcting bulging/herniated discs) – I've been doing nordic hamstring curls on the floor with heels braced, any further pointers to finetune form aside from the excellent ones here (keeping the body long and not pushing with the knees)?

  • 9999rockey says:

    Exactly this problem I was having while doing this workout

  • ATHLEAN-X™ says:

    Want to win an ATHLEAN-X program for free, no strings attached? Click the link below to find out how!


  • L. Gyger says:

    5:50 I do this one without any additional weight but on one leg at a time. When training calves or hamstrings I prefer not to use a lot of extra weight but instead go for more reps. I only use weight when doing squats or deadlifts. That's what my physiotherapist suggested to me. Seems like he knows his job just like you do, Jeff 🙂 Great video, gave me some confidence for my leg routine.

  • Ghosh says:

    Squats give me knee pain…does anyone know the reason??

  • Manish Agarwal says:

    Music is too loud. Very bad for ears.

  • Gavin VON MEYER says:

    I have to be honest I loved hamstring curls when i still had access to a gym and dont recall ever having problems from it. And same with leg extensions.

  • Jess John says:

    I never lift my ass up doing these never had back problems probably because i dont try to lift stupid heavy like most ppl

  • Rakesh Sharma says:

    Great info

  • Canes 4Lyfe says:

    OMG I’m regularly on this machine and suffer lower back problems. Everything he’s said is true!! God damnit!!

  • Marcus J says:

    I popped my hamstring as well as my quad using that fucking machine

  • Json says:

    Oh god i've been doing the lying leg curl every single time i do leg day. Damn..

  • Kaven Haul says:

    My back hurt just watching this

  • Mark Welsh says:

    neck. how do you strengthen and build your neck?

  • Blah Blahblah says:

    Sprinting (correctly) is just hamstring curling the ground. Thats why you’re hamstrings are sore the day after sprinting. This exercise is good if you use a low enough weight so that you don’t do what he did in the video.

  • Frost Salonica says:

    Seated leg curls?

  • Brad Wolfe says:

    Leg press is much more damaging to spine then this.

  • aligboyakasha says:

    I actually was opposed to this video at the beginning but because he showed the alternative exercises I changed my mind. Sucks that my gym doesn't have a ghd tho

  • Danny Peltier says:

    Not one time did a hamstring curl bother my back, and I do them all the time. Never has anyone hinted to me that hamstring curls bother their back. All the time squats and dead lifts bother my back. I've known plenty of people who can't do squats or dead lifts because it hurts their back. Jeff you're creating a solution for a problem that really doesn't exist.

  • Harry Mann says:

    hey jeff ! your video is great … i am trying to losing fat by following a healthy diet and stronglift 5*5 program . Last week i got pain in lower back ,i believe its due to deadlift and squat or leg raises which i do for abs . So can u tell if i can start them again with less weight and do it properly it wont hurt my lower back .. i want to start the program again as it feels bad if i cant do 2 great compound excerises .. Please do respond …or anyone who has experience in this .. Thanks in advance

  • MrNumedeutilizator says:

    The best in fitness. Thanks for your existence. I've learned a lot!

  • Michele Kurlan says:

    My bad for ever having done and/or encouraged others to do these

  • Reciprocitical Hypocrite says:


  • Jordan Wilkerson says:

    Hey Jeff, great video and I have had low back pain from this exercise and didn't know what was causing it. What about the seated hamstring curl? Would this be a variation you could use as a substitute?

  • Andy Peguero says:

    I agree! I never liked this version of the leg curl and, for ONCE, the only exercise that actually worked for my hams when I once"trained" at Planet Fitness years ago before I saw the light, was the SEATED leg curl which did wonders for building solid hamstrings

  • Ali Eskandari says:

    I love your suggestion and explanation for hamstring extension work out. Your suggestion makes sense I no longer work out with that device.Thanks

  • John Black says:

    I agree with u Jeff but deadlifts hurt my slip disc causes pinched nerve pain every time I do heavy deads all stick to one legRomanian dumbbell extensions. Butt machine kick backs what do u think about the hip inner and outer machine is it worth the bang for the buck?????

  • John Black says:

    Inner and outer thigh machine is it worth using jeffplease make video about it thank u

  • Dipen Kadam says:

    So it's safe to do seated ham curl??

  • Fats Torvolay says:

    I did the exercise a lot years ago, and it gave me niggling sciatica, and then a herniated disc. So I never go near it now?

  • Aaron Johnson says:

    I like many of the videos, but the click-bait-y titles turn me away super hard. I don't need some "IT'S NOT WHAT YOU THINK" headline to get me to watch. You don't even know what I'm thinking.

    I'm probably going to start avoiding your videos with titles like this until you start shooting straight again. Click-bait just feels slimey.

  • Ivan Gil says:

    Ofcourse its not those, they strengthen the back, really faggoty clickbait pussyboi shit

  • Mike S says:

    Who would of guessed that an exercise that's been done for over 40 years by physique competitors all over the world with no back problems is bad for your back and hips… Interesting.

  • Daniel Jensen says:

    Well shit, I have scoliosis and this is like the one leg exercise that never gives me trouble… (Hack squat and leg press aren't too bad either). But my gym doesn't have one of those things for glute-ham raises or back extensions, and the bar just kinda hurts on hip thrusts…

  • Zz Man says:

    Why is he not wearing shorts to show his leg muscles?

  • Yuvraj Singh says:

    Good information

  • Bu Jammy says:

    I'm pretty sure the hamstring curl bench was originally invented as a Victorian-era sex sofa, like a bygone sortof sex swing. They just said it was fitness equipment so as not to offend the sensibilities of the Queen when she saw it in Prince Albert's study.

  • Said Tamimullah says:

    I love the way he goes straight to the point.

  • Kharus says:

    It's not a good exercise if performed sitting for a cyclist ?

  • Shae Russel says:

    I've been diagnosed with spinal disease and severe issues with cervical and lumbar..I was told I should not train the way ir could be hunched over or not walk or surgery with no mobility…I have ( traditional..such as dead lifts Squats etc.) If been training mb y entire life but the 5 years for a bikini comp ..now I'm told l should not do the training that is needed for success..keeping in mind I'm 56..this is a life goal and dream of mine . .I'm looking for real help with this..I watch your videos and I have learned so much from you. Any suggestions,

  • Cote Largo says:

    Squats and deadlifts fixed my back

  • Shed says:

    Won't do these any longer!! Thanks Jeff!!!

  • RickfromColorado says:

    Thx, Jeff. Ur right and that comes from decades of working out.

  • Beau Carpenter says:

    Glute bridges do the same thing to me.

  • Brandon Laney says:

    Shouldn’t single leg lying leg curls fix this issue you are talking about. I think it does. The weight of the leg not being used keeps the hips from coming off the pad along with using lighter weight w/ more repa

  • Y says:

    Thanks 🙂

  • jaimeivantamayo says:

    AWesome content!! What do you recomend for people who had knee cirjury (meniscus and rear croos ligament)?

  • Marcus Beasley says:

    Oh brother, more GHR mumbo jumbo and another hamstring curl witch hunt.

  • Ron and Heather says:

    I love you bro!!! Thanks for telling the truth!!!! I get so many people telling me squats kill your back! Not true. You are awesome!

  • christogoal says:

    I stoped my GYM routine because of a back injury at work felt on my back and I buldge 1 disk question it's what exercises should I do now after I recover from my injury less thing I want it's to hurt my self again instead making my back stronger

  • vibhor vaish says:

    Why place a title that attracts views. You could have simply mentioned the name of the exercise which ruins the lower back. Good video though.

  • Human Error says:

    Never had any problems with leg curls. No back issues, except it went out getting oj off the bottom self of the fridge once,shut me down for three days.
    Deadlifted 500 lbs,no issues with back.
    Sneeze in a semi-awkward position, back pain.

  • taneshia gerdin says:

    wow. i do ham curls often and have lower back pain. definitely cutting them out and see if it improves.

  • Thomas Paiva says:

    Does this also pertain to an upright hamstring curl or just flat hamstring curl?

  • Dustin Dunn says:

    What about bodybuilders, who need to fully develop their hamstrings? What would he a viable alternative in this situation? My gym has a sitting version of the leg curl, where you sit with your legs straight out, and contract your hamstrings and push the pad down to a normal sitting position. Would this still cause issues with ones low back?

  • sayantan das says:

    soccer(or football for everywhere except the USA) players may need the knee flexion @ATHLEAN X

  • Brandon Hill says:

    Been leg curling for 2 years. Back hurts every other time I do it and I already had s bad back. Wish I found this video 2 years ago. No more leg curls

  • FGTBen says:

    Anyone know if a seated leg curl also does this same stuff

  • Nordric Hinds says:

    Much thanks to you, it is indeed helpful and very much practical. I've been down with a lower back injury and this really didn't help in recovering when coming to think about it. This was my number one exercise for hamstrings to finish a day, but yes it does put that immense strain on your back when going for those heavier weights and extra strain on my lower back won't do me any good.

  • mr says:

    Never had any problems with this

  • john smith says:

    the most pointless bench in the Athlean-X gym – Doesn't use it for leg extensions or hamstring curls ahaha just for demo's of dumb exercises!

  • Giorgio Anastasios says:

    I disagree Jeff in this one. Leg curls are fine especially unilateral will keep your hips down. The stiff leg deadlift or Romanian are far more hazardous as all are mechanically structured different. You should know this. Seated leg curls are fine as well as are standing

  • Giorgio Anastasios says:

    Also Jeff a reverse hyper DIRECTLY hits glutes and hams using the leg as moment arm. And not the back. If lower back is weaker then glutes and hams , why are you going g through the weakest chain to fatigue those larger muscles.

  • Giorgio Anastasios says:

    As fast as hip thrust and bridge curls jeff, I do agree. Let's stop bashing machines though with the stability nonsense. If all feel so passionate about it , go do deadlifts and squats on a busu. Ball. Lol

  • Jackson Thorne says:

    Jeff loves open chain exercises.

  • Josh B says:

    Thankful this wasn't another person condemning deadlifts.

  • dradeel says:

    A few minor notes, though, beyond of course agreeing entirely.

    I could see huge hamstring strength being a factor in different kinds of martial arts, where strong knee flexion is useful, like maybe in some wrestling and submission moves. Some gymnastics where you hang from your legs might also demand significant strength in this movement.

    Also, isolation and overloading in order to create hypertrophy and practice muscle control are keys to body building. It's hard to achieve this in hamstrings outside of doing leg curls.

    But for both of these, if a leg curl is to be used, the seated leg curl is by far a better option than lying leg curls. You can better lock in your ass and keep your back in place, and you can much easier focus on keeping good form, while contracting to a 90 degree position on your knees and not try drive your lower back and glutes out of position to meet your feet.

  • Juandisimo says:

    The leg curl hurt my back. This is not just theory.

  • Chuck Shepherd says:

    My working out playlist is now 100% Aflean-X. Thanks Jeff, so many videos you've created have helped me get rid of exercises I was doing either wrong or ones that were not doing me any favors as I have a prolapsed disc years ago. I'm a classic ectomorph like Jessie and struggle with the gains but I've recently put back on half a stone in just muscle and I'm happy that under developed areas are starting to show real improvement. Thanks again, from the UK.

  • amandoling says:

    You start this video explaining that well-executed deadlifts and squats are great, but then you base your entire argument against hamstring curls on the fact that people have the tendency to do them wrong. I think you could make that argument for every lift. If you do it wrong, you put stress on joints and muscles that you don't want. No hate; I love your channel, but I don't find this line of logic particularly convincing.

  • Zetsuke4 says:

    Lol that bench isn’t even in the gym

  • FromBeToReality says:

    THUMBS UP!!!!
    then watch!!

    ANOTHER one of those vids that makes me smh IN 1000% PLUS GRATITUDE!!!!

    i swear…one day…when i've… earned my first million selling my e-books on amazon (hintHINT!!!goandbuy!!!!) i'm going to seriously donate to mister ax after i purchase all of whatever he's selling, including one-on-one training!!!! and not bc i'm an athlete or interested in being one or have ever been one, but bc i.am.vain!!!! and i want to LOOK AND MOVE LIKE AN ATHLETE WITH YUMMY-LOOKING ABS!!!!!! AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!! UNTIL THE DAY I DIE!!!!!! AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!


  • Adam Buentello says:

    From experience squats are the worse for my lower back. I use good form but I always end up with pain. I think my body is just not shaped for it.

  • sema navidi says:

    Thank you, Jeff.

  • Rodney Frederick says:

    I'm learning so much through your vids. Thank you.

  • james jacob says:

    I use to wrestle and we would do a technique that was exactly like a lying leg curl.We would be on top position on the ground and we would maximally flex our knee to prevent the bottom man's foot from pushing off the ground. I use to have cramps and very little force and endurance in my hamstrings when performing this technique until I trained for it. I was always squatting and deadlifting but only leg curls improved this technique for me. I would still train knee flexion in a safer way though.

  • Ken Brennan says:

    Doing Nordic curls sent my hip into spam. Serious pain. Thought it was squats causing the problem. But I’ve got 3 bad discs as well. Need some options

  • Bien Gabriel says:

    what about seated hamstring curls?

  • Ryan Draker says:

    I wish someone would make a browser extension that would replace all the garbage "fitness" channels with Jeff's videos – Jeffrolling is desperately needed

  • Silvie Fojtik says:

    I can think of one sport where the knee flexion with hamstring strength is needed: climbing in overhangs, getting your toes into the wall and pulling the bring the body in for the next move. (both rock and mixed ice)… it's actually one of my weaknesses I've been trying to resolve aside from strengthening core.

  • manish dedhia says:

    I wish i had seen this video earlier…

  • The Channel of ALL says:

    Jeff solved a problem I didn't know even existed

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