PT on the Net Research

Hamstring Machine


I read your article about the hamstring curl machine and the pelvis popping up. I was a little confused and was wondering if you could clear something up for me. I am a trainer at a gym, and we have the hamstring curl machine. It's not quite a flat bench; it does have a slight bend at the pelvic region. Professional bodybuilders who are trainers there always push the low back down. I explained this to one woman, and she said John Parillo (from Cincinnati - I don't know if you have heard of him) would have a lot of trouble with that. He always taught that you can lift more this way. I understand your theory and agree. My question is, knowing what I know about machines and the more you stay off them the better, what if I rolled up something and put it under the pelvis to raise them up to do the leg curl? Would that be good? Other than leg curl machine, stiff legs, good mornings, back ext. ham curl, do you know a way to target all the hamstring muscles?  It's hard on the other exercises I mentioned to change the foot positions to hit the other ham muscles so the leg curl seems like the best place for that. Any info you could give would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!


To answer your first question, as you are already aware, machine training (with the obvious exception of cable stacks) is not a wise activity to participate in for any significant length of time as it very quickly and efficiently detrains the neuromuscular system and creates what one might call "dumb" muscles. You've asked if placing an object under the pelvis while performing a lying hamstring curl would be better than pushing down on the sacrum. My question to you is, why choose between the lesser of two evils in the first place? I would simply avoid the machine as it is certainly detracting from your clients' "functionality." Something else in your question concerned me. You made mention to "being able to lift more" when applying pressure to the sacrum during the hamstring curl. Please understand that being able to lift more on a fixed axis machine is absolutely not an accurate measure of health, function or ability in any capacity! All it really means is more weight is moving with no regard to any postural compensation that's undoubtedly occurring, integration of the body's postural stabilizer system or improvement of any relevant biomotor abilities (i.e., balance, agility, power, functional flexibility, etc.). Once again, for a short and easy-to-understand read on why exposure to chronic machine training should be avoided whole-heartedly, I recommend Movement that Matters by Paul Chek. In my opinion, this short book should be read by all fitness professionals who still involve the heavy use of fixed axis machines in their exercise programs. My article series entitled Avoiding the Traditional Pitfalls of Training - Part 1 and Part 2 may also help shed some light on the topic.

Now, to address the second part of your question about targeting all of the hamstring muscles. Take caution in what/how/why a muscle is "targeted." If this is an attempt at "spot reduction of fat," than some serious up-education is needed on how/why/when the body uses different fuel sources. Remember: spot reduction does not exist. Isolation as mentioned above can cause neuromuscular confusion. The hamstrings are a generally regarded as tonic musculature. This means that faulty loading (such as in chronic use of fixed axis machines) can and will cause excess facilitation/tightening/shortening in these muscles. Facilitated hamstrings can contribute to countless musculoskeletal imbalances leading to dysfunction and pain. To avoid this, the simple answer once again is integrated "functional" exercise. Please remember that muscles have a full contraction spectrum (i.e., eccentric, isometric, concentric). Machines force the user to focus primarily on the concentric contraction. My point in this case is this: the hamstrings do not only concentrically flex the knee. They also:

  1. ECCENTRICALLY DECELERATE hip flexion, knee extension and internal/external rotation of the knee (depending on which muscles are being referred to) as well as iliosacral anterior rotation.
  2. ISOMETRICALLY STABILIZE the lumbo-pelvic hip complex as well as the tibio-femoral joint.
  3. CONCENTRICALLY ACCELERATE hip extension and internal external rotation of the knee (once again depending on which muscles are being referred to - semitendinosus, semimembranosus, bicep femoris long/short head).

There are literally countless ways to train/exercise all of these muscles. It is very safe to assume that, if careful consideration has been taken to assess and progress with a purpose, then any movements involving multiple planes of motion, varying intensities, speeds, mediums, etc., will involve the use of all the hamstring muscles.

The following examples can be found on the Exercise & Flexibility Library:

  1. Single Leg Squat Touchdowns
  2. Multi Planer Single Leg Squats
  3. Step-ups (Multiple Planes)
  4. Multi-planar Lunges
  5. Standard Front/Back Squats