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.

100 comments on “Worst Leg Exercise for Low Back (NOT WHAT YOU THINK!)

  1. Agustín Eduardo Almada Post author

    I had a slight knee injury with that machine. I am more and more away from machines everyday.

  2. WickedRibbon Post author

    When I see people doing this at the gym, I feel like going up to them and being like:

    "Have you heard of our lord and saviour, Jeff Cavaliere?" ??

  3. Julian Benedict Post author

    The only people who dislike this video are the same people who think they are professional trainers too….I've been suffering the past year with low back issues and now I know why!!! The extension attachment is getting detached and put away. I've never benefitted more from any other Youtube "trainer" than from Jeff and Athlean-X!

  4. Randall Ulangca Post author

    I'm a PT student and I absolutely appreciate you, your channel, and this video but it leaves me with some questions:
    1) Lying/standing hamstring curls can wreck your back if you use bad form (driving knees into pad and raising butt up). But then so to with squats and deadlifts if you use bad form as you mentioned. What if we just corrected our form? Would it be a bad exercise then?
    2) What about sitting hamstring curls? In sitting the predisposition of the hips will be a post. pelvic tilt. And it can be encouraged with the back rest that most sitting hamstring curl machines have.

    I agree there are more functional ways to train the hamstrings, but isolation training isn't necessarily a bad thing if you want to strengthen individual components as long as you have correct form. I've done hamstring curl machines for years and never had low back issues.

  5. Dan McManus Post author

    I'm having a back issue at the moment, squatting aggravates it. I have been doing loads of single leg work ok. Wish I could sort it out and squat again

  6. Jc Pasley Post author

    Dude your videos are literally the only ones I enjoy watching because you’re so smart and insightful and you’re not putting others down like most fitness YouTube channels.

  7. Andrew Boardman Post author

    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.

  8. dc rob Post author

    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.

  9. Osiedlony Post author

    I don't even do gym for longer time now, but still like to watch Jeff putting science everywhere. 😀

  10. Sean Hughes Post author

    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..

  11. Wander Post author

    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!

  12. Tanya Post author

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

  13. Greg Myrland Post author

    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.

  14. Shawn Mazzola Post author

    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.

  15. C Post author

    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.

  16. 505 Booker 2049384 Post author

    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

  17. W. Bronesby Post author

    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)?

  18. ATHLEAN-X™ Post author

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  19. L. Gyger Post author

    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.

  20. Gavin VON MEYER Post author

    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.

  21. Jess John Post author

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

  22. Canes 4Lyfe Post author

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

  23. Blah Blahblah Post author

    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.

  24. aligboyakasha Post author

    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

  25. Danny Peltier Post author

    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.

  26. Harry Mann Post author

    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

  27. Jordan Wilkerson Post author

    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?

  28. Platano Power Post author

    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

  29. Ali Eskandari Post author

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

  30. John Black Post author

    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?????

  31. Fats Torvolay Post author

    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?

  32. Aaron Johnson Post author

    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.

  33. Mike S Post author

    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.

  34. Daniel Jensen Post author

    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…

  35. Bu Jammy Post author

    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.

  36. Shae Russel Post author

    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,

  37. Brandon Laney Post author

    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

  38. jaimeivantamayo Post author

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

  39. Newly Slim Post author

    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!

  40. Christian HernandeZ Post author

    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

  41. vibhor vaish Post author

    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.

  42. Human Error Post author

    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.

  43. taneshia gerdin Post author

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

  44. Dustin Dunn Post author

    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?

  45. sayantan das Post author

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

  46. Brandon Hill Post author

    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

  47. Nordric Hinds Post author

    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.


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