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Bilateral and Unilateral Leg Curls

Learning how to use the lower body appropriately is crucial for a number of high-performance bike skills. The leg curl will help with general strength off the bike.

Strength and conditioning coach Jess Elliott of TAG Performance has worked with many cyclists. She often sees similar issues when it comes to general strength in these athletes.

This video is part of a series of full-body movements in which Jess walks through a multi-planar approach to strength to address those specific weaknesses that she so often sees. The goals are to build stability, efficiency, and resilience.

Learning how to use the lower body appropriately is crucial for a number of high-performance bike skills.

Improving balance assists with our confidence in cornering by managing our center of mass. Improving unilateral movements is great for those times when we are climbing out of the saddle.

Of note, there’s no sophisticated equipment necessary to perform these exercises. For those athletes who want to try the advanced progressions, have sliders, a dumbbell or kettle bell, and a pillow or mat handy.

For more on preventing injuries through strength and conditioning, check out Fast Talk, episode 87: Preventing Injuries Through Strength and Conditioning, with Jess Elliott.

For a better understanding of why it is so important to make time for off-the-bike strength and conditioning work, check out Cycling in Alignment, episode 16: Strength and Conditioning, with Jess Elliott of TAG Performance.

Leg Curls

  • Equipment: stability ball, sliders, small towel, paper plates
  • Benefits:
    • knee dominant lower body pull
    • many progressions/regressions
    • scalable, bilateral, or unilateral emphasis
  • Start with 5-10 repetitions per leg (or total if starting double leg), progressing to 2-3 sets

Video Transcript

Jess Elliott  

“For this movement, we are going to showcase a variation of leg curls. So we’re going to be doing them bilaterally, so that’s both legs, and we’re also going to show unilateral variations and single leg variations, as well. So for these, Chris is going to be demonstrating using some sliders. For those of you who don’t have sliders at home, if you have like just a nice smooth floor like this, you can actually use hand towels in place of fancy sliders. Alright, so for the first variation, and the easiest variation, we’re just going to be working on the extension part of the leg curl. So to start, he’s going to bring his feet in just a little bit closer, and then he’s going to lift the hips. So we want to make sure there’s a nice straight line from the knees all the way to the shoulders. Now he’s going to take five counts to extend the legs out as slowly as he can. So 1,2,3,4,5 then he’s going to drop the hips all the way down to the ground, and then he’s going to reset the movements. So he’s just working on the eccentric part, which is the lengthening of the hamstrings for this movement. So we’ll showcase one more. So hips up, notice the toes are pulled up, that’s going to activate more of the posterior chain, some more of the hamstrings and the glutes. Five counts to extend 1,2,3,4,5 he’s going to drop the hips, slide them back into reset. Alright, so that’s the easiest variation just working on the eccentric component. Now, once you have enough strength, you can combine that with the consented movement, which is the muscle shortening. This is traditionally what we think of when we think of a leg curl. So, Chris is going to execute the same movement. Good. So he’s up on his heels, toes are pulled up towards the sky, nice straight line from knees all the way to shoulders, he’s going to slowly extend out, it doesn’t have to be a five count just nice and controlled. And then he’s going to take account to come all the way back in to perform the leg curl, so that’s the concentric part of the movement, where the hamstring is going to be shortening. Alright, so those are going to be our bilateral variations.”

Leg Curl Variation in a Unilateral Format

“Now we’re going to run the same variations in a unilateral format. So emphasizing single leg training. All right, Chris. So pick your favorite leg, or your least favorite leg, whichever works best. So we’re gonna start with the eccentric only, same thing. So we’re gonna take five counts to extend out. So he’s gonna do a single leg, one leg is going to stay extended, so thighs main parallel, good. Nice, slow count out to extend, and then he’s going to drop the hips, pull the foot back into reset, so he’s giving himself a little bit of a break. Let’s try that one more time just to show single leg. Good, lift those hips, and we’re just doing the eccentric component. Good, so nice, slow extension, drop the hips, and will reset.”

Leg Curl Variation Using Sliders

“All right, now if you’re feeling really ready to challenge things, you’re going to do the eccentric, but you’re also going to add in the single leg leg covariation using the sliders. Alright, Chris you feeling ready? Alright, so he’s going to extend one leg straight out, he’s going to lengthen first. Then when he’s ready, he’s going to curl back in for the concentric part of the movement. So as you can see, this takes a considerable amount of strength. So you don’t necessarily want to start with the most challenging variation. Start with the eccentric bilateral variation, then work into concentric. When you have both legs pretty solid, then you can work through the unilateral variations. And this is how we perform the leg curls using the sliders.”