Why Do I Feel Hamstring Curls in My Calves? 5 Things You Need to Know

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Last updated on November 14th, 2022 at 03:48 pm

Do you ever feel hamstrings curls in your calves?

It must be one of the most annoying things about the hamstring curl machine.

You seem to be activating, stimulating and working every muscle except the hamstrings.

And most notably the calves seem to bear the brunt of your curls.

So, what exactly is going on here?

Why Do I Feel Hamstring Curls in My Calves?

There are a number of reasons why you feel hamstrings curls in your calves. Firstly, the weight you’re trying to curl is too heavy and you’re therefore recruiting other muscles, i.e. the calves, in order to lift the weight. You could also try changing your leg position on the pad and pointing your toes upwards to activate the hamstrings to a greater degree.

1. Try Hamstring Curls With Less Weight

Let’s face facts, irrespective of the exercise you are performing, if you use too much weight, you generally don’t end up working the target muscle.

Whether you want to admit to it or not, it’s true.

We’re all guilty of it, but whenever you load more weight that you can typically handle, you usually end up using every muscle in the body, bar the one you actually want to.

A Woman Performing Seated Machine Hamstring Curls

Trust me, hamstring curls are no different.

I know from personal experience.

I often notice that there is a fairly large discrepancy between what my quads can lift on a leg extension and what my hammies are capable of on the hamstring curl.

You’d like to think that the quads and hams were pretty even, but in my case (and I’m sure many others), this simply isn’t true.

This is definitely a case of “leave your ego at the door” and just curl what your hamstrings can actually handle.

You’ll actually find that once you reduce the weight, the hamstrings get worked to a far greater degree.

This obviously means that the exercise is doing its jobs, and your calves have nothing to worry about.

2. Move Your Legs Further Up the Pad

Unfortunately, in my gym I only have access to a seated hamstring curl machine.

So, I have absolutely no idea how either a standing or lying hamstring curl machine works.

That being said, I’m guessing the same principles apply.

Now, I always approached the hamstring curl machine by having the back of my ankles resting against the pad (or the ball, whatever you wish to call it).

I just assumed that this was the right way to go about things.

However, this caused a certain issue that I will reveal in the next section.

But, I was totally unaware of it at the time.

However, you should play around a little with where exactly your legs come into contact with the pad.

Funnily enough, it seems the ideal placement is around mid-calf level.

Go figure.

However, by having your calf on the pad you’ll generally find that there is a lot less calf activation, and far more hamstring stimulation.

3. Flex Your Toes When Doing Hamstring Curls

Now, as it happens this is likely to be one of the most common issues as to why you feel hamstring curls in your calves.

Pure and simple, toe flexion has a lot to do with which muscles of the legs are activated.

I spoke just above having the backs of my ankles resting against the pad of the hamstring curl machine.

Using this method you will typically find that the toes flex away from the body.

Dorsiflexion and Plantar Flexion

So, basically your toes are further away from the body than the heels.

This simple flexion of the feet (more specifically the toes) actually activates the calves.

It’s much the same as standing on your toes I guess.

By doing this you automatically stimulate the calves.

As it turns out, the ideal way to activate the hamstrings is to flex the toes towards yourself.

Or as it is sometimes referred to, dorsiflexion.

You want the toes to point towards your body and head.

By doing so, you automatically activate the hamstrings.

Although I wouldn’t suggest doing so for every exercise, this actually works to activate the hamstrings in just about any movement.

As I say, I wouldn’t suggest doing this for every exercise, but dorsiflexion will also work to activate the hamstrings more during all the deadlifts variations.

So, if you want more hamstring involvement, point your toes upwards.

How To: Seated Hamstring Curl

4. Use Other Exercises to Improve Hamstring Strength

Okay, I’ve spoken about potentially using too much weight.

However, this could just be a case of your hamstrings being weak.

Take it from someone who knows.

I’ve had my fair share of lower back injuries over the years.

And this was typically down to weak hamstrings, glutes, and tight hip flexors.

That being said, I know I’m definitely not alone.

Unless you partake in a particular sport, or speed is of the essence in your everyday life, the hamstrings don’t get much of a look in.

In fact, I will go as far to say that many people simply perform a few deadlifts accompanied by a couple of sets of hamstrings curls, and that’s all the hamstring work they ever do.

Been there, done that, got the injuries to prove it.

I will say that I find the hamstrings a particularly difficult muscle to train.

Regardless of exercise, I don’t always “feel” the hamstrings working as they should

However, I have made much more of a concerted effort to train the hamstrings in recent years (as well as my hip flexors and glutes).

So, if you’re feeling hamstring curls in your calves this could be a sign of weak hamstrings.

I mentioned earlier that you may use just every muscle bar the hamstrings to curl if you’ve loaded up too much weight.

The same principle applies if your hamstrings are your weak point.


5. Activate The Hamstrings First

A Woman Doing Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I as I’ve mentioned, I often find that I don’t “feel” the hamstrings when working specific hamstring-focused exercises.

This is even true of the greatest hamstring builder of them all, the deadlift.

Don’t get me wrong, I typically feel sore in the hammies the following day.

So, this tells me that the targeted muscle was being worked correctly.

However, it’s not uncommon to feel no “burn” during the actual exercise.

The best way to overcome this is to activate the hamstrings before you start curling.

For me, the exercises that appear to work best are bodyweight single-leg hip thrusts and Jefferson curls.

And I’m not going to lie, I have a real love for Swiss ball hamstring curls.

Admittedly, hip thrusts are more aimed at the glutes, whereas Jefferson curls are for strengthening and lengthening the posterior chain.

But for me, all these exercises work as a great way to activate the hamstrings.

Once you’ve activated the hamstrings you’re far more likely to feel them working on curls.

How to Do a Jefferson Curl

Final Thoughts

So, hopefully you understand a little better why you feel hamstring curls in your calves.

As you can see the main reasons include using too much weight, not flexing the toes, or incorrect leg placement on the pad.

Additionally, it could just be a case of weak hamstrings, or the need to activate the hammies prior to curling.

However, if you get these things right you will notice far better hamstring stimulation, without straining the calves.

Netx, while I’m on the subject of hammies, discover what I have to say about not feeling deadlifts in your hamstrings.

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