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Weight machines are an effective way of working the legs.
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One of the common dilemmas on the gym floor is whether to perform free-weight exercises or use weight training machines. For some exercises, though, the choice is made for you. The leg curl, for example, requires some type of machine to perform, but there are a variety of configurations available. The type of leg curl to perform depends on the type of weight system you want to use, stacked weight or lever-manipulated free-weight plates.
Leg Curl Basics
The form of the leg curl is simple, but basically for the lack of opposable toes, there is no way to grip a free weight with your foot to perform it unassisted. You can use a rigid, lever machine that uses either stacked weight or free plates, or a stacked weight machine that uses a cable tied to your ankle, to provide resistance. The form is a simple, isolation motion that requires bending only at the knee to compress the leg. The curl targets the primarily the hamstrings and the calves, but there is some engagement of the quadriceps as well.
Stacked weight provides counterbalanced resistance that is actuated through pulleys, and either a lever or cable with a strap attached to it. Stacked weight is simple to use, and lets you work out with progressive set structures quickly, because you can rapidly increase and decrease weight by moving a single pin up or down. For most versions of the leg curl machine, you can change the weight while seated or lying down on the bench. Stacked weight has a finite amount of weight you can curl; once you reach the bottom weight plate, you cannot add any additional resistance.
Leg curl machines that use free-weight plates provide resistance through leverage. The free-weight plates are loaded on one end of the lever, your knees wrap around the hinge while you lie down on a bench, and the bar or brace rests just behind your ankles. Free-weight plate machines provide resistance that you must curl directly against the force of gravity, and there are no mechanical limits to how much or how little weight you can place on the bar for your curls.
Each type of leg curl weight machine offers advantages and drawbacks, depending on your level of strength and your ultimate goals. Free weight fulcrum machines let you lift as much or as little as you wish, while stacked weight machines have a weight ceiling, and often a minimum weight as well. However, free-weight lever machines take time and effort to load and unload. You have to get off the bench, grab each individual plate, load it up or pull it off. This takes up time, and can hinder the tempo of intensity-driven workout sessions.