In today’s blog we feature a guest post by physiotherapist Matthew Camilleri on one of the most underestimated exercises in the world of fitness and competitive sports – the nordic hamstring curl or more commonly known as ‘nordic curls’. I personally love this exercise and have seen very positive hamstring adaptations once I started implementing it in my own training regime.
What is the nordic hamstring curl?
The nordic hamstring curl, as simple as kneeling down and dropping to the floor, or is it? Apart from being one of the best researched hamstring exercises around, this movement requires little to no equipment and can be performed successfully both at home and in the gym.
How to perform correctly?
Adopt a tall kneeling position (kneeling on the floor, with trunk upright and erect). We suggest placing a soft mat underneath your knees. Next ask someone to hold your ankles or alternatively place both ankles underneath an immoveable object.
Finally tense your glutes (bottom muscles) and hold yourself as straight as possible whilst dropping to the ground slowly.
Now this is the tough bit. Control your downward motion using your hamstrings to slow the pull of gravity. Towards the end of your descent catch yourself with outstretched arms and push yourself back to the starting position. Do not allow your back to arch at any portion of the movement.
Here’s a clip showing me performing nordic curls as per the above cues:
Why we love it…
Apart from being able to perform this exercise more or less anywhere, we love its versatility. It can be used as a warm-up exercise, a superset in between other exercises or as a stand-alone hamstring strengthener. Over and above, it is extremely useful at the end stage of recovery from hamstring injury.
We often find that the hamstrings are under-developed in relation to ones quadriceps (which tend to be easier to strengthen). The hamstrings have a huge role to play in both day to day activity and sport at any level, further reinforcing the fact that they need to be healthy and well developed. Nordic curls also help in shifting maximum muscle strength towards longer muscle lengths, which is believed to be very important for athletic performance. This basically means that one’s hamstrings can operate better when on stretch.
Over and above there is a wealth of research behind this movement, arguably amongst the top ten most researched movements out there! The research is unanimous in stating that the nordic curls can help prevent hamstring injuries and strengthen this often under-trained muscle group.
Apart from the obvious injury prevention co-relations, nordic curls can also help pack on serious muscle mass in the hamstrings. A study carried out by Ebben et al proves that the nordic hamstring curl outperforms seated leg curls, stiff leg deadlifts (plus single leg variants), good mornings and squats in EMG (electromyography) hamstring activity testing (1).
Injury prevention and rehabilitation implications
Modern research frequently cites the fact that in order to train or rehabilitate the hamstrings successfully, prescribed exercise should simultaneously span the hip and knee joints and result in an eccentric lengthening of the hamstring muscle (2). The nordic hamstring curl fits this criterion perfectly.
This movement also works the hamstring eccentrically. In other words the hamstrings are lengthening throughout movement rather than shortening as per traditional hypertrophy based exercises. A wealth of modern research has shown us that the best way to work the hamstrings for both rehabilitation and pre-habilitation reasons is eccentrically.
These two points make the nordic hamstring curl ideal for both athletes and casual gym-goers looking to beat their next personal best.
Exercise adaptation options
The majority of casual gym-goers or those recovering from injury may struggle to maintain hamstring control throughout the entire range of motion of this exercise successfully. In this case an alternative would be a band assisted variation. Basically a length of elastic band (theraband for example) is tied to the top of a squat rack and held just below ones armpits (just below the shoulder blades). This helps in controlling tempo during descent and maintains optimal hamstring activity throughout a larger range of motion. As one gets better and better at the movement, they can consider changing to a less assistive elastic band or removing the band entirely.
Thanks ever so much Matthew for your insight into this terrific exercise. As you put it, the nordic hamstring curl has got all it takes for our followers to start familiarising with this exercise and eventually have it included as a regular during their training sessions.
Looking forward to more of the same content!
To fitness with love,