The Nordic Hamstring Curl (aka Nordic Ham Curl, Inverse Leg Curl, Russian Leg Curl) is one of our favorite exercises for strengthening the hamstrings and protecting them from injury. It is quite possibly the most versatile bodyweight hamstring exercise that exists. You can do Nordic Hamstring Curls at home, in the gym, or even outside using a number of simple setups. Moreover, with Nordic Ham Curls, there are many variations and progressions to make them effective and accessible for all fitness levels.
The main thing about this complicated move is focusing hardcore on your form. We see many people forgetting that form is the priority and instead turning their attention to knocking out reps. As with most exercises, form trumps reps when doing Nordic Hamstring Curls. In fact, reps will never be that high if Nordic Ham Curls are done correctly, as this exercise really hits the hamstrings hard.
So how do you properly perform the Nordic Hamstring Curl? And what benefits will you reap from adding this exercise to your leg day rotation?
Well, this guide has everything you need to know about the Nordic Hamstring curl. We’ll go through the muscles worked, the variations, and some super helpful tips for proper form and for getting the most out of this exercise.
Obviously, the Nordic Hamstring Curl tightens and tones hamstrings. But what is great about this movement is that it works the hamstrings deep into the muscle tissue for ultimate power and strength.
The hamstring is actually made up of three muscles. These work together to support the movement of your legs and stabilize your joints. The Nordic Hamstring Curl targets all of these hamstring muscles, collectively making the whole muscle group stronger.
Then, there are the other muscles that get worked as the result of this movement. Your inner thigh, or sartorius, can also benefit big time from Nordic Hamstring Curls. You also might feel it in your glutes as your bodyweight moves towards the floor.
Your upper body can even see some benefit from this exercise. Your biceps and triceps will strengthen as they stabilize your weight and push your weight off the floor. You will also feel the burn in your pectorals and deltoids as your chest and shoulder muscles are activated. Overall, this is a great exercise for multiple major muscle groups.
The Nordic Hamstring curl has many benefits beyond simply strengthening and building your hamstrings. By enhancing your hamstrings, you will also have the following results…
Injury Resilient Hamstrings
Hamstring pulls and strains are some of the most common injuries to pro athletes and novice gym-goers alike. Because this major muscle is so large and powerful, it is prone to debilitating injury.
The Nordic Hamstring Curl helps to protect your hamstring by strengthening it through lengthening it. That way you can better prevent injury. Nordic Ham Curls build strength and muscle in the hamstrings in a unique way. The movement prompts an eccentric contraction in the hamstring muscle. As you extend forward, the hamstring is forced to lengthen to carry the load.
The significant eccentric contraction produced by the nordic hamstring curl movement really breaks down the muscles effectively, so when first introducing nordic ham curls into your regimen, keep the reps low (around 2-4 reps) and build up from there.
Bigger, Stronger, More Powerful Hamstrings
Not to be repetitive, but nordic hamstring curls are all about eccentric contraction. Eccentric contraction leads to longer, stronger leg muscles. When comparing eccentric-only exercises to concentric only-exercises, eccentric-only is far superior for hypertrophy. This means you can beef up your hamstrings to make them more stable and powerful.
Note: Eccentric contraction is when the muscle lengthens with a load, concentric is when it shortens (i.e. the downward motion of a stiff-legged deadlift is eccentric and pull it up is concentric).
Being strong through the eccentric phase of a hamstring movement is a very important aspect of for athletes, as the hamstrings are one of the most important muscles for explosiveness (i.e. sprinting and jumping). This is why nordic hamstring curls are go-to for all pro athletes, you get protection and power all in one.
Related: Explosive Exercises for Athletes
Stabilizing the Knees by Strengthening Leg Muscles
Strong legs create the foundation for stabilized knee joints. When your tone all of the muscle groups in your legs, you create better balance and more seamless movement. So, with Noric Ham curls, you will reduce your chance of suffering from nagging knee pain and even a significant injury.
What’s more, many of the most popular leg exercises focus on the quads, so it’s super important to have balanced leg strength by hitting the hamstrings adequately. Nordic Hamstring Curls allow you to develop amazing strength in the posterior of the leg as well. Think of it as protecting your knees from all sides.
Toning Your Butt
There are some aesthetic benefits to Nordic Hamstring Curls too. Have you been toning your glutes like crazy, only to be disappointed in the results you see? Well, the secret to getting that lifted booty you are looking for just might be a little lower, in your hamstrings.
By strengthening your hamstrings, you give your glutes a strong foundation, lifting your butt while strengthening the back of your upper thighs. Adding movements like Nordic Hamstring curls and deadlifts to your leg workouts will give the back of your legs the strength and definition you’ve been striving for.
The basic movement of the Nordic Hamstring Curl includes securing your feet and kneeling on the floor. Use a pad or a folded towel under the knees to protect them.
Secure your feet and ankles. Then with locked hips and a neutral spine, lower forward to the floor with control.
Depending on the variation, you will move your chest as close to the floor as possible. Then, use your arms to push off the floor and pull yourself back to an upright position using your hamstrings.
Be sure to engage your hamstrings throughout the entire range of motion. You should feel a stretch in the hamstrings as you lower to the floor.
When learning this exercise, many people find that a partner is the most comfortable way to secure your feet and ankles through the movement. However, sometimes having someone around to help you isn’t always possible. The good news is, it’s totally doable to do Nordic Hamstring Curls without a partner! Check out these alternative ways to secure your feet.
You don’t need a partner or fancy gym equipment to secure your feet. In fact, simple equipment or things around your house means that you can still do Nordic Hamstring Curls right in the comfort of your home.
1. A Weighted Barbell
Load your classic barbell with weights and kneel in front of it, sliding your legs under it to brace them. Depending on the floor, you might find that you need to place additional plates or dumbbells on the side of your weights to keep it from sliding or rolling.
2. Household Furniture
When working out at home, sometimes you have to get creative and think outside the box. Luckily, all you need to do Nordic Hamstring Curls around your home is something to secure your feet. Try out furniture like couches to see if they are the right height.
3. Smith Machine
If you are at the gym, the smith machine is a great option. Lower the bar all the way down and you should be able to secure your feet into position with ease. Use a pad on the bar so that your ankles/achilles heel is comfortable against the bar.
4. Other Gym Equipment
Is the lat pulldown machine taken? Look around the gym for other options to secure your feet. The bottom of the weight rack might be just the right height. Even the water rower bar or lower rungs of the Swedish ladder might give you the perfect height you need.
5. The Lat Pull Down Machine
This popular piece of gym equipment is an ideal way to secure your ankles during this workout. Adjust the thigh pads so your lower legs can slip securely under them as you kneel on the seat. Play with the positioning of your legs under the pads. Some people prefer their ankles for support while others like the pads positioned higher on their calves.
Luckily, the Nordic Hamstring Curl is for all fitness levels. It can be modified to accommodate injuries or lack of equipment. There are also ways to increase the difficulty to challenge yourself as your skill and strength increase. With these curl variations, everyone can reap the rewards of this hamstring strengthening and lengthening exercise.
There are some awesome ways to perform an assisted Nordic Curl. Using these variations, you can find the best method for your needs, no matter what your skill level.
1. Resistance Band Assisted Curl
Maybe you are recovering from an injury or just trying out this particular leg exercise. Using a resistance band can help you get used to the movement and find the proper form so you can create stronger leg muscles than ever.
As you increase your comfort with the movement and your hamstring strength, you’ll be able to move to lighter bands and possibly not need the band at all!
2. Using a Balance Ball
This is another awesome variation for beginners or those bouncing back from a hamstring injury. With this modification, a balance ball provides you with the support you need to perform the movement.
Place your knees on the floor and secure your feet in whichever method works best for you. Then, place a medicine ball in front of you, slowly pushing it or walking it away from you with your hands. As the ball moves, lower with it, keeping your hips locked and your hamstrings engaged.
Once you have lowered as much as you comfortably can, your forearms or even triceps might be resting on the ball. Smoothly return to an upright position, engaging your hamstrings as you move upwards.
3. Using a Pole
This is very similar to the balance ball variation we just discussed however it can be done with simple equipment you likely have around your home. You can use a broomstick or long sturdy pole to perform this variation of the exercise.
Secure your feet and cushion your knees, kneeling on the floor. Then, extend your arms in front of you at shoulder height with a firm grasp on the upright pole. Extend your upper body down and forward as you move hand under hand downwards on the pole.
This is challenging as you work to keep the pole stabilized while also providing you additional support to move through the Nordic Hamstring Curl at your own pace.
4. Inclined Curl Positioning
This is a great variation to slowly increase your hamstring strength. Using an incline bench, set it to an angle that you are comfortable with. Place your knees on the seat of the bench and enlist a partner to secure your calves.
If you find that the space on the bench is too narrow, you may be best working one leg at a time, alternating between sets. Use your bottom leg to stabilize you on the floor while being mindful to keep hips locked and hamstrings engaged.
As you grow stronger and more comfortable in the movement, you can being to decrease the angle that you set the bench at to increase difficulty.
5. Cable Weight Assisted Curl
Guess what? The lat pulldown machine isn’t just for creating a stellar defined back. It’s a great option for assisted Nordic Hamstring Curls. It even has a built-in place to hold your feet!
To start, position yourself facing away from the machine, kneeling on the seat. Adjust the leg brace so your ankles fit comfortably under it and won’t slip out. With this variation, you can slowly decrease the weight as your strength increases.
To start, select a light weight setting to assist you, around twenty to thirty pounds depending on your body weight. Secure the lat bar behind your traps using your hands and slowly lean forward, keeping your hips engaged.
In this variation, the weight counterbalances some of your body weight, actually making the motion of the exercise easier. As you improve your technique and strength, trying decreasing the weight for more of a challenge.
You might get to the point that you no longer need the weight but find that the seat and leg brace makes the perfect set up for standard Nordic Hamstring Curls.
As you build up your hamstrings, you might find that the Nordic Hamstring Curl is not as challenging as it once was. Or maybe you are looking for ways to mix up this movement to keep it fresh and new. Luckily, there are some easy ways to step it up a notch to make the exercise more challenging.
1. Placing The Hands Behind The Head
If you have been doing Nordic Hamstring curls with your arms at your side, try grasping your fingers behind your head. This prevents you from receiving that extra boost of pushing off the floor prematurely for your upward movement.
This also creates a little shift of the weight of your arms from your sides to above your shoulder. This little bit of extra weight can make the movement much more challenging. Plus, you won’t be tempted to swing your arms to gain momentum.
2. With Arms Extended Overhead or Outward
This makes the Nordic Hamstring Curl even more intense. By repositioning your arms, you center your weight differently, increasing the load on your hamstrings.
To do this variation, secure your ankles and kneel on a pad or cushion. Then, extend your arms straight out to your sides or above your head. Lower with control, keeping your hamstrings engaged.
With this variation, you can lower your arms at the bottom of the movement to push up for momentum upward. Looking for even more of a challenge? Keep your arms in position and return to the upright position using the strength of your hamstrings alone.
There’s no right or wrong position for your arms here. Play with the positioning to mix up your workout and find the arm position that’s most challenging for you.
3. One Leg Curl
Working one leg at a time is often the best way to isolate a specific muscle. This is especially true with Nordic Hamstring Curls. By putting all of the work on a single hamstring, you give the muscle an incredible workout.
One Leg Nordic Hamstring Curls can be combined with any of the variations above for an even greater challenge. Put your arms over your head or try an incline for an ultimate hamstring workout.
You can also use the modifications we have covered until you get used to the one leg motion. The cable weight assisted method and the resistance band modification are especially great for helping you keep your balance and stability while working the single leg.
4. Declined Curl Position
If you are looking for a more intense range of motion, a declined Nordic Hamstring Curl can be your answer. It allows you to drop even deeper into the movement, giving your hamstrings an amazing workout.
Use a decline bench set at the angle that you want to start with. Kneel on the edge of the bench Then, slip your angle under the pads, adjusting for comfort and support. Lean downwards until you reach the declined bench.
Once you have fully extended, move back to the upright position, engaging your hamstrings through the entire movement. You can alter your arm positions to make this even more challenging.
This is a question we get asked a ton. What’s the Best Nordic Hamstring Curl Technique? Well, that’s a question that only you and your body can answer.
The main thing about the technique is keeping your form. So in short, finding the modification or adjustment that allows you to best maintain the proper form is the best one for your unique needs.
Many of these modifications can be combined to create a custom Nordic Hamstring Curl technique that’s best for you. Trying them out and using trial and error can help you find the most perfect hamstring challenge.
Remember, keep pushing yourself to more challenging movements. Maybe you are just starting out, try using less assistance as you increase your strength.
You might have already mastered the unassisted Nordic Hamstring Curl. Keep trying ways to make it more challenging so your hamstring can see the maximum benefits.
Though Nordic Hamstring Curls and Glute Ham Raises are similar, and both are awesome for hamstring development and deserving of a place in your lower body exercise rotation, there are some important differences between the two.
As the names suggest, Glute Ham Raises work the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, and Nordic Ham Curls mainly target the hamstrings.
In terms of difficulty, Nordic Ham Curls are harder.
Both involve securing your feet and moving forward. However, glute hamstring raises involve a glute ham machine that rests your quads against a pad and allows a little extra motion of the upper body.
With Glute Ham Rasies, you kneel and lower forward until your hips make contact with the pad. Then you continue to hinge forward at the hips, working your glute muscles and lower back. Once you’ve achieved the full range of motion, you return your body to the upright position, unhinging the hips and straightening as you reach the top.
While this involves a larger range of motion, you'll find that Glute Ham Raises are much less challenging than Nordic Hamstring Curls because your thighs will be placed against the pad where as with Nordic Ham Curls pivot at the knees, which isolates and engages the hamstrings (meaning you aren't using multiple muscle groups to move like with Glute Ham Raises).
Overall, Nordic Hamstring Curls emphasize eccentric contraction and are more hamstring specific. So, they are far more effective for targeting the hamstrings. Another great thing about the Nordic Hamstring Curl is that it comes with the flexibility to do nearly anywhere, making it accessible to everyone. Glute Ham Raises require a GHR Machine that you will only find at commercial gyms.
Related: 27 Best Hamstring Exercises
Now that you know the secret to injury resistant hamstrings, try the Nordic Hamstring Curl for yourself! Play with the modifications and adjustments to create an awesome leg exercise that works best for you. And don’t forget your stretch and recovery routine!
Over time you will become stronger and more comfortable as you practice Nordic Hamstring Curls. You’ll feel more stabilized as you support your knee with well-toned posterior leg muscles. Work your way up to more challenging techniques and you’ll have stronger, more defined hamstrings in no time.
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