Check it out, I’m blogging again. Ain’t that something. While I haven’t been completely absent (see my occasional recent activity here) I have, admittedly, been pretty slack. Very slack.
Well I’m out to rectify that from now. Aside from today’s post, I’ve got a couple of other exercise video blogs in the works for the coming days.
Ok, weeks. I mean, let’s not get too crazy now.
On to today’s content.
The Nordic hamstring exercise/ Nordic curl is one example of an exercise that has a pretty solid reputation all around. It’s an excellent choice for strengthening the hamstrings as knee flexors (as opposed to as hip extensors, such as in deadlift and Romanian deadlift variations) especially through the eccentric portion of the muscle action, i.e. as the muscle lengthens, which in the case of the Nordic curl is when the exerciser is lowering their body towards the ground.
Nordic curls are a popular choice among savvy strength coaches for reducing hamstring injury incidence(1,2,3) as well as for physiotherapists in getting athletes ready to return to competition in the later stages of hamstring injury rehabilitation(4).
Equally, they have merit for the personal trainer or general fitness enthusiast to help strengthen the hamstrings and the movement pattern generally (isometric hip extension with active knee flexion).
As far as building muscle goes, when we consider the mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy(5) the Nordic curl may not immediately appear to be the greatest exercise selection for adding mass to the hamstrings due to its relatively short range of motion (ROM) and limited potential for overload. However, it’s still an option, and usually a different option for most, which in itself offers potential hypertrophic benefits if for nothing more than novel stimuli. This certainly isn’t to say that you should nix the sometimes maligned machine leg curl if your goal is solely to build a huge set of hammies. I’m merely speculating that changing up the leg curl for a training phase here and there with some of the hamstring exercises I’ll show you today might offer some hypertrophic benefits through novelty as much as anything, and they can almost definitely add in another level of athleticism if you’ve been confined to machine training alone for an extended period of time.
Regardless of your reason for including the Nordic curl in your or your client’s training regime, I believe it’s a worthwhile pursuit. I say pursuit, because what I’ve found in my experience is that most people simply can’t perform the exercise effectively from the get-go.
Almost without fail when I have somebody attempt the Nordic curl too soon, I find them to be woefully underdeveloped in that specific movement and range of motion to get anything out of the exercise. Often, they’ll move no more than a few centimetres before their hamstrings completely cramp up. They’re left with a potentially great exercise that they are simply unable to utilise.
Enter the SHELC.
The Supine Hip Extension with Leg Curl, or SHELC, has been a common exercise among rehab professionals and “functional” trainers ever since the fit ball became a hit with that crowd over a decade ago. Often simply called a “fit ball leg curl”, this description highlights the major flaw in teaching the exercise in that manner: a focus on the leg curl portion of the exercise while neglecting the hip extension. The plain fit ball leg curl performed sans any hip extension ranks as the most basic of basic mildly therapeutic exercises. Most people could likely bang out sets of 50 or more without a challenge. This is but a shadow of the SHELC, and is not even related to the Nordic curl. The SHELC mimics the Nordic curl in that it demands that same isometric hip extension while going through active knee flexion. That is why I’ve come up with something of a series of steps for the SHELC exercise which I’ve used successfully to progress clients to using the Nordic curl effectively. I outline these in the video below.
So as I mentioned in that video, after moving through those SHELC progressions you should be adequately prepared to move onto the actual Nordic curl exercise, and be able to use it effectively.
However, there is also the option of simply progressing the SHELC even further. This can be instead of using the Nordic curl, or as well as. I outline these two progressions in this next short video.
And finally, here’s the actual Nordic curl exercise itself.
The audio quality on this one is horrendous. I was in a busy studio between clients and there was a ton of background noise that didn’t sound too bad at the time, but came through on the camera terribly. But I don’t have time to re-shoot. You might still be able to hear it, or at the very least you can see how I modify the Nordic curl in a typical gym setting by using the lat pulldown machine backwards.
So that’s that. Go get some hamstrings.
1) Peterson et al. 2011 “Preventive Effect of Eccentric Training on Acute Hamstring Injuries in Men’s Soccer A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial” Am J Sports Med vol. 39 no. 11 2296-2303
2) Malliaropoulos et al. 2012 “Hamstring exercises for track and field athletes: injury and exercise biomechanics, and possible implications for exercise selection and primary prevention.” Br J Sports Med46(12):846-51
3) Arnason et al. 2008 “Prevention of hamstring strains in elite soccer: an intervention study” Scand J Med Sci Sports 18(1):40-8
4) Copland et al. 2009 “Evidence-Based Treatment of Hamstring Tears” Curr Sports Med Rep. 8(6):308-14
5) Brad J. Schoenfeld 2010 “The Mechanisms for Muscle Hypertrophy, and Their Application to Resistance Training” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 24(10)
Thoughts, questions, hate mail, or anything I missed? Feel free to drop a comment below. And of course, sharing this article will naturally help you jump the queue in your wait for karmic justice to start paying out.