The SHELC and the Nordic Hamstring Curl (Videos): Pregressions and Progressions for Hamstring Strength, Injury Reduction and Rehabilitation

I’m back bitchez!

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.

The standard Nordic Curl, AKA Nordic Hamstring Exercise
The standard Nordic Curl, AKA Nordic Hamstring Exercise

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.

**WARNING**
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.

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References:

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. 

9 thoughts on “The SHELC and the Nordic Hamstring Curl (Videos): Pregressions and Progressions for Hamstring Strength, Injury Reduction and Rehabilitation”

  1. Nice article Will! I recently had surgery in Melbourne on my proximal hamstring tendon (roughly 60% was torn from the sit bone) and am in my rehab phase now. I struggled with this for 2 years prior to surgery and could never progress to the eccentric phase of my rehab, especially the Nordics (many Dr’s, physios and surgeons told me it was tendinosis).

    Now that I have had the surgery (I’m 12 weeks post op) I suspect that there is still perhaps some tendinosis lying in the tendon. I find that the jump to eccentric loading flares the tendon up so I will curtail it a little and give your SHELC series a go. Wish you were based in Adelaide as you seem to know what your on about!

    Thanks again for the video and keep up the excellent work!

    1. Hey Chris,

      Thanks for the kind words and I’m glad you’ve found my article useful! I haven’t dealt with any post-op hamstring cases yet, but of the several tendonosis/itis cases I’ve worked with the SHELC has almost always been a safe bet. Obviously you’d work in conjunction with your guiding medical professional on rehab protocols, but I know that as great as eccentric training for the hamstrings can be for performance, there are certainly rehab cases where eccentric loading has to be carefully monitored and introduced slowly.

      Some other sources I’ve found very useful and reliable regarding hamstring performance and rehabilitation are Dr. Kieran O’Sullivan and Dr. Peter Malliaras. While Kieran is Irish (I think..?!) Pete is based in Hawthorn right here in Melbourne.

      Here’s a couple of podcasts with each of them that I enjoyed, and you might find useful for your ongoing rehab, and then get details to look into their work further if you wanted:

      http://physioedge.com.au/pe-019-hamstring-strength-flexibility-and-injuries-with-kieran-osullivan/

      http://physioedge.com.au/pe-023-lower-limb-tendinopathies-with-dr-peter-malliaras/

      Thanks again for checking out the blog Chris!

      Cheers,
      Will.

  2. Hey there, your post was super helpful in terms of offering a totally workable progression and solid rationale behind each step in the sequence. I say this after having read dozens of papers on eccentric training of the hamstrings, the Nordic curls, etc., and a seemingly equivalent number of websites. Great job, great information, and I’m hoping it all helps in our progression toward mastering the Nordic curl and, as a result, hopefully, our hamstring woes 🙂

    1. Hey Tony, glad you found this one useful. We’ve had a lot of success by implementing the SHELC this way, and then including it alongside the Nordics long after they’ve reached that stage. We’ve now been playing around with band-assisted Nordics too, and they seem to be working well. However, we’ll still be starting with, and continuing with, the SHELC as well.
      Cheers.

      1. Hey Will, my wife and I just did the supine knee flexion on the Swiss ball and it was fantastic! For the first time I could practice full ROM flexion of the knee with active proximal stabilization, as opposed to on a leg curl machine. My wife made the common mistake of flexing at the hips simultaneously, and once that was corrected, her previously strong hamstrings were shockingly challenged. Great stuff again!

        My follow-on question is this: In your experience, how long does it take the typical active adult to progress safely from the bilateral Swiss-ball movement to a full ROM Nordic curl? Two, three months or more?

        This is based on what I am assuming to be an optimal exercise frequency and volume of 2…..maybe 3 times a week with set progressions beginning at 2s x 10 reps with the goal of reaching 4s x 15 reps as the indication for progression in difficulty? Our other training is bicycling Kettlebells (mainly swings) and wrestling/Jiu Jitsu, etc.

        1. Progression time frames are always tricky to predict as there is so much individual variability. Age, training age, previous strength levels (pre SHELCs) are all going to factor in. So I really can’t give an answer, especially as I wouldn’t want to discourage you or your wife if you happened to progress at a slower rate than my random prediction.
          What I can say is that regarding frequency and volume, they should be able to handle a lot. Even though we are training an element of eccentric strength, it is at the knee which is a relatively short ROM into stretch, unlike the hamstrings at the hip (e.g. RDLs) where you could expect a lot of DOMS. Plus, it’s low load overall, so total system stress will be minimal.
          I’d suggest that you should be fine to hit them with 3 to 4 sets to failure, on 3, 4, or even 5 sessions per week. Most often, the best way to progress rapidly at anything is with high frequency, as specificity trumps all.

  3. hello
    I wanted to ask you if there is a serial of exercises you can build or suggest.. at least 8 exercises from the easiest to the hardest until we get to do Nordic as well as it could be with no injuries ?
    can you help me with that ?

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