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The Hamstring Exercise That Slashes Injury Rates By 51%: Why Pro Athletes Swear by Nordic Curls, And How to Do Them Properly

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

Want stronger hamstrings, fewer injuries, and better athletic performance? 

Nordic curls are your secret weapon. This exercise builds bigger, stronger hamstrings, improves athleticism, and reduces injury risk. 

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Plus, they’re suitable for all levels and easy to do anywhere.

 Learn the exact technique, variations, alternatives, and training tips to unlock the full potential of this powerful movement.

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What Are Nordic Curls?

Nordic Curls are a challenging and highly effective bodyweight exercise that primarily targets the hamstrings. 

Performed in a kneeling position, this movement involves the controlled lowering and raising of the upper body while keeping the feet, lower legs, and knees fixed in place. 

The exercise is also known as the Nordic Hamstring Curl or Inverse Leg Curl due to its focus on the muscles at the back of the thigh.

To perform Nordic Curls, you kneel on a pad or cushion with your lower legs anchored under an immovable object or held by a partner. 

The movement requires you to lower your torso towards the floor as slowly and controlled as possible, engaging the hamstrings to resist the downward motion. 

Once you reach the point where maintaining control is no longer possible, you can use your hands to catch yourself or return to the starting position without using your hands. 

This exercise not only strengthens the hamstrings but also improves stability and coordination.

Muscles Worked by Nordic Curls

Nordic Curls primarily target the hamstrings, which are a group of three muscles located at the back of the upper leg. 

These muscles play a crucial role in many movements, including walking, running, and jumping. The hamstrings consist of the following:

  • Biceps Femoris: This muscle has two parts—long and short heads. It is responsible for knee flexion and hip extension.
  • Semimembranosus: Located on the inner part of the back of the thigh, this muscle aids in knee flexion, hip extension, and internal rotation of the leg.
  • Semitendinosus: Positioned between the biceps femoris and semimembranosus, it assists in knee flexion, hip extension, and internal rotation of the leg.

In addition to the hamstrings, Nordic Curls also engage secondary muscles that help stabilize and support the body during the exercise:

  • Glutes: Comprising the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus, these muscles are vital for hip extension, rotation, and stabilization.
  • Spinal Erectors: These muscles run along the spine and help maintain proper posture and spinal alignment during the movement.

Benefits of Nordic Curls

Nordic Curls offer a variety of benefits, making them an essential addition to any workout routine. Here are some key advantages:

Decrease the Risk of Injury

Nordic Curls are highly effective at reducing the risk of hamstring injuries. By strengthening the knee flexor muscles, you improve their resilience, making them less susceptible to strains and tears. Enhanced knee mobility is another benefit, which further helps in preventing injuries.

Build Bigger and Stronger Hamstrings

This exercise is excellent for promoting hypertrophy and increasing hamstring strength. The controlled movement and high muscle engagement stimulate significant muscle growth, resulting in stronger and more defined hamstrings.

Better Athletic Performance

Stronger hamstrings contribute to better athletic performance. Improved hip extension and knee flexion strength enhance your ability to sprint faster, jump higher, and perform other posterior chain exercises more effectively. Nordic Curls also help in improving overall lower body power and agility.

Suitable for Many Different Athletes

Nordic Curls can be scaled to match various fitness levels and training experiences. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced athlete, you can adjust the difficulty by adding weights or using resistance bands. This makes the exercise versatile and accessible for everyone.

How to Do Nordic Curls

Performing Nordic Curls correctly is essential to maximize their benefits and minimize the risk of injury. Follow these steps to ensure proper form and technique:

  1. Setup
    • Kneel on a pad or cushion to protect your knees.
    • Anchor your lower legs securely. You can use a partner to hold your ankles or wedge your feet under an immovable object, such as a locked barbell in a Smith Machine.
  2. Positioning
    • Align your feet and ankles directly in line with your knees.
    • Keep your shoulders over your hips with your head in a neutral position.
    • Place your arms by your sides.
  3. Engagement
    • Inhale deeply and engage your core, glutes, and hamstrings.
  4. Lowering Phase
    • Slowly lower your body towards the floor while maintaining control.
    • Continue to lower until you reach a point just before you lose control.
    • Optionally, place your hands on the floor to complete the range of motion or return to the starting position without using your hands.
  5. Raising Phase
    • Squeeze your hamstrings to pull your body back up to the starting position.
    • Continue rising until your shoulders are directly over your hips.
    • Exhale at the top of the movement.
  6. Repetition
    • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions, ensuring each rep is controlled and deliberate.

Tips for Success

  • Control the Eccentric Phase: Focus on lowering your body slowly and with control. This is where most of the muscle engagement and strengthening occur.
  • Utilize Dorsiflexion: Point your toes towards your shins to optimally lengthen the hamstrings. Placing a foam roller under your shins can help achieve this position.
  • Adjust Hip Bend: Adopting a slight bend in the hips (20-30 degrees) can help manage the stress on your lower back and knees, providing better control throughout the movement.

Training Tips

Maximize the effectiveness of your Nordic Curls with these training tips. Proper technique and gradual progression are key to reaping the full benefits of this exercise.

Control the Eccentric Phase

The eccentric phase, or the lowering portion of the movement, is where most muscle engagement happens. Focus on lowering your body slowly and with control. This deliberate motion enhances muscle strength and endurance.

Utilize Dorsiflexion

Pointing your toes towards your shins (dorsiflexion) during the exercise helps to optimally lengthen the hamstrings. A practical tip is to place a foam roller under your shins, which encourages proper dorsiflexion and ensures better form.

Adjust Hip Bend

Introducing a slight bend in your hips (20-30 degrees) can help manage the stress on your lower back and knees. This adjustment allows for better control and balance throughout the movement, making the exercise more effective and reducing the risk of injury.

Gradual Progression

Nordic Curls are a challenging exercise. Start with fewer repetitions and increase them gradually as your strength improves. If necessary, use assistance (like resistance bands) until you can perform the movement with proper form unassisted.

Consistent Practice

Incorporate Nordic Curls regularly into your workout routine to build strength and proficiency. Consistency is crucial for muscle adaptation and growth.

Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to how your body responds to the exercise. If you experience pain (as opposed to normal muscle fatigue), adjust your form or reduce the intensity. Consider consulting a trainer or physiotherapist if the pain persists.

Nordic Curls vs Glute Ham Raise (GHR): What’s the Difference?

Both Nordic Curls and Glute Ham Raises (GHR) are excellent exercises for strengthening the hamstrings, but they have some distinct differences that may influence which one you incorporate into your workout routine.

Range of Motion

  • Nordic Curls: The range of motion in Nordic Curls is relatively shorter, focusing intensely on the hamstrings by lowering the body from a kneeling position.
  • Glute Ham Raise: GHR offers a larger range of motion. It starts from a horizontal position and moves to a vertical position, engaging the hamstrings and glutes more broadly.

Difficulty Level

  • Nordic Curls: Generally considered harder than GHR due to the high degree of knee flexion and the minimal assistance from the hips. This makes the exercise more challenging and demanding on the hamstrings.
  • Glute Ham Raise: While still challenging, GHR is slightly easier because it allows for more hip involvement, providing a bit of assistance during the movement.

Equipment Needed

  • Nordic Curls: Can be performed with minimal equipment. A pad for kneeling and a partner or an immovable object to anchor your feet are sufficient.
  • Glute Ham Raise: Requires a specific machine designed for the exercise, which provides support for the lower legs and allows for a broader range of motion.

Muscle Emphasis

  • Nordic Curls: Primarily target the hamstrings with secondary engagement of the glutes and spinal erectors.
  • Glute Ham Raise: Targets the hamstrings and glutes more evenly due to the involvement of both knee flexion and hip extension throughout the larger range of motion.


  • Nordic Curls: More versatile in terms of location since they don’t require a machine. They can be done almost anywhere with minimal setup.
  • Glute Ham Raise: Less versatile due to the necessity of specific equipment, which limits where the exercise can be performed.

Nordic Curl Variations

Adding variety to your Nordic Curl routine can keep your workouts engaging and help target your muscles in different ways. Here are some effective variations to consider:

Lat Pulldown Variation

Perform Nordic Curls at a lat pulldown machine by anchoring your feet under the pads and using the lat pulldown bar for support. This variation provides a stable base and allows for a more controlled descent.

Loaded Barbell Variation

Place a loaded barbell across your lower legs to anchor yourself in place. This adds a slight increase in resistance and stability, challenging your hamstrings even more.

Using an Exercise Ball

Incorporate an exercise ball by placing it in front of you. As you lower your body, use the ball for additional support. This variation reduces the intensity, making it suitable for beginners or those looking to build strength gradually.

Band Assisted

Use a resistance band for assistance. Attach one end to a sturdy anchor and the other around your chest or hips. This helps reduce the load on your hamstrings, making the exercise easier and allowing for more repetitions.

Arms Behind Your Head/Body or Extended Overhead

Change the position of your arms to increase the difficulty. Placing your arms behind your head or extending them overhead shifts your center of gravity and increases the challenge for your hamstrings and core.

Partner Assisted

Have a partner assist you by holding your ankles and providing a bit of lift as you lower and raise your body. This variation is great for beginners who need help maintaining proper form.

Nordic Curl Alternatives

While Nordic Curls are highly effective, incorporating a variety of exercises can ensure balanced development and prevent overuse injuries. Here are some excellent alternatives to Nordic Curls:

Stability Ball Leg Curl

  • How to Do It: Lie on your back with your feet on a stability ball. Lift your hips off the ground and roll the ball towards you by bending your knees. Extend your legs back out and repeat.
  • Benefits: This exercise targets the hamstrings and glutes while also engaging your core for stability.

Glute Ham Raise (GHR)

  • How to Do It: Secure your feet in a GHR machine. Start from a horizontal position and use your hamstrings and glutes to raise your body to a vertical position.
  • Benefits: Offers a larger range of motion and targets the hamstrings and glutes more evenly.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

  • How to Do It: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a barbell in front of your thighs. Hinge at the hips, lowering the barbell while keeping your back straight. Return to the starting position.
  • Benefits: Strengthens the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, promoting better hip hinge mechanics.

Single-Leg Deadlift

  • How to Do It: Stand on one leg with a slight bend in the knee. Hinge at the hips, extending the free leg behind you and lowering your torso until it’s parallel to the floor. Return to the starting position.
  • Benefits: Improves balance and targets the hamstrings and glutes on each leg individually.

Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl

  • How to Do It: Lie on your back with your heels on a Swiss ball. Lift your hips and curl the ball towards your glutes by bending your knees. Extend your legs back out and repeat.
  • Benefits: Engages the hamstrings, glutes, and core for a comprehensive lower body workout.

Hamstring Slide

  • How to Do It: Lie on your back with your feet on sliders or towels. Lift your hips off the ground and slide your feet away from your body, then pull them back in using your hamstrings.
  • Benefits: Provides a dynamic and challenging hamstring workout, enhancing muscle strength and stability.


What is the Nordic Curl Good For?

The Nordic Curl is excellent for increasing hamstring strength, muscle hypertrophy, and overall athletic performance. It also helps protect the hamstrings against injuries by strengthening the knee flexor muscles and improving knee mobility.

Who Can Benefit from the Nordic Curl?

Athletes from various sports, including running, soccer, and basketball, can benefit significantly from Nordic Curls. The exercise is also beneficial for anyone looking to build stronger hamstrings and improve lower body strength and stability. Since the difficulty can be adjusted, it’s suitable for both beginners and advanced athletes.

Is the Nordic Curl Safe for Everyone?

Yes, Nordic Curls are safe for most people when performed with correct technique. However, individuals with pre-existing knee, hamstring, or lower back issues should consult with a doctor or physical therapist before attempting the exercise. Proper form and gradual progression are crucial to avoid injury.

Are Nordic Curls Bad?

Nordic Curls are not bad; in fact, they are highly beneficial when done correctly. They are demanding due to the high activation of the hamstrings and the control required. Ensuring proper form and progressing at a suitable pace will minimize the risk of injury and maximize the benefits.

Why Are Nordic Curls So Hard?

Nordic Curls are challenging because they isolate the hamstrings and require minimal assistance from the hips. This isolation places significant stress on the hamstrings, making the exercise demanding. The need for precise control during the eccentric phase (lowering) adds to the difficulty, which is why gradual strength development is important.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Performing Nordic Curls with proper form is crucial to avoid injury and maximize benefits. Here are some common mistakes and tips on how to avoid them:

Allowing the Hips to Sag

  • Mistake: Letting the hips sag or drop during the movement.
  • Solution: Keep your hips aligned with your shoulders and knees throughout the exercise. Engage your core and glutes to maintain a straight line from your head to your knees.

Rapid Descent

  • Mistake: Dropping too quickly during the lowering phase.
  • Solution: Focus on controlling the descent. Lower your body slowly and deliberately, engaging your hamstrings throughout the movement.

Incomplete Range of Motion

  • Mistake: Not lowering the body fully or cutting the movement short.
  • Solution: Aim to lower your body as close to the floor as possible while maintaining control. Gradually increase your range of motion as your strength improves.

Using the Hands Too Early

  • Mistake: Placing the hands on the floor too soon to assist the movement.
  • Solution: Only use your hands for support when absolutely necessary. Try to perform as much of the movement as possible without assistance.

Poor Foot and Ankle Positioning

  • Mistake: Misaligning the feet and ankles or not securing them properly.
  • Solution: Ensure your feet and ankles are firmly anchored and in line with your knees. Use a partner or an immovable object to secure them properly.

Neglecting the Eccentric Phase

  • Mistake: Focusing solely on the upward movement and neglecting the lowering phase.
  • Solution: Pay equal attention to both phases of the exercise. The eccentric phase is crucial for building strength and muscle mass in the hamstrings.

Ignoring Pain Signals

  • Mistake: Continuing the exercise despite experiencing pain.
  • Solution: Listen to your body. If you experience pain (not to be confused with muscle fatigue), stop the exercise and reassess your form. Consult a professional if the pain persists.

Progression and Regression Techniques

Nordic Curls can be tailored to match various fitness levels, ensuring that beginners and advanced athletes alike can benefit from this exercise. Here are some techniques to help you progress or regress Nordic Curls:

Progression Techniques

Add Weight
  • How to Do It: Hold a weight plate or wear a weighted vest to increase the resistance.
  • Benefits: Adding weight increases the challenge, promoting greater strength and muscle growth.

Increase Repetitions

  • How to Do It: Gradually increase the number of repetitions as your strength improves.
  • Benefits: Higher reps can improve muscular endurance and overall hamstring strength.

Slow the Eccentric Phase

  • How to Do It: Slow down the lowering phase even more to increase time under tension.
  • Benefits: This increases the difficulty and enhances muscle engagement, leading to greater strength gains.

Use an Unstable Surface

  • How to Do It: Perform the exercise with your knees on a slightly unstable surface, like a foam pad.
  • Benefits: This engages more stabilizer muscles and increases the difficulty of the exercise.

Regression Techniques

Band Assisted Nordic Curls

  • How to Do It: Attach a resistance band to a sturdy anchor and around your chest or hips to assist with the movement.
  • Benefits: The band reduces the load on your hamstrings, making it easier to control the descent and ascent.

Partial Range of Motion

  • How to Do It: Start by performing the exercise with a limited range of motion and gradually increase it as you get stronger.
  • Benefits: This allows beginners to build strength progressively without compromising form.

Use Hands for Assistance

  • How to Do It: Allow yourself to place your hands on the floor as you lower your body to assist with the movement.
  • Benefits: Using your hands for support can help you maintain control and build strength gradually.

Elevated Starting Position

  • How to Do It: Begin the exercise from an elevated surface, such as a bench or step, to reduce the range of motion and intensity.
  • Benefits: This makes the exercise more accessible for beginners and helps build foundational strength.

Integrating Nordic Curls into Your Workout Routine

Incorporating Nordic Curls into your workout routine can significantly enhance your hamstring strength and overall lower body performance. Here are some tips on how to seamlessly integrate this exercise into various types of training programs:

Strength Training Routine

  • Frequency: Include Nordic Curls in your lower body workouts 2-3 times per week.
  • Placement: Perform them after your main compound lifts like squats and deadlifts, but before your accessory exercises.
  • Sets and Reps: Aim for 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps, focusing on controlled movement and proper form.

Athletic Training Routine

  • Frequency: Add Nordic Curls to your training 2 times per week to improve hamstring strength and injury prevention.
  • Placement: Include them as part of your dynamic warm-up or as a complementary exercise after plyometric or speed drills.
  • Sets and Reps: Start with 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps, gradually increasing intensity as you build strength.

Rehabilitation Routine

  • Frequency: Incorporate Nordic Curls 1-2 times per week as part of a broader rehabilitation program.
  • Placement: Perform them after a thorough warm-up and before any high-intensity exercises.
  • Sets and Reps: Begin with 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps, using band assistance or partial range of motion as needed.

Sample Workout Plans

Lower Body Strength Day
  1. Warm-Up:
    • 5-10 minutes of light cardio
    • Dynamic stretches
  2. Main Lifts:
    • Squats: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
    • Deadlifts: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
  3. Accessory Work:
    • Nordic Curls: 3 sets of 8 reps
    • Bulgarian Split Squats: 3 sets of 10 reps per leg
  4. Cooldown:
    • Static stretching
    • Foam rolling
Athletic Performance Day
  1. Warm-Up:
    • 5-10 minutes of light cardio
    • Dynamic stretches
  2. Plyometric Drills:
    • Box Jumps: 3 sets of 10 reps
    • Bounding: 3 sets of 20 meters
  3. Speed Work:
    • Sprints: 6 x 40 meters
  4. Strength Exercises:
    • Nordic Curls: 3 sets of 10 reps
    • Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets of 12 reps per leg
  5. Cooldown:
    • Static stretching
    • Foam rolling

Scientific Evidence and Studies

The benefits of Nordic Curls are supported by a growing body of scientific research. Here are some key studies and findings that highlight the effectiveness of this exercise:

Reduced Risk of Hamstring Injuries

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that Nordic Curls significantly reduce the risk of hamstring injuries in athletes. The research demonstrated that teams incorporating Nordic Curls into their training routine experienced a 51% reduction in overall hamstring injuries and a 70% reduction in severe hamstring injuries .

Increased Hamstring Strength

Research from the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy showed that Nordic Curls lead to substantial improvements in hamstring strength. The study involved athletes performing Nordic Curls three times a week for ten weeks, resulting in an average increase of 12-15% in eccentric hamstring strength .

Enhanced Athletic Performance

A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology examined the effects of Nordic Curls on sprint performance. The findings indicated that athletes who included Nordic Curls in their training improved their sprint times by 3-4%, due to increased hamstring strength and power .

Muscle Hypertrophy

An article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research investigated the effects of Nordic Curls on muscle hypertrophy. Participants who performed Nordic Curls regularly experienced significant increases in hamstring muscle size, supporting the exercise’s effectiveness in promoting muscle growth .

Improved Knee Flexion Strength

Research conducted by the American Journal of Sports Medicine highlighted that Nordic Curls enhance knee flexion strength, which is crucial for activities involving running, jumping, and rapid directional changes. The study found that consistent training with Nordic Curls led to improved knee flexion strength and better overall knee stability .

Practical Applications

Coaches and trainers can use these findings to design effective training programs that incorporate Nordic Curls, leveraging their benefits for injury prevention and performance enhancement. The scientific evidence underscores the importance of including this exercise in the routines of athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

Equipment Recommendations

While Nordic Curls can be performed with minimal equipment, using the right gear can enhance the experience and effectiveness of the exercise. Here are some equipment recommendations to consider:

Knee Pad or Cushion

  • Purpose: Protects your knees during the exercise.
  • Recommendation: Choose a thick, comfortable knee pad or cushion that provides adequate support and cushioning.

Resistance Bands

  • Purpose: Provides assistance during the exercise, making it easier for beginners or adding resistance for advanced users.
  • Recommendation: Opt for high-quality, durable resistance bands that can be securely anchored. Bands with varying resistance levels allow for progression.

Adjustable Bench or Barbell

  • Purpose: Anchors your feet securely to perform the exercise.
  • Recommendation: An adjustable bench with foot anchors or a barbell placed in a rack can be used to hold your feet in place. Ensure the equipment is stable and can support your body weight.

Foam Roller

  • Purpose: Helps achieve proper dorsiflexion of the feet and provides additional support.
  • Recommendation: Use a firm foam roller that can be placed under your shins to help maintain optimal foot positioning during the exercise.

Weighted Vest

  • Purpose: Adds resistance to increase the difficulty of the exercise.
  • Recommendation: A weighted vest with adjustable weights allows you to gradually increase the load as your strength improves.

Exercise Ball

  • Purpose: Provides support and variation for the exercise.
  • Recommendation: A sturdy exercise ball can be used to support your upper body during Nordic Curls, especially for beginners who need assistance with balance and control.

Nordic Hamstring Curl Machine

  • Purpose: Specifically designed for performing Nordic Curls with proper form and support.
  • Recommendation: If you have access to a gym or can invest in home gym equipment, a Nordic Hamstring Curl machine provides a dedicated setup for the exercise.

Advanced Nordic Curl Techniques

For those who have mastered the basic Nordic Curl, incorporating advanced techniques can further challenge your muscles and enhance your training. Here are some advanced variations to consider:

Weighted Nordic Curls

  • How to Do It: Wear a weighted vest or hold a weight plate to add resistance.
  • Benefits: Increases the difficulty of the exercise, promoting greater strength and muscle growth in the hamstrings.

Single-Leg Nordic Curls

  • How to Do It: Perform the exercise with one leg at a time while keeping the other leg extended out in front.
  • Benefits: Enhances unilateral strength, balance, and coordination, providing a greater challenge for the hamstrings.

Eccentric-Only Nordic Curls

  • How to Do It: Focus solely on the lowering phase. Lower your body slowly and with control, then use your hands to push yourself back up to the starting position.
  • Benefits: Maximizes eccentric muscle contraction, leading to significant strength gains and muscle hypertrophy.

Isometric Hold Nordic Curls

  • How to Do It: Lower your body to the point where you can just maintain control, and hold this position for a specified amount of time before returning to the start.
  • Benefits: Increases time under tension, enhancing muscle endurance and strength.

Nordic Curls with Varying Arm Positions

  • How to Do It: Change the position of your arms to increase difficulty. Try placing your arms behind your head, across your chest, or extended overhead.
  • Benefits: Alters your center of gravity, increasing the challenge to your core and hamstrings.

Resistance Band Nordic Curls

  • How to Do It: Attach a resistance band to a sturdy anchor and wrap it around your chest or hips. Perform the exercise with the added resistance of the band.
  • Benefits: Adds variable resistance, making the exercise more challenging and helping to build explosive strength.

Partner-Assisted Nordic Curls

  • How to Do It: Have a partner assist you by providing slight support as you lower and raise your body. This can be done by holding your hands or supporting your chest.
  • Benefits: Allows you to perform more repetitions with proper form, gradually increasing strength.

Elevated Nordic Curls

  • How to Do It: Perform the exercise with your knees elevated on a bench or step. This increases the range of motion and difficulty.
  • Benefits: Enhances hamstring engagement and increases the overall challenge of the exercise.

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