One leg exercise I can almost guarantee you are not currently taking advantage of is the Nordic hamstring curl, aka the Russian Leg Curl or the Natural Glute Ham Raise. The Nordic hamstring curl is an eccentric exercise that is performed on the knees with your ankles locked into place, while your upper body and torso are used as a hinge or lever into a prone position. We are going to cover the history of Nordic curls, the muscles worked, and their benefits so you can add them to your leg split.
What Are Nordic Curls
By definition, the NHE (Nordic Hamstring Exercise) is an eccentric movement that is performed with an individual on their knees with their ankles, either held or strapped and performed by lowering the upper body towards a prone position as slowly as possible. [R] This movement can be performed just about anywhere and does not need any type of equipment (other than something to hold the ankles in place. Nordic curls are also referred to as the Inverse Leg Curl, Natural Glute Ham Raise, Nordic Hamstring Exercise, and the Russian Leg Curl.
Nordic Hamstring Exercise History
While you may not have heard of Nordic curls, many of those in the fitness world have. In fact, Nordic curls are anything but a new movement and actually have quite a long history behind them. Historically speaking, and I wouldn’t assume you know this unless you have an educational science background, the Ling Gymnastics movement or ‘medical gymnastics’ is the idea that physical ailments can be cured or resolved by human kinetic movement. [R] This idea and exercise movement was founded by Pierre Henrik Ling in the early nineteenth century. Ling was a Swedish trainer and the form of gymnastics that he designed and implemented with his clientele and spread like wildfire.
The Ling Gymnastics Movement
The movement system guidelines and design was used widely throughout the Americas and Europe.By combining different principles from other methodologies, like military, medical, and education) with a firm belief in the benefit of bodyweight exercises to strengthen the body. The first major documentation of the Ling Gymnastics movement was written by George Herbert Taylor in the 1860s who was based in New York and worked as a medical physician. [R] This book, The Exposition of the Swedish Movement Cure, was the first documentation of the Nordic curl and at the time was referred to as the ‘wing/kneeling stretching’ exercise.
Nordic Curls Muscles Worked
The hamstrings are one of the biggest muscles in the human body and the Nordic curl is designed to strengthen, build and develop it as effectively as possible. Not only the hamstrings, but the glutes are going to be greatly affected as well by this movement.
- Hamstrings: responsible for bending and straightening your leg (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris)
- Glutes: responsible for extending your hips when you stand upright, abduct, and stabilize the body during walking and moving (gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, gluteus minimus)
Nordic Curls Benefits
1. Reduced Risk Of Injury
By increasing the quality of muscle and facia lengthening in the hamstrings and thigh/glute region athletes may see a reduced risk of hamstring strain injury. In randomized studies that compare implementing Nordic curls into regular athletic training and strength training programs, athletes have been observed to see increases in eccentric strength and improvements in tolerances for higher volume with reduced injury occurrences. [R]
2. Improved Range Of Motion
Unlike using a GHD or a machine hamstring curl, the Nordic curl aka the ‘poor man’s glute-ham raise’ enables an individual to perform the movement in the most optimal position. What this does is creates a more effective range of motion for the body to move and recruit the appropriate muscles.
3. Increased Hamstring Hypertrophy
Growing the hamstring muscle contributes to so much more than just athletic performance. By lengthening the overall size of the hamstring facia, you can expect to see improvements in aesthetic, athletic performance, posture, and functional ability throughout your normal routine and lifestyle.
4. Faster Running Speed
By implementing Nordic curls into your training you can expect to see improvements in your running and sprinting ability. If you’re looking for more torque and peak power output during your sprinting efforts, then Nordic curls are a must. If you’re not an athlete that sprints often, you may see improvements in other conditioning purposes, like using cardio to improve fat loss and body composition.
How To Do Nordic Curls
While the Nordic curl is a simple movement to comprehend, just like any other movement, form is the most important part to maximize your effort and exercise benefit.
- Start in a kneeling position (you might want to put a cushion under the knees)
- Place the feet and ankles under or on something that stabilizes the body and provides support for the rest of the body
- Begin by tucking the pelvis in line with the spine and bracing the core so that you don’t over arch the back and without bending at the hips
- From the upright and erect position, slowly lean forward without bending the knees or hips, lowering the body forward towards the ground
- Once you can no longer stabilize the body, perform the same movement, retracting the torso back towards your heels until you reach the erect position
Note: If you’re unable to perform this movement with bodyweight we suggest using a support band around the hips until strength and form is appropriately built up
Nordic Curls: Takeaway
The Nordic curl is a great movement for using body weight to appropriately target and strengthen the hamstrings and glutes to further improve athletic performance, posture, and stability. While you don’t need much equipment to do this movement, we do recommend mastering the form and building strength, as poor form can recruit other inappropriate muscles to support the poor form or cause injury. If you’re unable to perform the movement fully with body weight only, we suggest using a band for support.