The Nordic Eccentric Hamstring Curl

One Exercise to Save Your Hamstrings

Photo of a woman stretching her hamstrings.
The Nordic hamstring curl should be in your exercise toolbox to prevent hamstring injuries. Thinkstock/ Getty Images

Is there a way keep hamstring injuries from happening? Is there one exercise that you can do to possibly prevent hamstring strains? The Nordic eccentric hamstring curl may be the one exercise that you can do that may prevent you from pulling a hammy.

If you have a hamstring strain or tear, then you know how painful the injury can be. The pain can prevent you from walking and running normally, and it may keep you from participating in your usual sports or recreational activities.

Your physical therapist can guide you through your rehabilitation when you have a hamstring strain. One component of your hamstring rehab should be to learn how to prevent future hamstring injuries.

What is the Nordic Eccentric Hamstring Exercise?

First, let's take a look at the Nordic hamstring exercise and learn how to do it. To do the exercise, you must find a partner to help you. Here is how it's done:

  1. Kneel on an exercise mat or another soft surface. You should be kneeling up tall - don't let your butt touch your ankles.
  2. Have your partner securely hold your feet and ankles.
  3. Slowly start to lean forward, keeping your hips in line with your pelvis. The motion should occur at your knees. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged to stay stable as you lean forward.
  4. The further you lean forward, the tougher the exercise is. Be sure your partner holds your ankles down securely.
  5. As you lean further forward, you will have to reach your hands out to catch your body as it approaches the floor. Control the motion with your hamstrings.
  1. You should feel your hamstrings contracting as you are leaning forward during the Nordic eccentric hamstring curl. 
  2. Once your body is down on the floor (almost in a push-up position), you can simply kneel right up to start another repetition.

Most hamstring protocols recommend 4 to 6 repetitions of the Nordic hamstring curl.

It is a tough exercise, so start easy with just a few reps, and build up to 6 repetitions over the course of a few weeks. The Nordic hamstring curl should be done 3 to 4 times per week.

Before starting this, or any other hamstring exercise, check in with your doctor to be sure that the exercise is safe for you to do.

The Nordic eccentric hamstring curl is an advanced maneuver, and it should not be done if you have an acute hamstring strain. The exercise is meant to be done prior to injury as a prevention tool. It can also be done during the latter stages of your hamstring strain exercise program to help you return to high-level athletics.

Eccentric? What Does that Mean?

The Nordic eccentric hamstring curl is an eccentric exercise. So what does that mean?

Eccentric muscle exercises occur when the muscle being worked is lengthening while it is contracting. The contraction happens while the muscle is getting longer. To see this in action, bend one elbow to about 90 degrees. Place a weight in your hand, and then slowly lower your arm down until it is straight.

Your ​biceps muscle in the front of your arm had to lengthen slowly while contracting to allow your arm to straighten out all the way. That's an eccentric contraction.

During the Nordic hamstring curl your hamstrings start out in a shortened position, and then lengthen as they contract to slowly lower your upper body down to the floor. This eccentric contraction makes the Nordic hamstring curl and effective exercise to prevent hamstring injuries. But why? We don't really know. Eccentric exercises have been shown to have a protective effect for many areas in the body including the hamstrings, the Achilles' tendons, and in the elbow muscles, but their effect on injury prevention remains a mystery.

Research Surrounding the Nordic Hamstring Exercise

The Nordic Hamstring Curl has been extensively researched. Does research show that it can prevent hamstring injury? Yes.

According to one study of 579 amateur soccer players, when the Nordic hamstring curl was added to a soccer training program, the group of players performing the exercise had significantly less hamstring injuries when compared to a group of players not doing the exercise. A similar study has been published using professional rugby players. It seems that regardless of your sport, performing the Nordic eccentric hamstring curl helps to reduce the risk of hamstring injury.

Another study examined the effects of the Nordic hamstring curl on strength gains when compared to traditional hamstring strengthening exercises. The study found an 11% increase in hamstring torque and a 7% increase in overall hamstring strength in the Nordic group when compared to the traditional hamstring training group.

No study reported that injuries occurred to study participants during the Nordic hamstring curl.

Research seems to show that the Nordic eccentric hamstring curl can:

  • Help prevent injury
  • Improve overall hamstring strength
  • Be a safe exercise to incorporate into your training routine for hamstring strength

Of course, a well-rounded hamstring injury prevention program will also focus on other lower extremity muscles, like the quadriceps and the gluteal muscles. Keeping your hips strong and your core muscles working can help keep stress and strain off your hamstrings.

One of the most important things you can do for your body is to learn how to prevent injury. If you have a hamstring strain, your rehab will focus on helping you return to your optimal level of function. One of the components of your hamstring strain exercise program may be the Nordic hamstring curl. This exercise can help strengthen your hamstring muscles and may help you prevent future injury. Talk to your physical therapist about the Nordic hamstring curl to see if it is right for you.

Sources:

Brooks, JH, et al. Incidence, risk, and prevention of hamstring muscle injuries in professional rugby union. Am J Sports Med. 2006, Aug 34(8): 1297-306.

Mjølsnes, R, et al. A 10-week randomized trial comparing eccentric vs. concentric hamstring strength training in well-trained soccer players. Scan J Med Sci Sports. 2004 Oct; 14(5): 311-7.

van der Horst, N, et al. The preventive effect of the nordic hamstring exercise on hamstring injuries in amateur soccer players: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Sports Med, 2015, Jun; 43(6): 1316-23.

Continue Reading