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June 13, 2022 6 min read

Exercises like the leg curl and deadlift are popular for building strength and mass in the back of the legs, but an exercise like the Nordic hamstring curl can provide similar benefits while also helping to reduce the risk of hamstring injuries.

The Nordic ham curl focuses on the eccentric part of the exercise, in contrast to other hamstring exercises that focus on both contraction and eccentric.  

Why Are Eccentric Exercises Important?

An eccentric contraction, also known as negative work, refers to the lengthening of a muscle under load, such as lowering the weight in a bicep curl. While concentric contraction, or positive work, refers to the shortening of a muscle, such as curling the weight in a bicep curl.

The Nordic ham curl is an eccentric exercise because the hamstring muscles lengthen as you slowly lower your bodyweight to the ground.

Both contractions are important for building muscle and strength, but eccentric contractions can especially be beneficial for hypertrophy, athletic performance, and helping reduce the risk of injury. 

Eccentric exercises are said to produce higher force with a lower energy requirement, and they are used in sport training in order to help improve strength and coordination. Not just for athletes, they can also be beneficial for people suffering from muscle loss, diabetes, and cardiorespiratory disease. 

Muscles Worked by the Nordic Hamstring Curl 

The Nordic Hamstring Curl is an isolation exercise, meaning it targets only one muscle group. This can help build muscle in one specific area and help to strengthen muscles that may be overlooked during compound exercises.  

Hamstrings 

In the back of the leg, helping to make up the posterior chain, are the hamstring muscles. They are made up of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus, which are all activated by the Nordic ham curl. This muscle group is primarily responsible for knee flexion and hip extension.

Hamstring strength is important for activities like walking, running, and squatting. 

Benefits of Nordic Hamstring Curls 

Strengthening the hamstrings through eccentric contractions can be beneficial for athletes and everyday gym goers. If running performance or hypertrophy is your goal, the Nordic hamstring curl is a great choice.  

Improved Sprint Performance 

When performing explosive movements, type II, or fast-twitch muscle fibers are recruited.

Athletes that sprint, jump, or perform powerful lifts can contain a greater amount of fast-twitch muscle fibers because they're used during quick, high intensity bursts of energy.

During eccentric contractions, type II muscle fibers can be more damaged than type I muscle fibers. That may sound scary, but it's referred to as exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) and can help muscles grow bigger and better. Since type II muscle fibers are used during sprinting, strengthening them with eccentric contractions can help improve your speed.   

Reduced Risk of Injury 

Hamstring injuries are among the most common sports related injuries, especially in soccer players, and typically require rehabilitation and a long recovery period. Hamstring strains also have a tendency of recurring and can put an athlete out for up to 50 weeks.

Although conventional strengthening of a muscle has been said to help prevent injuries, the eccentric strength you can gain in the Nordic ham curl can help modify neuromuscular control, which can help provide injury prevention. 

Boosts Muscle Growth

Whether you're a bodybuilder or a recreational athlete, growing a muscle can take time and dedication. Knowing how to maximize your time in the gym can help you stay efficient and on track.

When done properly, eccentric exercises like the Nordic ham curl can be more effective at growing muscle mass than conventional strength training. You can produce greater force when under eccentric load and that can help boost muscle growth.     

Improved Flexibility  

You've probably heard how important staying flexible is, and flexibility in your lower body can help reduce the risk of injuries and improve your overall performance. Poor flexibility can cause muscle tightness and imbalances, poor posture, and lower back pain.

Static stretching has probably been your go-to when feeling tightness or stiffness, but eccentric training can improve flexibility as well and can be most effective at it when performed through a full range of motion.    

How to Do the Nordic Hamstring Curl 

Although a workout buddy is helpful with this exercise, it's not required. If you have one, they can hold your feet down on the ground, but if you don't have one, secure your feet under a squat rack, Smith Machine, or barbell that will hold you safely through the reps.

Since it's bodyweight and doesn't require fancy equipment, you can do this curl exercise anywhere, even at home. 

Heres how to do the Nordic Hamstring Curl: 

  1. Start by stabilizing your lower legs by securing them under a safe surface. 
  2. When secured, get in a kneeling position on the ground with your feet flexed and hips almost fully extended. 
  3. Once in position, start to slowly lower your body to the ground by extending the knee joint. It's important to maintain a neutral spine and tight core for the entirety of the movement.
  4. Lower as much as you can and, if you need to, catch yourself with your hands before you touch the ground. 
  5. Once you reach all the way to the ground, relax your body and push up to set your body back to the starting position.   

Nordic Hamstring Curl Variations 

There are plenty of hamstring exercises that involve eccentric and concentric contractions, but not too many that involve only eccentric. The Nordic ham curl is likely the most popular one, but there are other variations and ways to get creative to implement more eccentrics.

Glute Ham Raise 

Nordic ham curls and glute ham raises (GHR) are extremely similar, but the main difference is the equipment used. No serious equipment is needed for the Nordic ham curl, but glute ham raises require a GHD or glute ham developer. This can allow for a greater range of motion and provides support for the knees. 

How to do the Glute Ham Raise: 

  1. Lie face down on a glute ham raise machine with your knees just below the pad, and your ankles secure with your feet flat on the platform.
  2. Raise your body up to form a 90 degree angle with your knees. 
  3. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings as you slowly start to lower your body down until you are at the starting position.  

Assisted Nordic Hamstring Curl

Whether you're new to the move or just need extra support, a resistance band can help make the Nordic ham curl less intense. Depending on how much support you need, you can try different bands with different amounts of elasticity. Ensure the band is secured to a stable surface and wrap the other side on your chest, under your arms.

How to do the Assisted Nordic Hamstring Curl: 

  1. Attach a resistance band to a stable pole or rack behind you. 
  2. Set yourself up the same way you would a normal Nordic hamstring curl, but make sure to hold the resistance band in both hands. 
  3. Lower your body down to the ground, using the support from the resistance band to assist in the movement. 
  4. Move back up to the starting position. 

Stiff-Legged Deadlift

Although not fully an isolation exercise, the stiff-legged deadlift is a beneficial way to recruit the hamstrings and can be slowed down to accentuate the eccentric portion. This deadlift adaptation is similar to a Romanian deadlift in the movement pattern, but you pull the bar from the ground each time. Slowly lowering the bar helps emphasize the eccentric contraction. 

How to do the Stiff-Legged Deadlift: 

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and the barbell on the floor right in front of you.
  2. Hinge over to grab the barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart. 
  3. With straight legs and a flat back, pull the barbell up off the ground, keeping it close to your body.
  4. Lower it back to the ground, keeping your legs straight through the movement.    

Final Word 

The Nordic hamstring curl is one of the best exercises for eccentric contraction and can be implemented into a sport training program or a standard workout routine. The benefits of an eccentric exercise are notable, but knowing how and when to use them is crucial. 

Although they can play an important role in building muscle and improving performance, they can also damage the muscles more and produce greater delayed-onset muscle soreness than concentric contractions. This can require more time to recover, and Adabolic can help accelerate recovery time while maximizing performance. 

Concentric contractions are a great way to build strength for heavier lifts, so creating a balanced workout with both contractions can help you improve your strength, mass, athletic performance, and quality of life.