How to Build Stupid-Strong Hamstrings

Master the Nordic Curl and the Glute Ham Raise

How to Build Stupid-Strong Hamstrings

Want to build the strength to get your first true Nordic curl? You can absolutely do it, but first you'll want to nail down the glute-ham raise (GHR). Already a pro at the GHR? Scroll down to see the best way to progress to a perfect Nordic curl.

First, let's take a look at the glute-ham raise machine. Here are the four progressions you'll need to work on. Think of them as stepping stones for mastering the GHR. Then think of the GHR as a stepping stone to the Nordic curl.

GHR Progression 1: Hip Extension

This is the most basic exercise to start building strength in the low back and hamstrings. Novice lifters should master hip extension before moving on to the next progressions.

This is also a great warm-up for lower-body workouts or any movements involving the posterior chain. Once you can do 3 sets of 15 slow and controlled reps (keeping your hands behind your head), advance to the next progression.

GHR Progression 2: GHR/Hip Extension Combo

There's a substantial difference in the level of difficulty between the hip extension and a proper glute-ham raise, so combine them to bridge the strength gap.

Bend and lower your knees to the starting point of the glute-ham raise, then hinge at the hip the way you would during the hip extension. Drive your heels up into the footpad using your hamstrings as much as possible to lift your torso each rep. Once you can do 3-4 sets of 10 perfect reps, advance to the next progression.

GHR Progression 3: Full Range Glute-Ham Raise

This exercise is difficult even for seasoned lifters. I recommend increasing the range of motion by making the starting point identical to that of the hip extension.

By starting lower, you increase the ROM and generate more upward momentum. This helps you avoid breaking at the hips and will help you get past any sticking points. Aim to complete 5 sets of 5 full-ROM reps keeping your hands behind your head. Slow down the negative portion of each rep.

GHR Progression 4: Partial Range Glute-Ham Raise

While it may sound counterintuitive, the partial range GHR is significantly harder than the full-range GHR because you eliminate any swinging or momentum.

Start with your chest parallel with the floor, hinge at the knee, and use your hamstrings to pull your body to an upright position. Aim for 5 sets of 5 perfect reps. Lower yourself slowly with control to build more strength.

Once you've mastered all four progressions, you should have the strength to start effectively training towards a Nordic curl.

The Nordic hamstring curl (NHC) is the gold standard of hamstring strength. While you may not (yet) be strong enough to do a proper one, getting there is actually easier than you think. Just like the GHR, it's a process.

But once you can perform 10 perfect unbroken glute-ham raises, you're (most likely) ready to start doing a modified NHC. This modification is with an elevated angle.

Elevating the angle increases your mechanical advantage. This means you'll be able to do the exercise with a full range of motion, which is key. Be sure to start at a conservative height and GRADUALLY work your way down by lowering the angle of the bench as you get stronger.

Once you can do 5 perfect NHCs at a given angle, reduce it to increase the difficulty. Repeat this process until you can do a perfect NHC with your body parallel to the floor.

This progression takes some time, but with consistent practice it's more than possible to get your first true NHC. With this approach, anyone can build the strength to master the Nordic curl while building some incredibly strong, jacked, and resilient hamstrings along the way.

Tanner Shuck is a former Division 1A football player and accomplished CrossFit athlete. He specializes in competitive fitness, with emphasis on training absolute and relative strength. Tanner is an online coach and personal trainer based out of Dubai, UAE. Follow on Instagram