Tip: Easy Ways to Do the Hardest Ham Exercise

This hamstring move is notoriously brutal and it usually requires a partner. Here's how to do it anywhere without a buddy.


Notorious Nordics

Build larger, stronger, and more injury-resilient hamstrings with Nordic hamstring curls. People who perform Nordics experience fewer hamstring strains and other injuries, making this movement a valuable part of an athlete's program.

Be warned: Nordics cause serious muscle damage and deep soreness. Nordics are usually performed with a partner holding your ankles, but here are some alternatives when working out solo.

A leg extension or hamstring machine will work well if there's adequate space in front of the machine. The padded roller offers a perfect resting point for your heels.

A Smith machine works great too if the bar can lower to the ground. Use a foam pad on the bar to rest your calves against. Load the bar with enough weight to hold it in place.

How to Do Nordics

  1. Begin in an upright position with knees flexed to 90 degrees and heels or base of calves resting against the padded machine. Bret Contreras recommends dorsiflexing your ankles (raising the foot upwards towards the shin) to place the calves in an elongated position. Maintain neutral hips throughout the movement.
  2. Place your hands in front, ready to catch your body at the bottom position.Slowly lower yourself through the eccentric (negative) phase of the movement until you can no longer maintain control. Emphasize tension through your hamstrings during the slow negative.
  3. Absorb the bottom of the movement by decelerating your momentum in the push-up negative, then quickly transition into an explosive push-up. Re-engage your hamstrings by curling yourself upward as the push-up momentum brings you high enough to safely load the hamstrings with your bodyweight.
  4. Begin the negative portion of the next rep. If you don't yet have the upper-body pushing power to propel the explosive push-up, decelerate the negative portion carefully and pause. Hand walk yourself back into the starting position and repeat negative-only reps.

Take into consideration your bodyweight and torso length. Heavier and longer lifters will find this more challenging. Not strong enough yet? You can use a band to help out:

A few individuals will possess the strength-to-bodyweight ratio to perform a full range of motion positive and negative. Use a weighted vest if you're a bad-ass.

Sets, Reps, and Sore Knees

Aim for 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps. Begin conservatively to get comfortable and avoid disabling soreness. (After your first workout with these, you're probably screwed regardless.) Increase as you tolerate more volume. Perform Nordics later in your workout to avoid massively fatiguing your hamstrings before lower-body compound movements.

Don't be afraid to use some padding for your knees. Focus on the pain in your hamstrings, not the pain in your kneecaps.


  1. van der Horst N et al. The preventative effect of the Nordic hamstring exercise on hamstring injuries in amateur soccer players: a randomized controlled trail. Am J Sports Med. 2015 Jun;43(6):1316-23. PubMed.
Andrew Coates is a trainer who is focused on strength development for everyday people and young athletes. He’s a fitness writer, speaker, and host of The Lift Free and Diet Hard Podcast.

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