The Nordic hamstring curl (NHC) is the gold standard of hamstring strength. In regard to muscular tension, no other hamstring exercise compares.
The NHC elicits greater hamstring activation than stiff-leg deadlifts, single-leg stiff-leg deadlifts, seated leg curls, good mornings, or squats (1). Do it and you'll quickly see why it's the most effective way to strengthen your hammies.
Most people need to work their way up to doing full Nordic hamstring curls. Master these progressions in order:
1. The Glute Ham Raise (GHR)
This one's often confused with the NHC. While both exercises look similar, the glute ham raise is significantly easier than the NHC.
The GHR puts the body in a more mechanically advantageous position. The knees are lower on the concentric or lifting phase of the movement, shifting the fulcrum point to the hips.
On the NHC, the fulcrum point is at the knees since they don't move throughout both the lifting and lowering phases. This forces the body to remain at a mechanical disadvantage the whole time.
If you want to maximize the benefit of your GHRs, lower yourself slowly for 3-5 seconds on each rep. Your hamstrings will feel it and you'll elicit a better strength response.
Do 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.
2. The Hamstring Hip Hinge (HHH)
Think of this as a cross between the GHR and the NHC. You'll set up similar to what you'd do for the NHC, but you'll bend at the hips (not the knees) while keeping as much of your bodyweight leaning forward as possible throughout the set.
Aim to keep your arms at your sides while lowering yourself down slowly and with control until your forehead touches the bench.
Fully extend your hips at the end of each rep until your body is back to an upright position. There's no need to add weight to these. Just lean forward more to increase the mechanical disadvantage, placing more stress on the hamstrings.
Start with sets of 5 reps and work up to 10. Once you can 10, lean forward more and drop the reps back down.
3. The Partial Range Nordic Hamstring Curl
Once you've mastered the previous exercise, you'll be ready to try this. Just don't attempt the full range of motion too soon. You may realize you lack the strength for it.
While most lifters can lower themselves under control on the first half of the lowering phase, they inevitably hit a sticking point on the second half where they lose control and drop like a rock.
You want to avoid this because once you lose control of the descent, you lose tension on the muscle and strength gains stop. Limiting the range of motion on this one allows you to lower yourself SLOWLY and control the descent for the entirety of the rep.
Stick to the 1-5 rep range. As you gain strength in the given range of motion, then simply use a smaller pad to increase the ROM and repeat the process.
4. The Nordic Hamstring Curl
The most important factor: Keep tension on the hamstrings throughout the entire rep. First, lower yourself slowly until your chest contacts the mat. Then violently thrust your chest up and back while contracting your hamstrings to pull your body back to an upright position.
These are extremely difficult. In fact, the average gym goer would fall flat on their face the first time he or she tried it. But once you nail down the progressions, you'll be able to do a true Nordic hamstring curl... and build big, strong, resilient hamstrings along the way.
Related: Do The Nordic Ham Curl
- Ebben, William P. "Hamstring activation during lower body resistance training exercises." International journal of sports physiology and performance, vol. 2009 March, no. 4 (1), 2009, pp. 84-96. PubMed.