The Nordic curl scares most people who see it done for the first time, but the truth is, it’s a fantastic hamstring exercise that beats prone leg curls for the fact that it keeps your feet stationary while your body pivots around the knee joint. This makes it much more reliant on eccentric strength and makes it a movement worth its weight in gold for hamstring strength and posterior-chain bolstering. The best part is, there’s no equipment needed, other than a place to secure your feet under.
With all this said, it’s still tough, so the best thing to do is focus on steps leading up to the real thing.
Step 1: Natural Glute-Hamstring Raise
Find a (very heavy!) machine that you can secure your feet under, and make sure you’re able to keep your ankles in a neutral or dorsiflexed position. If you can only point your toes like you’re a ballerina, it’ll lead to plenty of calf involvement for the lift. It helps to put thick pads or double mats under your knees for comfort. At this point, your heels should be in contact with the bar that blocks your feet; be sure it’s not your Achilles tendon because that will cause plenty of aggravation, and it’s not safe. Next, kneel tall, engage your glutes and slowly tip forward. Press hard with your heels into the bar to engage your hamstrings, and make your descent to the floor as slow as it can possibly be. Keep your hands up, ready to assume a push-up position the entire time, and gently make them hit the floor first.
Next, fully assist yourself back to the top position by pushing up off the ground with your hands and repeat. Aim for a five-second descent on each rep, and focus on sets of only six to eight reps, with quality and attention to tempo in mind.
Step 2: Assisted Nordic Hamstring Curl
Setting up a resistance band overhead can create a perfect hack for the Nordic curl if you’re not yet strong enough to do them with just your bodyweight. Place the band above and behind your head so you can hold it near shoulder height (or just above your head). As you descend, the band will increase its tension and assist you more the closer you move toward the ground. Maintain good posture, and pull with your hamstrings before you reach the ground. Return to the start position and repeat for sets of six to eight reps, focusing again on form and tempo.
Step 3: The Real Deal — Nordic Hamstring Curl
At this point, you know the drill. Set up the same way, minus the band. Keep your hands behind your back this time so that you’re not as top-heavy in your loading (with your arms overhead or by your chest). Make it your goal to descend to 12 inches above ground level, and use your hamstrings to change direction and return to the top position. Focus once again on six to eight reps. As an option, on your last set, finish the reps of Nordic curls off by adding natural glute-hamstring raises to the end of your set. Even if you’ve burnt yourself out with the full curls, you’ll still have juice in the tank for a few straight negatives to tack on to the end. This will torch your hamstrings from top to bottom.
One More Thing: What If I Feel This in My Lower Back?
It’s a common occurrence to feel plenty of lumbar stress when performing this move, and it takes a very simple fix to eliminate it: Hinge at the hips. Commit to a slightly bent position at the waist, and you won’t create as much stress forces on the spine. Just remember that this angle you choose should not change as the rep continues. If you start bent, finish bent.