Joel Dowey is an S&C coach sponsored by No Limits Performance Nutrition, and powerlifting competitor. He is based in Stoke-on-Trent
Hamstring strength has a very close correlation with knee injury. The stronger the musculature around the hamstring, the less risk there is of tearing the ACL tendon. Eccentrically loading the hamstring by fixing it at the hip, and mobilizing it through the knee has been shown to be statistically significant in reducing the chance of rupturing the tendons at the knee joint…which is where Nordic curls come in. If this movement isn’t in your repertoire then you’re missing out. It’s also a movement that will help increase your squat, deadlift and any other posterior chain dominant movement, along with the aforementioned injury prevention, keeping you squatting and deadlifting for longer.
Basics first: you’ll set up in a kneeling position, with your feet either held by a partner or securely supported underneath a piece of gym kit. From there, your aim should be to keep your body in a straight line from hips to knees as you lower to the floor. A lot of trainees fail with this movement by ‘buckling’ at the hips first: stay tight and maintain a straight line from knee to hip. Granted, it is difficult but by doing so you will gain a lot more from the the exercise than when you don’t stay strict with it.
Of course, most people won’t be able to come close to this on a first attempt, and keeping tight through the first half of the movement then dropping straight to the floor isn’t going to help you build strength through full ROM, so you’ll need a regression. There are three that I recommend:
The GHR machine: if you’ve got access to one of these, use it properly – it’ll give you a good idea of how difficult Nordic curls are, and get you used to holding the tension.
Use a stick: ‘walk’ your hands downward (and then back up) in order to keep tension on your hamstrings throughout full ROM, while staying somewhat strict.
Use a lat pull-down machine: Set up as you would for a GHD, facing away from the machine and holding the handles overhead. Looks a bit crazy, and might get you some funny glances, but being able to alter the weight used is well worth it.
Also, fucking work at it! Go as slow and controlled as you possibly can. It’s the weak person’s motive to cheat themselves. Don’t allow yourself to be weak. Keep it slow and controlled as far down as you can before the resistance is too much.
Once you’re committed to improving at Nordic curls, aim to do them once or twice a week. I would add them into my athlete’s programme on a squat day as after completing deadlifts, their hamstrings would be too fried to cope. Keep it pretty high up the exercise order as it is pretty taxing on both CNS and musculature. Bodyweight’s all that is needed, unless you’re close to elite athlete level: three sets of three with two minutes rest will suffice. Only when you can perform the movement perfectly should you consider increasing volume or load.
If you can do a Nordic Curl perfectly, all the way down to chest toughing floor then kudos, you’re ridiculously strong in the posterior chain. If you can perform three sets of three like this, start to try and bring yourself back to the start position using only your hamstrings. It’s not easy – but what wouldn’t you do for bulletproof knees?