Nordic Hamstring Curl Variations For Injury Prevention

Hamstring injuries are among the most common non-contact injuries in sports. It is important to train hamstring muscles optimally in order to prevent these injuries from occurring. In this article, we’re going to show you how to strengthen your hamstrings, by covering our favorite hamstring exercises including nordic hamstring curl variations as well as swiss ball hamstring variations to prehab against hamstring strains!

 

How Do Hamstring Strains Occur?

The hamstrings are most commonly injured either during high-speed running and mainly involving the biceps femoris long head or during movements leading to extensive lengthening of the hamstrings (such as high kicking, sliding tackle, sagittal split) often involving the free proximal tendon of semimembranosus. That being said, both types of injuries involve the hamstrings being maximally stretched under high amounts of force.

All injuries occur when tissue capacity cannot meet the demands of the activity. In the case of hamstrings strains, they occur when the hamstrings do not have the adequate eccentric strength (tissue capacity) to control themselves while they’re going into a lengthened position (activity demand). For the hamstrings, this occurs when the hip is moving into flexion and the knee is moving into extension, which is the same position you would get into if you wanted to stretch your hamstrings!

 

Nordic Hamstring Curl Variations and More In Our Hamstring Program!

hamstring prehab program the best hamstring exercises to prevent injury

Hamstring injuries are one of the most common soft tissue injuries in sports. They are especially challenging and frustrating due to the high recurrence rate. This is largely because people don’t appropriately rehab their injury. It’s time to change the narrative and be proactive with taking care of your hamstrings! This program will expose your hamstrings in a safe and effective manner to prepare you for high level activities! Learn more HERE! 

 

How To Strengthen Your Hamstrings: Nordic Hamstring Curl Variations

The best evidence supporting decreased hamstring strain re-injury occurrence is the incorporation of eccentric hamstring exercises, and a great way to perform this is with nordic hamstring curl variations.

We’re big fans of the Nordic hamstring curl, and have highlighted many variations of it in the past. However, this first one by Skadefri takes the cake. In comparison to the lat pull down variation (2nd clip), this is a lot safer. You don’t need to worry about accidentally landing on your face and it doesn’t require you to find the most appropriate amount of resistance before beginning. In comparison to the pushup variation (3rd clip), this doesn’t require nearly the amount of upper extremity (chest/tricep) strength that many are lacking (think of your youth athletes). Furthermore, with this variation, you get a great added benefit of some core work. At the fully rolled out position, it’s essentially a plank on a swiss ball. Similar to the “stir the pot” exercise – without the stirring of course. If you’re more limited by core strength than hamstring strength while doing this variation, then you just discovered a big-time limitation aka a weak link that you need to fix with some prehab ASAP.

Researchers have determined through isokinetic testing (via high-tech research laboratory equipment) that a strength imbalance ratio of >20% between eccentric hamstring force production and concentric quadriceps force production resulted in a 4X increase in the risk of hamstring injury compared to a normal strength profile ratio (ie equal strength between the hamstrings and quadriceps)!

 

Learn How To Master The Nordic Hamstring Curl!

 

Nordic Hamstring Curl Variations Without a Partner – Using Lat Machine

Many authors suggest that the hamstrings must be strong enough to eccentrically control and offset the strength of the concentric action of the quadriceps during late terminal swing phase such as when you are performing a kick or doing hurdles. You have two big groups of muscles (hamstrings and quadriceps) on opposite sides of the knee joint. When one muscle (quadriceps) fires and begins moving the knee into extension, what’s going to stop the knee from going into hyperextension? Muscle-wise, that would be your hamstrings.

If your quadriceps are too strong—or hamstrings too weak, rather—when you forcefully move into extension, your hamstrings won’t be able to control the motion and will rip, resulting in a hamstring strain.   If you’re strong enough like Porto Ido here (see video clip below), the Nordic hamstring curl will be cake. If you’re like the rest of the mortals like me, try the second variation using your hands to help control the descent (eccentric part) and push yourself back up (concentric part).

 

Nordic Hamstring Curl Variations – Using a Partner

 

Eccentric Hamstring Strengthening Distally and Proximally

While the Nordic hamstring curl has been studied the most in terms of hamstring strain injury prevention, we believe that in order to truly bulletproof your body, you need to strengthen the hamstrings both distally and proximally. The Nordic hamstring curl occurs when the hip is in a slightly flexed/neutral position, with the knee moving eccentrically from a knee flexed to an extended position. Meaning the distal musculotendinous junction around the knee is primarily working eccentrically while the proximal musculotendinous junction is more or less working isometrically. In theory, this is great for prehab distal hamstring strain. But what about proximal hamstring strains?

In my opinion, to prehab against proximal hamstring strains, you need to eccentrically work the hamstrings in the opposite fashion – where the knee is fixed while the hip is moving from an extended to a flexed position. And that is where one of my favorite exercises comes in: The Romanian Deadlift and all of its variations.

HAMSTRING [P]REHAB PROGRAM

hamstring prehab program the prehab guys

 

Contralateral Offset Romanian Deadlifts + Across Body Reach

The contralateral offset hold further adds to the stability demands of the exercise (that’s already on one leg). By holding the weight in your opposite hand, you are adding a longer lever to the exercise aka it will take more muscle activity to stabilize and move the weight.

Remember, torque (muscle activity in this case) = lever arm (perpendicular distance from weight to axis of rotation) x applied force (weight of the kettlebell).

So we can increase muscle activity and make the exercise harder by either increasing the amount of weight we are holding in our hand (applied force) or by increasing how far away the weight is from our hip joint (lever arm).  Adding the contralateral reach with the weight also acts to further increase the lever arm. But what I really like about the reach is that you can significantly increase the amount of muscle stretch and eccentric load on the glutes. We are getting as much hip flexion, internal rotation, and adduction as we possibly can with this variation at the bottom, all being controlled eccentric by the glutes (and hamstrings). Simplified…but more eccentric muscle stretch = more conducive environment for hypertrophic gains and prehab!

READ: HOW TO MASTER THE SINGLE LEG RDL 

master single leg romanian deadlifts prehab guys

 

Hamstring Strain Warm-Up

As we said, hamstring strain injuries are among the most common acute musculoskeletal injury in the United States. Even more concerning is that hamstring re-injury rates are extremely high, especially during the first 2 weeks after return to sport. In fact, over 1/3 of hamstring injuries will reoccur during this time. A dynamic warmup is essential for all athletes to prime their body for any activity, especially after recovering from a hamstring injury. This video demonstrates a collection of dynamic movements to adequately warm-up the hamstrings, improve hip flexibility, and promote proximal stability.

 

Dynamic Hamstring Warmup

“Proximal stability promotes distal mobility.” This adage holds true for every body region and the hamstrings are no exception. Neuromuscular control of the lumbopelvic region is absolutely imperative to all lower extremity biomechanics, especially to optimal hamstring function during normal sporting activities. Improving the performance of the proprioceptive system at differing joint angles and body positions through technique-based exercises, balance drills, and plyometric exercises is key. A neuromuscular control program “aims to stimulate the proprioceptive pathways and the processing of such information, with planned and unplanned movements, and, through repetition and practice, alter the neuromuscular response and allow adaptive changes to occur.” A 2009 study by Cameron et al looked at the effects of the “HamSprint Drills” warm-up routine on lower limb neuromuscular control of Australian Rugby players.

 

The Best Hamstring Exercises: Sprint Drills

They found that after 6 weeks of performing the HamSprint drills, the players in the intervention group significantly improved their kinesthetic body awareness and lower limb neuromuscular control in comparison to a usual warm up of stretching and running. The HamSprint Drills were all specifically tailored to the improvement of running technique, coordination, and hamstring function. They included movements like high knee marching, ankle pops, leg cycling, quick support drills, pawing, falling starts, 3-point starts, and squat jump and gos. Here, I demonstrate just a few of the HamSprint Drills.

READ: HAMSTRING STRAINS CAUSES AND TREATMENT

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How Else Can We Strengthen Our Hamstrings? The Swiss ball Hamstring Curl!

The swiss ball hamstring curl is hands down the best knee dominant hamstring exercise to program for rehab and performance goals alike due to the ability to make easy and practical regressions. You can change the swiss ball height, limit how far to roll the swiss ball out, dig your heels harder or lighter into the swiss ball, or even perform just one part of the curl to focus on just the concentric or eccentric portion of the exercise. Strengthening the hamstrings are extremely important for the prevention of hamstring strains and risk reduction for ACL injuries. This article will show you how to level up your swiss ball hamstring curls and bulletproof your hammies for life!

Hamstring Swissball Curl

  • HOW: Lie on your back and put both of your feet on the swissball. With your knees straight, perform a bridge by diffing your heels into the swissball to lift your hips up. Once up, slowly roll the swissball towards you by bending your knees. Once the swissball has rolled towards use, slowly roll it back out. Rolling it back out with control is the hardest and most important part! You can use your hands at your side if needed.

 

  • FEEL: You should feel your hamstrings working very hard to control the swissball movement.

 

  • COMPENSATION: Do not let the swissball move from side to side. It should only be rolling forward and backward. Make sure to only extend at the hips, and not the lower back! 

 

Swissball Hamstring Variations: Perform Only Bridges

A bridge works both the hamstrings and the glutes. When performing an elevated bridge, you can increase the hamstrings to glutes ratio and bias the hamstrings even more. A swissball is a great way to accomplish this as it’s naturally a raised surface in comparison to the ground, but you must isometrically use your hamstring’s knee flexion action to prevent the ball from rolling away from your body even further.

Hamstring Bridge on Swissball Knee Straight

Lie on your back and put both of your feet on the swissball. With your knees straight, perform a bridge by digging your heels into the swissball to lift your hips up. You can use your arms are your side to stabilize your self if you need it. The goal is to move straight up and down without any side to side motion. You should feel your hamstrings working very hard to lift your hips up and stabilize the swissball. You will also feel your core engaged to keep your body from moving. Do not let the swissball move. Make sure to only extend at the hips, and not the lower back!

 

Hamstring Swissball Variations: Limit the Amount of Knee Straightening

To regress the swissball bridge from above, you can bend your knees. The further the swissball is from your knees (less knee bending), the harder the hamstrings have to work to stabilize the swissball. Thus performing a hamstring swissball bridge with the knees bent will be easier on the hamstrings than with the knees straight in the previous example

Hamstring Bridge on Swissball Knee Bent

Lie on your back and put both of your feet on the swissball. Bend your knees and perform a bridge by digging your heels into the swissball to lift your hips up. You can use your arms are your side to stabilize your self if you need it. The goal is to move straight up and down without any side to side motion. You should feel your hamstrings working very hard to lift your hips up and stabilize the swissball. You will also feel your core engaged to keep your body from moving. Do not let the swissball move. Make sure to only extend at the hips, and not the lower back!

If performing the full hamstring swissball curl, you can even make the exercise easier mid rep by limiting how far out you roll the swissball. This is a great way to slowly introduce eccentric hamstring lengthening for an individual who is uncomfortable with that feeling.

 

Perform Only The Eccentric Portion

The eccentric portion of the hamstring swissball curl is the most important when it comes to a hamstring strain [P]Rehab. Hamstring strains occur during the lengthening/eccentric portion of motion when sprinting or cutting, thus to optimally prehab against future hamstring strains training the eccentric portion is a must! You can slowly acclimate yourself or your clients to just the eccentric portion of the swissball hamstring curl performing implementing the entire thing.

Swissball Hamstring Curl Eccentrics

Lie on your back and put both of your feet on the swissball. With your knees straight, perform a bridge by diffing your heels into the swissball to lift your hips up. Once up, slowly roll the swissball towards you by bending your knees. Once the swissball has rolled towards use, slowly roll it back out. Rolling it back out with control is the hardest and most important part! You can use your hands at your side if needed. You should feel your hamstrings working very hard to control the swissball movement. Do not let the swissball move from side to side. It should only be rolling forward and backward. Make sure to only extend at the hips, and not the lower back!

 

Allow The Hips to Come Down

As shown in all the swissball hamstring curl examples so far, I let my hips come down and rest between reps. This is a natural regression of the exercise as keeping your hips elevated the entire time doesn’t allow your hammies any time to rest – making it a lot harder!

LISTEN: HOW CAN WE DO BETTER WITH HAMSTRING INJURIES?

how to prevent hamstring strains the prehab guys nordic hamstring curl variations

 

Too Easy? Try it With One Leg!

If you’re looking to make the swissball hamstring curl even harder, try giving the single leg swissball hamstring curl a shot! Mind you, these are very challenging and hard to perform with good form in a slow and controlled manner. All of the regressions we discussed above can also be implemented when progressing to single leg swissball hamstring curls:

  • Perform only bridges

 

  • Limit the amount of knee straightening

 

  • Perform only the eccentric portion

 

Single Leg Swissball Hamstring Curls

Lie on your back and put one foot on the swissball. Lift your other foot in the air like in the video. With the foot on the swissball, straighten your leg and perform a bridge by diffing your heels into the swissball to lift your hips up. Once up, slowly roll the swissball towards you by bending your knees. Once the swissball has rolled towards use, slowly roll it back out. Rolling it back out with control is the hardest and most important part! You can use your hands at your side if needed. You should feel your hamstrings working very hard to control the swissball movement. Do not let the swissball move from side to side. It should only be rolling forward and backward. Make sure to only extend at the hips, and not the lower back!

The swissball hamstring curl is an amazing knee flexion dominant hamstring exercise that allows for easy micro-progressions or micro-regressions to find a suitable level of difficulty. Give these variations a shot and let us know how it goes!

 

Closing Thoughts

After reading this article, you have learned the best hamstring exercises to prevent injury, including nordic hamstring curl variations and swissball exercises. The Nordic hamstring curl can be an effective exercise to incorporate into your programming to prehab your hamstrings against a future hamstring strain. Even adding 2 sets/week of 4-6 reps may be enough to effectively prehab your hamstrings as this Presland et al 2018 study demonstrated equal fascial length and eccentric strength following high and low volume nordic hamstring curls. Moreover, The swissball hamstring curl is an amazing knee flexion dominant hamstring exercise that allows for easy micro-progressions or micro-regressions to find a suitable level of difficulty. Give these variations a shot and let us know how it goes! So grab a partner, swissball, or lat pulldown machines as demonstrated in the videos above and get to incorporating the Nordic hamstring curl (and Romanian deadlift) into your programming!

Effect of Eccentric Training

 

References

  1. Attar, W.s.a. Al, et al. “Effect of Injury Prevention Programs That Include the Nordic Hamstring Exercise on Hamstring Injury Rates in Soccer Players: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, vol. 20, 2017, doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2017.01.124.
  2. Attar, W.s.a. Al, et al. “Effect of Injury Prevention Programs That Include the Nordic Hamstring Exercise on Hamstring Injury Rates in Soccer Players: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, vol. 20, 2017, doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2017.01.124.
  3. Brukner, Peter. “Hamstring Injuries: Prevention and Treatment—an Update.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 49, no. 19, 2015, pp. 1241–1244., doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-094427.
  4. Cameron, Matthew L., et al. “Effect of the HamSprint Drills Training Programme on Lower Limb Neuromuscular Control in Australian Football Players.Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, vol. 12, no. 1, 2009, pp. 24–30., doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2007.09.003.
  5. Presland, J., et al. “The Effect of High or Low Volume Nordic Hamstring Exercise Training on Eccentric Strength and Biceps Femoris Long Head Architectural Adaptations.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, vol. 20, 2017, p. 12., doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2017.09.213.

 

Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

5 Comments
  • Vishal gade
    Posted at 22:44h, 26 June Reply

    Excellent article 🎉
    Impressive

  • Vital Keto
    Posted at 21:58h, 19 July Reply

    Quality articles is the main to invite the people to go to see the web page, that’s what this website is providing.

  • Ben
    Posted at 16:11h, 26 January Reply

    Hi guys, quick question. This exercise looks great. However, I wonder if it causes any problems to the patellofemeral joint… probably causing pain to anyone suffering from chondromalacia patellae / chondrophatia patellae. Looks like the kneecap gets trapped and acts as a pivot point. If that’s the case, any idea how to modify it to reduce the compressive forces? Cheers, Ben

    • Michael Lau
      Posted at 13:01h, 27 January Reply

      It depends, i would try it first. If your knee is sensitive to compression forces and kneeling, then put a pillow underneath which should help. if still sensitive, then the nordic HS curl may not be the best exercise choice for you and you can do other things like swiss ball hamstring curls (see video library for examples)

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