Why You Need Nordic Curls – The Best Leg Exercise you aren’t Doing

Why you need to add this excellent exercise into your training.

This complete guide will teach you everything you need to know about Nordic Curls.

The exercise is also known as the Nordic Hamstring Curl or Inverse Leg Curl.

What are Nordic Curls?

Nordic Curls are a kneeling, bodyweight leg exercise that especially activate the hamstrings.

The hamstrings are essential for walking, running, jumping and pivoting at the pelvis.

They involve the careful and controlled lowering and raising of the body with the feet, lower legs and knees in a fixed position.

What Muscles Do Nordic Curls Work?

Nordic Curls primarily target the hamstrings. This consists of three muscles located on the posterior (rear) of the upper leg. These are the:

  • Biceps femoris
  • Semimembranosus
  • Semitendinosus

These three muscles work across the knee and hip joints. The exception is the biceps femoris because it only crosses the knee joint.

Deficit-Deadlift-athletes nordic curls
Build that posterior chain

The secondary muscles that the exercise strengthens are the glutes and the spinal erectors.

The glutes are made up from three muscles:

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Gluteus medius
  • Gluteus minimus

The spinal erectors hold and support the spine. They help the torso bend up and down as well.

Benefits of Nordic Curls

The exercise has many benefits.

Decrease the Risk of Injury

Nordic Curls are a great way to lessen the chances of injury.

They work the knee flexor muscles. Because these muscles are strengthened, they are they much less likely to fall prey to injury. Another upside is that this can also enhance knee mobility whilst reducing any strains to the hamstrings.

Build Bigger and Stronger Hamstrings

The exercise is a great for stimulating hypertrophy and for increasing strength.

Better Athletic Performance

Want to sprint faster or jump higher? Work on your hamstrings.

Nordic Curls increase hip extension and knee flexion strength. As well as sprinting, running and jumping, better hamstrings will lead to improved posterior chain exercises.

Suitable for Many Different Athletes

The movement can be scaled up (adding weight) or down (resistance band) depending on your personal fitness level and training experience.

efficient pistol squats with bad ankle mobility
Strong legs for life

How to Do Nordic Curls

Kneel on a pad or cushion.

Your lower legs need to be supported and fixed in place. You can either use a partner or wedge your feet and limbs under an immovable object. Even a Smith Machine can work with the barbell locked in place at the lowest setting.

  • Place the feet and ankles in line with the knees
  • Shoulders directly over the hips. Head in a neutral position. Arms by your sides
  • Inhale and tense the core, glutes and hamstrings
  • Slowly lower your body towards the floor. Keep descending until just before you reach the point where you are unable to maintain complete control over your body.
  • At this point you can either place your hands on the floor and complete the rest of the range of motion to the floor or return to the starting position without using your hands
  • Squeeze your hamstrings hard to pull your body back up to the starting position
  • Keep rising until your shoulders are directly over the hips
  • Exhale
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Training Tips

Control the eccentric at all times. This exercise takes time to learn properly so develop strength gradually, with excellent form, over time.

Utilise dorsiflexion of the feet. Doing this will allow for the hamstrings to lengthen in the most optimal way. A great tip here is to place a foam roller underneath the base of the shins to help achieve this position.

Bend at the Hips to alter the stress of the movement. Adopting a slight bend in the hips (20-30 degrees) will enable better control of the body through the range of motion.

Nordic Curls vs Glute Ham Raise (GHR): What’s the Difference?

Both of these exercises enhance the hamstrings but there is a selection of important differences that you should know about.

Glute Ham Raises have a larger range of motion than Nordic Curls.

Nordic Curls are harder than Glute Ham Raises. This is because the movement places more pressure on the knees and lower back.

Glute Ham Raises use a machine. Nordic Curls can be performed with as little equipment as a cushion and a willing partner.

Nordic Curl Variations

Here are some great functional Nordic ham curl variations.

  • Lat pulldown variation
  • Loaded barbell variation
  • Using an exercise ball
  • Band assisted
  • Arms behind your head/body or extended overhead
  • Partner assisted

Nordic Curl Alternatives

  • Stability ball leg curl
  • GHR


Got more questions? Scroll through to find the answers.

What is the Nordic Curl Good For?

The Nordic Curl is an effective exercise for increasing strength muscle and muscle, athletic performance and guarding the hamstrings against injury.

Who can Benefit from the Nordic Curl?

The exercise is suitable for all athletes as it can be made easier or harder.

The hamstrings are commonly injured. Protecting your body will significantly help you to stay fitter and healthier for longer.

Is the Nordic Curl Safe for Everyone?

Yes, if the exercise is performed with correct technique, then it is safe for everyone. For anyone with a pre-existing back or hamstring exercise then we would recommend consulting your doctor and physio first.

Are Nordic Curls Bad?

No, the exercise is not bad. With proper technique and progression, Nordic Curls are an effective exercise for anyone that plays sport, runs or wants bigger, stronger hamstrings.

Why are Nordic Curls so Hard?

The exercise is extremely challenging because it works knee extension and flexion with almost no help from the hips. This means that your legs are isolated and must do all the work. Perfect for your gains.

Learn More

Check out these Deadlift benefits and why you should be performing the Chin Up more.

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