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The Better Hamstring Exercises Than Nordic Leg Curls

water bag exercise equipment

It is a MAJOR issue I see people have when they have SO much information at their finger tips. They often don’t really know the why’s of what makes an exercise is good. Really, an exercise has to be understood in why it is effective other than the very general terms of “it makes you stronger” or “it is really good for your mobility”, or even nowadays the very odd “this is great for your fascia” (yea, I really did hear that one and you can’t separate your fascia from your muscles so I don’t get that one).

One of the best examples of how people get consumed with exercises and miss principles and concepts are Nordic leg curls. This exercise first gained popularity after a 2001 study showed that the use of the Nordic leg curl helped reduce hamstring injuries in athletes. 

nordic leg curl

Jessica is about to demo that even a common problem solving method for Nordic leg curls doesn’t solve bigger issues

That’s great right?! Even more so that this has been shown in other studies since then as well. So, why would write THIS post about Nordic leg curls? 

The great deal of the research largely didn’t compare the effectiveness of the Nordic leg curl to other hamstring exercises. For example, a 2019 study found that a single leg roman chain hold was MORE effective than Nordic leg curls. “This study demonstrated that 6-week single-leg Roman chair training substantially improved single leg hip bridge performance, suggesting that it may be an efficacious strategy to mitigate hamstring (re- injury risk).”

nordic leg curl

That doesn’t mean the Nordic leg curl has no value, but its value is largely in the eccentric nature of the movement. We can use this in a variety of movements as there is another issue for most people with the Nordic leg curl. 

It is a VERY intense exercise that people have a hard time doing well and can create excessive soreness that can make consistent training challenging. As another 2019 paper explained, 

“First, it is an open-chain, unilateral exercise, possibly allowing 1 leg to take up more of the strain than the other leg, which could lead to asymmetries between legs. Clark et al. reported that after 4 weeks of training with the Nordic hamstring exercise, the asymmetry became greater. It was speculated that the stronger leg probably experienced most of the strain and thus had the greater shift in optimum length. Leg asymmetries are thought to increase the risk of future injury. Second, the Nordic hamstring is a single joint exercise. The problem is that the hamstrings are a bi-articulate muscle, which is stretched with hip flexion and knee extension. It would be more specific to perform multi-joint eccentric exercises that involve more muscle groups working together.”

nordic leg curls

Crossing both the hip and the knee means that bot should be emphasized in training which means functional training exercises should be emphasized.

Once we realize that there is nothing really magical about Nordic leg curls and the real point is eccentric work of the hamstrings we can look to do it better. In the case of more accessible exercises for most people, SHELC (supine hip extension leg curl) exercises for most people. Whether we are talking about the fact that the great majority of people can’t do Nordic leg curls correctly, we don’t want the excessive soreness which can impede people being able or wanting to train, or simply the fact it is not progressive enough to really help achieve the results we want, I think it is important to focus on how we can create better progressions like you see below.

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