What’s your excuse for not working out? Is it the chore of going to a gym? What if we told you that you don’t need gym machines, without sacrificing either efficiency or load, what excuse would you have then? The thing is, gyms can be too minimalist; there are some large muscle groups which can be worked in multiple ways, but get reduced to just one machine in a gym. One of these are the hamstrings. Super useful, mostly sore, frustratingly stiff, but easily workable, the hamstrings kick in during any exercise dealing with the posterior chain. And yet, when it comes to isolating them, most gym-goers cannot see past the hamstring curl machine.
A staple in even the most basic gyms, the hamstring curl machine is usually combined with the leg extension machine, with a bench that can lie down or sit up depending on which exercise you are doing. The hamstring version are performed while lying down, with the movable weights placed above the ankle and the Achilles tendons, before curling them towards the body. But what happens when there is no access to this machine?
Enter, the Nordic hamstring curl. While briefly mentioned in a Lounge article I wrote titled Why You Need To Care For Your Hamstrings, we now delve deeper into learning the skill and adding progressions to it. There are smaller accessories that you could use to keep your feet from moving (which is imperative to the move), like a bench or a sofa or a callisthenics ladder. For the move itself, you can use resistance bands, yoga blocks and medicine balls. If you don’t have anything to lodge your feet into, the most effective help will be from someone else: a trainer or a workout partner.
While a conventional hamstring curl will have you pull the weights towards you, the Nordic hamstring curl will have your feet stuck in one fixed spot. You get into a kneeling position while the upper body travels down, all the while maintaining a straight back until you pull yourself back up into a full kneel. You should also know that it is impossible to perform one rep with full range of motion, without weeks of practice and progression. Step one involves the best support—your hands.
As shown in the video below, you can control the body to a point, before letting it fall into a push-up position. From here you can slowly crawl up or explode back to the starting position. This video tells you to make sure of lower leg stability and slight hip flexion before you start moving downwards with the arms by your side (they can be anywhere as long as you are in control of your body). The athlete here uses a barbell with heavy weights as the grip for the feet.
If you are not in a gym, and want to do this at home, then this video by Movement Project PT has you covered. It also includes a hack to use the resistance band like a machine to help you back into starting position while holding it overhead or looping it over your upper body.
If you have a partner to help and you have a resistance band or two, then The Petie Project has an excellent video with progression which also includes support for the chest at the bottom of the exercise. Here the band is held by your partner while you begin your eccentric motion.
The next progression level would be partial range Nordics. In this, you use a bench or a chair or any surface that can offer you support midway through the exercise but cuts out the support from the hands. Think of chair- or bench-assisted squats, where you lower down till you touch the support surface? This is similar, with the only difference being that here you will touch your chest and return to the top of the exercise. Some people think of this as a step before bringing in resistance bands and that will depend on how thick the bands are. But feel free to try both and progress according to your level. Never push too much with a Nordic hamstring curl because it is a complex move and most trainers agree to use it only once a week.
There’s another hack for this as well, where one can set a bench on incline, clamber over it and lodge the ankles where one would usually lodge the thighs during a bench press and travel down till the bench touches the chest. You have to be creative learning this exercise but the payback is immense.
Nordics will have an instant impact on the strength of your glutes and hamstrings while adding a huge stability jump to your core. This is a preventive exercise and for any of you playing sport or running to stay fit, this is a once-in-a-week only skill which will help you navigate tougher terrain and make sure you are agile enough for sudden movements. Start with a couple of sets of 6-8 repetitions and as you progress, reduce the number of reps and focus on the difficulty.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator, podcaster and writer.