The Nordic Curl (also known as a Bodyweight Leg Curl) is a KILLER hamstring flexion exercise. It’s literally one of the most BRUTAL and effective hamstring exercises you can do (which is why it’s one of my favorites).
It’s somewhat similar in concept to the Glute/Ham raise only with a lot more resistance on the hamstrings due to the pivot point being the knees instead of the thighs.
The exercise itself is essentially the opposite a of machine Leg Curl…instead of your body being anchored down with your lower legs moving, your lower legs are anchored down and your ENTIRE BODY is moving as the resistance.
It takes a tremendous amount of hamstring strength to perform the exercise, as you can imagine, which removes it as a useful exercise option for the majority of trainers.
This technique is a way to use a BAND to make the exercise accessible to ANYBODY.
You’ll be using the exact same setup as you would for the normal exercise with one major difference…you’ll be gripping onto a band attached to something above you. This means as you come down, the band stretches and takes up some of your bodyweight, assisting with the movement where you need the help the most.
In addition, I’m going to show you a technique for using that SAME band as RESISTANCE to allow you to go from full stretch to full contraction under load (it’s awesome and really the only exercise I’ve ever found where you can use the same piece of equipment for assistance and resistance in the same rep).
Here’s the setup…
To do this one, you’ll need a bench that has pads that you can wedge your ankles under (such as a decline bench or an adjustable bench like I have where the pads can be set above the level of the bench).
You can also use a seated calf raise bench (if it’s movable). Just make sure you counterload the bench before you get your ankles under the pad, so it stays down. I’ve also used the bench and knee pads of a pulldown machine for this as well, though that won’t be movable and you may not have anything to attach a band to.
If you don’t have any of those, you can also have a partner hold your ankles down with their bodyweight.
Fold up a towel and set it on the bench for padding for your knees. Hitch a band to the high solid object. I’m using the chin-up bar on my rack for this.
(Note: if you need bands, here’s where I recommend you go to get them).
Get your ankles solidly under the pads then grip onto the band with both hands. The thickness of your band will determine how much assistance the band gives you…the thicker the band, the easier the exercise will be. It will also depend on how low or high on the band you grip (higher will be easier).
Now, under complete control, let your body come forward, bending at the knees (some hip flexion is going to happen but try and minimize it).
Come down until your stomach is just above the bench. Do not rest on the bench…you want to keep tension in the hamstrings in their peak stretch position here.
The band will be helping you the most in this position, because of the stretch.
Now, using controlled hamstring contraction, begin to pull your body back up to the top position (body vertical). There will be a temptation to use your arms and lats to push your upper body up…do your best to focus on the hamstrings for the movement here.
One of the keys with this exercise is control…this exercise should NOT be done quickly or with any momentum. You’re putting the hamstrings under a substantial stretch under load and sudden movements in that position are never a good idea.
Now, for a FULL contraction, here’s where the fun begins…
CONTINUE the backwards movement past vertical, coming back until your butt touches the ankle pads.
Use your arms to adjust the tension in the band…the more you pull it in towards you, the more tension you’ll put on the hamstrings in their peak contraction position.
In this position, keep your hips straight and locked to get full extension…any bending at the hips will reduce the contraction in the hamstrings. The point of this extra movement is to MAXIMIZE it!
Hold that contraction for a few seconds then come forward again and down into the next rep.
This exercise allows you to put great stretch on your hamstrings at the bottom and great contraction at the top…and while you do lose some tension when your body is vertical, I can promise your hamstrings will be screaming by the time you’re doing.
It’s an excellent bodyweight alternative to machine leg curls for hitting the knee flexion function of the hamstrings.