Exercise Spotlight: Nordic Curl Hip Hinge

Attack your Hamstrings with one of the most unique moves in the game.

If there’s any muscle group that gives athletes (especially in power sports) the most problems, I’d put my money on the hamstrings. One watch of the Olympics this month, and you’ll probably see what I mean. Fittingly, this spotlight focuses on a way to bulletproof them, using a fairly unconventional approach.

A lifter is smart to focus on deadlift and curl patterns respectively, as this will tackle both of the primary actions of the hamstrings: Knee flexion and hip extension. In many cases, lifters and coaches will fail to address one and only focus on the other. With that said, a common go-to for many smart coaches and athletes has been the glute hamstring raise, Nordic curl, and both of their variations. To be clear, I definitely see benefits from these exercises and do enjoy using them. But a growing number of clients I’ve worked with have curiously voiced some discomfort from these variations in the form of ligament stress in the knee. Here’s my philosophy.

The same way a leg extension can be unfriendly to the knees of certain clients due to anterior shear (since the tibia is moving while the femur is held fixed), I am drawn to believe that with the femur moving while the tibia is held fixed, the same phenomenon is happening in the form of posterior shear. As the weight of a lifter’s upper body begins to fall forward this joint stress will make itself manifest. Immobilizing the femur while sharing the responsibility of the hamstrings’ action is a way to improve the situation. If that sounds like jibberish, stay with me and read on.

Enter the Nordic Curl Hip Hinge

Whereas Nordic curls focus very dominantly on knee extension and flexion, this variation keeps the femur in one place so the knee joint has to endure fewer stress forces due to a constant change in load-bearing angle.  Here, the hamstrings are being asked to simultaneously hold an isometric knee flexion and actively extend the hip joint, making for a much more complete engagement that’s friendlier to the joints. Adding a mild load while being honest with the reps will expose that it doesn’t take much to really torch the hamstrings.

This movement is simple in execution, but all bases need to be covered to ensure you have the right setup. Once you do, it just may replace other GHR based variations as the go-to to complement curls and deadlifts.

Nordic Curl Hip Hinge: Coaching Cues

  • Find any secure space that you can hook your heels under. Squat cage with adjustable safety bars are often a good bet. Remember, the surface should block your HEELS, not your Achilles tendons. Make sure the feet can be kept in a neutral position, and not plantar flexed. It may take elevating the shins on some benches or mats (see in my demo video) to do this.
  • Kneel facing away from the apparatus, making sure to stay tall to start.
  • Cross the hands over the chest, and fall forward by 2 inches – JUST ENOUGH to feel the knee joint begin to extend and the hamstrings turn on. It’s literally the first 1/10th of an eccentric Nordic curl (in my first video).
  • Keep that hamstring tension, and shift the focus to the hip joint. Hinge right over by letting the torso “take a bow”. Don’t let the hips fall forward or sink backward. Keep them in place.
  • Squeeze the glutes and drive the hips as you return to a tall kneeling position, allowing the posterior chain to get you there.
  • Aim for sets of 12-20 smooth, rhythmic reps. Add light weight held across the chest if needed.

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