When performed correctly, Nordic curls have little to no risk of causing knee injury. Nordic curls have even been clinically proven to reduce hamstring injury risk. If your form is incorrect or your range of motion is too extreme, Nordic curls can cause injury to the knees, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. To prevent injury, focus on maintaining proper form during Nordic curls. Keep your back and hips straight. Only lean forward far enough to experience a stretch in your hamstrings. Then, return slowly to the starting position. Gradually increase your range of movement as you get stronger, in order to build strength without risking injury.
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How to Do Nordic Curls Safely
To understand the benefits and dangers of Nordic curls, first, it’s essential to know how to do this exercise. The right way to perform a Nordic curl is:
- Kneel on a workout mat or other comfortable surface.
- Straighten your back and hips so that your knees are bent at 90 degrees but the rest of the joints in your lower body are extended. Your hips should be straight and your glutes should not be resting on your heels.
- Keep your ankles securely anchored by having a workout partner hold them, or by putting them under a sturdy object, such as a weightlifting bench.
- Cross your arms over your chest.
- Slowly lower your upper body towards the ground by straightening your knees. Your ankles must be held securely for this to be possible.
- Keep your back straight and lower yourself forward until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles. It is not necessary to fully straighten your knees. Leaning forward as far as 45 degrees can provide a hamstring-strengthening workout.
- Slowly bend your knees to return to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
By paying close attention to form, keeping your back straight, and lowering yourself forward to a safe degree, you can use nordic curls to strengthen your hamstrings with reduced injury risk.
What are the Benefits of Nordic Curls?
Nordic curls are highly effective at strengthening the muscles of the posterior chain. These are the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles. Developing these muscles can reduce the risk of hamstring injuries, improve athletic performance, and enhance overall functional movement. The exercise is particularly beneficial for increasing your ability to perform powerful and explosive movements, such as sprinting or jumping.
- Builds muscle in the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
- Improves sprint performance and vertical leap.
- Significantly lowers the risk of a hamstring injury.
This study showed that Nordic hamstring curls actually decrease the risk of hamstring injury in athletes. So, rather than causing injury, Nordic curls strengthen your body and make you more resilient. For most individuals, Nordic curls are a great exercise to add to a lower-body workout.
Concerns about Nordic Curls and Knee Health
Despite the many benefits of Nordic curls, there are concerns about the strain the exercise can place on the knee joints. The shearing forces and joint compression involved in the movement can cause pain, especially if you have a pre-existing knee condition. Poor form, as well as overtraining, can increase the risk of a knee injury during Nordic curls.
- Nordic curls can cause knee pain, especially if you have previous knee injuries.
- Doing Nordic curls too often—or with improper form—increases the risk of a knee injury.
- Work with a licensed trainer or physical therapist to learn how to do pain-free Nordic curls.
- If Nordic curls are painful, you can do other hamstring exercises instead.
To minimize the risk of injury while performing Nordic curls, focus on proper technique and form. Keep your back and hips straight throughout the exercise. This often requires a decreased range of movement until you gain more experience with the exercise. Also, it’s crucial to listen to your body. If Nordic curls are painful for you, it may not be the right exercise for your body. You can stop doing Nordic curls to avoid pain and injury, or you can work with a personal trainer or physical therapist to improve your form and eliminate pain.
Alternatives to Nordic Curls: Best Hamstring Exercises
If Nordic curls are painful or uncomfortable for you, there are several alternative exercises that strengthen your hamstrings and posterior chain without putting stress on your knees. The best Nordic curl replacements are:
- Romanian deadlifts: A classic compound movement that targets the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles.
- Single-leg deadlifts: An excellent unilateral exercise that challenges balance and stability while working the hamstrings and glutes.
- Stability ball hamstring curls: This exercise provides a lower-impact option for targeting the hamstrings while also engaging the core muscles.
Personally, Romanian deadlifts and single-leg deadlifts are my favorite hamstring exercises. Romanian deadlifts take the pressure off your knees while still providing an excellent eccentric hamstring contraction that builds strength. Single-leg deadlifts have improved my balance and helped me build muscle evenly in both hamstrings, so I add them to almost every training program.
Do Nordic Curls Cause Knee Injuries?
Nordic curls are a commonly misunderstood hamstring exercise that is frequently blamed for injury. Here are the facts:
- There is no clinical evidence that Nordic curls cause knee injury, when performed correctly.
- Without proper form, Nordic curls can put shear force on the knees and cause pain.
- To prevent injury, practice proper form and gradually increase the range of motion during Nordic hamstring curls.
- A personal trainer or physical therapist can help you perform painless Nordic curls.
- If you have previous knee pain or injury, Nordic curls can be one of the most painful hamstring exercises.
- To avoid knee pain from Nordic curls, perform alternative hamstring exercises, such as Romanian deadlifts and single-leg deadlifts.
Although Nordic curls are generally safe for your knees, your body is unique. If they are painful for you, you can retool your form to avoid pain or you can remove the exercise from your routine. However, you do not have to worry about long-term knee damage caused by Nordic curls—they are a safe exercise.