The Reverse Nordic Curl: The Greatest Exercise That You’re Not Doing (Yet)

Author: George Barker

What is it?

The reverse Nordic curl is a body-weight exercise which mainly works the quadriceps and hip flexors. It has a large eccentric component, meaning the muscles are working whilst lengthening.

Why should you be doing it?

The reverse Nordic curl is an excellent movement for a number of reasons which are listed below:

       1. It is great for developing quadriceps strength.

Due to the large eccentric component during the lowering phase, combined with the large range of motion at the knee, and even more challenging concentric phase, the quadriceps become brutally strong from this exercise (3).

       2. It works all four of the quadriceps.

Many quadriceps exercises such as squats, lunges or leg extensions all place the hip into flexion. These work three of the four quadriceps to a great degree. But, the fourth muscle in this group, the rectus femoris, crosses both the hip and the knee. It acts to bend the knee, and to flex the hip with the other hip flexor muscles. It can often become chronically weak and short due to spending long periods of time sitting. This exercise places the hips into full extension, lengthening and working all four of the quadriceps, strengthening the rectus femoris as well!

       3. It massively improves hip flexor and quadriceps mobility.

Eccentric muscle contractions have been shown to increase the length of muscle fibres (2), thus increasing mobility (4). When combined with the position of hip extension throughout this exercise, huge improvements in hip flexor and quadriceps mobility can be seen in short periods of time.

       4. It is brilliant for improving quadriceps size.

Muscle growth is also known as ‘hypertrophy’. Hypertrophy is known to be mostly linked to three conditions: time under tension, range of motion that the muscle goes through and stress placed upon the muscle. The reverse Nordic curl has all three in surplus.

       5. It can help reduce injury risk.

Many injuries occur when a muscle undergoes rapid lengthening, such as when running, kicking a ball, quickly decelerating or landing from a jump. By improving a muscles eccentric strength, it is possible to reduce injury risk by being better prepared to handle such forces (1).

       6. It can help reduce low-back pain.

The reverse Nordic curl leads to improvements in hip flexor mobility and strength. This allows the pelvis to sit more neutrally, improving spinal alignment. Simultaneously, a neutral pelvis also allows the glutes and core musculature to work more effectively alongside the hip flexors to stabilise the hips and reduce stress on the low back.

How do you perform the reverse Nordic curl?

This is a very simple movement to do, but maintaining strict positioning is vital to get the full benefits. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Grab a mat, or make sure you’re on a soft floor. Kneel down, and sit on top of your feet (see part 1 of the image below).
  2. If trying this exercise for the first time, place the knees and feet close together, approximately hip-width apart. If you are more advanced, have the feet and knees slightly wider, just outside the hips, so you are able to lay back farther without hitting your own legs.
  3. Sit up in a tall kneeling position, push the hips forward, and lock the rib cage down. You’re looking to create a straight line down the front of your body, especially at the hips. This is to create a stretch at the hip flexor muscles (see part 1 of the image below).
  4. Lower the shoulders towards the floor by bending at the knee, maintaining the “plank” position previously created. If hip extension is maintained, and the core adequately braced, there should be no strain on the low back, and an intense stretch felt down the front of the legs.
  5. Continue to lean back as far as it is possible to control, then squeeze the quads to return to the starting position (this may not be very far to begin with). It is crucial to NOT let the hips drop backwards at any point during the movement. If they do, the stretch on the hip flexors will be released, defeating the point of the exercise.
  6. Once reaching the floor and back is possible for multiple sets of 10+ repetitions, you can begin loading the movement by holding a light plate, kettlebell or dumbbell.

Reverse Nordic Curl sequence

Summary

The reverse Nordic curl is a great exercise to help improve hip flexor and quadriceps strength, size, and mobility. Whilst it is relatively simple to perform, intent and positioning is crucial during the movement to ensure the stretch is felt and you are getting the most out of it. Give this one a go and let me know what you think!

If you have any questions about this article, please do get in touch, or ask in the gym any time.

Stay Strong and Move Well,

George Barker

 

References

  1. Al Attar, W.S.A., Soomro, N., Sinclair, P.J., Pappas, E., Sanders, R.H. (2016) Effect of Injury Prevention Programs that Include the Nordic Hamstring Exercise on Hamstring Injury Rates in Soccer Players: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine, 47, pp. 907-916.
  2. Alonso-Fernandez, D., Docampo‐Blanco, P., Martinez‐Fernandez, J. (2018) Changes in muscle architecture of biceps femoris induced by eccentric strength training with nordic hamstring exercise. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 28(1), pp.88-94.
  3. Douglas, J., Pearson, S., Ross, A., McGuigan, M. (2016) Chronic Adaptations to Eccentric Training: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine, 47, pp. 917-941.
  4. Kay, A.D., Ashmore, L., Hill, M., Mina, M.A., Blazevich, A.J. (2019) Effects of seated isokinetic eccentric training and detraining on mobility, balance, strength, muscle size and architecture in older adults. 24th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science (ECSS), Prague, Czech Republic, 3/7/19-6/7/19. Accessed via https://pure.northampton.ac.uk/en/publications/effects-of-seated-isokinetic-eccentric-training-and-detraining-on [21/01/20].

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