In the sports world, the most notorious injury-prone muscle group is undoubtedly the hamstrings. Tune into the Olympics this summer, and you’ll probably see what I mean. Fittingly, by taking a page out of their book, it’s worth considering this fairly unconventional approach—in this case the Nordic curl hip hinge—to making them bulletproof. If you’re a lifter who either carries a lot of size and muscle mass, OR one who’s just starting out, this may be one to take heed of.

For the hamstrings, a lifter is smart to focus on deadlift and curl patterns respectively, as this will tackle both of the primary actions of that muscle group: Hip extension and knee flexion. 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 lifters has been the classic glute hamstring raise, Nordic hamstring curl, and each of their variations.

To be clear, there are definite benefits from these exercises and they definitely earn a place in a given program.

But on a personal note, a growing number of clients I’ve worked with in the general population (yes, that would include lifters just like you) have curiously voiced some qualms with the pattern. If they’re not just plain too weak to pull these off with good form, they’ll also be prone to complain of 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 lifters 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.

How to Perform the Nordic Curl Hip Hinge

Whereas Nordic curls focus very dominantly on knee extension and flexion, the Nordic Curl Hip Hinge 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.

Find any secure space that you can hook your heels under. Squat cages 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 demo video) to do this.

  1. Kneel facing away from the apparatus, making sure to stay tall to start.
  2. 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 (see first video).
  3. 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.
  4. Squeeze the glutes and drive the hips through as you return to a tall kneeling position, allowing the posterior chain to get you there.
  5. Aim for sets of 12-20 smooth, rhythmic reps. Add light weight held across the chest as seen above if needed.

Not only will this pattern feel more accessible than classic GHR’s or Nordics, but it’ll also feel more comfortable. That covers all the bases for both beginning lifters looking for great hits for the hams, and intermediate lifters who carry some size, and may be asking too much of their knees and hamstrings to be doing the original versions of this lift. That’s what I call training smart.