Having well developed hamstring muscles offers great carryover to heavy weight compound movements such as the squat and deadlift. Whilst these exercises alone can effectively work the hamstrings, adding mass and increasing strength, isolation of them will be difficult due to the quads and glutes coming in to play.
Aside from an improvement to strength and increase in muscle size, isolating the hamstrings can further develop explosive power which is ideal for those such as rugby players and sprinters. But the benefits of strong hamstrings doesn’t just suit elite sports athletes. They can help improve posture, reduce likelihood of injury and, being part of the posterior chain, help to keep hip, ankle and knee joints healthy.
In this article we discuss the differences between two of the best bodyweight exercises that isolate the hamstrings; the glute ham raise and the Nordic curl. If you want to learn more about glute dominant exercises; head on over to our article The Best Exercises For Glute Development
The Nordic curl and glute ham raise are eccentric exercises that target the hamstrings. The primary difference between the two is that the Nordic curl is a supramaximal movement meaning you should reach a point of failure and be unable to execute the concentric part of the exercise.
If you were to watch a video showing someone executing the glute ham raise compared with the Nordic Curl, visually they appear very similar. During the glute ham raise, just before a person reaches that point of failure, they begin the concentric part of the movement and rise back up to the starting position. This makes it a submaximal exercise, meaning they are not using their maximum amount of effort, even if it feels like it.
With either exercise, when a person reaches around 45 degrees it becomes much more difficult to perform. However, during the Nordic curl, once the person reaches just before failure, instead of rising back up, they would proceed until failure is reached, and then drop to the ground. This is why it is a floor based exercise.
If you see someone performing the Nordic curl in a similar fashion to that of the glute ham raise and rising back up, it defeats the purpose of it being a supramaximal load. In this instance, if the movement has simply become too easy, they could look to undertake single leg Nordic curls which is a much more challenging variation.
WHY IS THE NORDIC CURL HARD TO PERFORM
Knee flexion is the primary movement during either a glute ham raise or Nordic curl exercise. However, the difference in placement of the knees means that the hamstrings are engaged differently.
With the glute ham raise, the knees are positioned towards the top and just behind the knee pad. This results in a movement that involves a little hip extension, hence why there is some involvement of the glutes.
When you compare this to the Nordic curl, the knees are positioned directly on the floor with the movement resulting in no hip extension. This puts much more load onto the hamstrings which is why it is more difficult to perform that a glute ham raise.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE NORDIC CURL EXERCISE
- No equipment is required allowing it to be performed in most places making it much more versatile.
- It offers better hamstring isolation when compared to the glute ham raise.
- It’s more difficult to perform making it a good alternative to the glute ham raise if you seek something more challenging.
- By adding resistance bands, you can make the exercise easier to undertake.
- Can help to prevent hamstring injuries.
- Good carryover to certain sports such as sprinting and football.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE GLUTE HAM RAISE
- Due to being performed on a machine that is elevated off the ground, this provides you with greater range of motion.
- Some glute ham developers offer resistance and assistance band pegs offering a lot of versatility for making it easier or harder.
- It’s much easier to perform than the Nordic curl.
- The glute ham developer provides sufficient stability to allow more weight to be added so you can overload the muscles.
- The glute ham raise is better for time under tension due to the stability provided by the machine.
- Good carryover to powerlifting movements such as the deadlift.
HOW TO PERFORM THE NORDIC CURL EXERCISE
The Nordic curl is performed with your knees directly placed on the ground. The first benefit of the this is that no equipment is required. You simply need an anchor point for your feet, this can be a loaded barbell (if in the gym) or a sturdy cabinet or ask your partner to hold your feet (if at home). Make sure you have support under the knees such as a gym mat or cushion.
Even though it can be done with no equipment, there are devices available especially designed to aid with performing the Nordic curl movement. Click here to view a Nordic Curl Bench
- Kneel on the ground with your knees placed on something such as a gym mat.
- Anchor your feet at the Achilles heel using your chosen anchor point method.
- Ensure your body is in an upright position.
- Bending at just the knees, slowly lower your chest to the ground. Maintain control.
- Keep the hips extended throughout to ensure the load remains on the hamstrings.
- Ensure you reach failure so that your hamstrings reach their maximum stress level before you would drop completely to the ground.
- Some like to keep their hands out in front of them to catch them once they have gone past the point of failure.
If you are new to the exercise and wish to make it a little easier, take a resistance band and place it around your chest. Either ask someone to stand behind you, holding the band or attach to something such as a power rack. By doing this provides additional support to the upper body as you lower to the ground alleviating some of the stress to the hamstrings. This is ideal if you want to work on form before moving over to doing them un-banded.
HOW TO PERFORM THE GLUTE HAM RAISE EXERCISE
To perform a glute ham raise, you’ll need access to a glute ham developer machine. This is sometimes referred to as a glute ham raise machine or G.H.D.
A glute ham developer is a machine that enables you to perform the glute ham raise exercise, a movement that targets the posterior chain muscles. A glute ham raise is the only exercise that enables the hamstrings to train at their full range of motion from the ischial tuberosity down to the tibia.
Typically, a glute ham developer will offer a number of adjustments so that you can ensure your knee placement is correct whilst keeping your feet locked into position. Before mounting the GHD, be sure that the adjustments are set up to suit you.
- Mount the machine and position your knees just behind the knee pad, this is to offer stability.
- Place your feet behind the foot rollers making sure your feet are flat against the foot plate. This allows you to brace against it making the exercise more comfortable.
- Place your arms across your chest and, bending at the knees, begin to lower your chest to the ground.
- As you begin to lower, you will also hinge slightly at the hips, this will engage the glutes.
- Squeeze your hamstrings and glutes throughout the exercise.
- Go down as low as you can manage before returning back to the starting position.
If you feel the tension is more on your lower back than hamstrings and glutes, then you’re likely doing more of a back extension than a glute ham raise. This will be due to incorrect set up on the machine, so readjust as necessary before trying again.
As we have covered above, both the Nordic curl and glute ham raise, whilst appearing to be much the same exercise, are quite different with the Nordic curl being the more challenging to the hamstring muscles.
If your gym doesn’t offer access to a glute ham developer, consider the Nordic Curl as an excellent alternative to maximise gains to your hamstrings.