What are the Benefits of Reverse Nordic Curls?

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
August 2, 2022

Also known as reverse nordic curls, reverse nordics are a relatively low impact bodyweight exercise best known for its various prehabilitory and reinforcing benefits - especially in regards to its positive effects on the hip flexors and the quadriceps femoris.

Despite the low risk and high margin of benefit that the reverse nordic curl provides, few exercisers are actually familiar with how this particular exercise helps them, and how they can best take advantage of such benefits.

For the most part, one may view reverse nordics as a combination of a stretching movement and an accessory bodyweight resistance exercise; of which provides benefits that reinforce the functionality and mobility of the hips, knees and upper legs.

What is the Reverse Nordic Curl?

In more specific terms, the reverse nordic curl is a bodyweight exercise that utilizes such biomechanics as knee extension, hip adduction and abduction, quadriceps femoris contraction and core muscle stabilization in order for the exerciser to remain upright despite their disadvantageous positioning.

reverse nordic curl

It is primarily considered an isolation exercise as its sole primary muscle group activation is only the quadriceps femoris, allowing it to be firmly placed in the accessory exercise category if it is not otherwise included as part of a prehabilitation or mobility routine.

The reverse nordic curl requires no equipment, excessive mobility, or advanced training experience as it is considered to be among one of the more simplistic bodyweight exercises - making it freely available to perform by practically any healthy individual.

Who Should Perform Reverse Nordics?

Reverse nordic curls are appropriate for exercisers of any experience level and athletic ability, though it is not advisable for individuals with a history of injuries involving the knees and quadriceps muscles, such as quadricep tears, knee dislocations or similar acute conditions.

In particular, exercisers having trouble achieving proper squat depth due to poor mobility, or athletes wishing to reinforce the effective range of motion of their lower body can both benefit quite well from the regular performance of reverse nordics.

Muscles Worked by the Reverse Nordic Curl

As was mentioned earlier in this article, reverse nordic curls solely activate the quadriceps femoris in order to achieve dynamic movement via eccentric contraction.

self assisted inverse leg curl

In particular, it is the centermost of the four quadriceps muscles that receives the greatest benefit from the reverse nordic curl. This is due to its origin point at the very joint of the hip itself, causing it to be exerted to the greatest degree throughout the entirety of the exercise’s movement.

However, other muscle groups are also activated synergistically in nearby parts of the body as the exerciser stabilizes themselves, with the abdominal stabilizers, hip flexors and glutes all being contracted in an isometric manner as well.

Proper Reverse Nordic Curl Technique

To begin performing a reverse nordic curl, the exerciser enters a kneeling position on the ground with their hips pushed forward so as to elongate the quadriceps femoris at the start of the repetition.

assisted inverse leg curl

Contracting the core musculature and tilting the pelvis backwards, the exerciser will then squeeze their glute muscles and descend backwards (towards their heels) by hinging at the knees in a slow and controlled manner.

A deep stretching sensation at the thighs and front of the hips is to be expected, and otherwise an important cue that the exerciser is performing the exercise properly.

The depth to which the exerciser descends will depend on the mobility of their quadriceps and individual bodily proportions, and as such it is up to their own discretion on where exactly to stop their descent.

As a general rule, once other muscle groups begin to contract such as the lower back muscles or the exerciser cannot maintain a proper kneeling leg position, it is time to end the eccentric portion of the repetition.

To do so, the exerciser will flex their quadriceps muscles and pull their torso forward with the pelvis. If performed correctly, the exerciser will reverse their descent, returning to their upright kneeling position having completed a repetition of reverse nordics.

Overview of the Reverse Nordic Curl’s Benefits

The reverse nordic curl is an exercise of many benefits, from small and contextual benefits such as its accessibility to practically anyone to advanced and specific training effects like its reinforcement of knee flexion active range of motion while under resistance.

Generally, performing the reverse nordic curl to any extent will achieve these effects to a certain capacity, though certain types of programming such as the use of additional resistance or a longer time under tension will place greater emphasis on different effects.

Due to the fact that reverse nordics provide a wide number of benefits and as such have multiple purposes within a workout routine, we have chosen to group the less specific and more widely-applicable benefits together instead.

Low Complexity, No Equipment Requirements and Low Tissue Impact

The hallmark benefits that make the reverse nordic curl such an accessible exercise are that of its low complexity, the fact that it may be performed entirely without equipment and that it places little to no injurious strain on the tissues of the exerciser.

This low level of exercise complexity allows novice exercisers or those with poor bodily coordination to easily pick up the form of reverse nordics, while no hard-set equipment requirements equate to it being possible to perform such an exercise practically anywhere, and at any time.

In addition to these conveniences, the relatively low impact of the exercise also makes it suitable as a rehabilitative exercise in the course of physical therapy, so long as the exerciser has recovered enough from their injury to place such contractive stress on the lower body.

Mobility and Flexibility Benefits of Reverse Nordics

The most significant benefit derived from reverse nordic curls is in the mobility and flexibility improvements it is capable of inducing to the soft tissues of the hips and quadriceps muscles.

This is because of the state reverse nordics puts these tissues in, elongating them via eccentric muscular contraction all the while placing a small yet effective amount of resistance in the tissues, thereby improving their dynamic range of motion and directly translating to a higher level of stability in regards to stretching movements.

Improvements in mobility and flexibility will generally result in a lower risk of injury during other exercises or everyday activities, slower age-related degeneration of bone and tendon health as well as improvements in effective force output and thus greater athletic ability.

Quadriceps Femoris Development Benefits of Reverse Nordics

Though the reverse nordic curl is considered to be a rather low impact exercise with little to do with development of muscle mass and strength, it can in fact cause moderate improvements in both regards - with the majority of these developments taking place in the quadriceps femoris muscles.

Though these improvements in size and strength are considerably less than what one would acquire with intense lower body compound exercises such as the barbell back squat, the reverse nordic curl is nonetheless excellent at rounding out a leg muscle training session or otherwise acting as an accessory exercise meant to maximize quadriceps muscular hypertrophy.

One particular method advanced exercisers use to further this benefit is by upping the total resistance of the exercise by gripping a weighted object and extending it in the opposite direction of the reverse nordic curl’s eccentric movement.

This will increase the mechanical tension placed on the quadriceps femoris muscles, thereby resulting in greater hypertrophic growth and strength adaptations.

Hip Flexion Mechanic Reinforcement From Reverse Nordics

The hip flexion biomechanic is responsible for a number of movements and a primary component of many athletic activities, with total jump height, back squat form and even proper boxing striking form all directly relating to proper tilting of the pelvis and rotation of the femur within the hip joint.

As the muscle receiving the greatest stimulus during reverse nordic curls is the rectus femoris of the quadriceps muscle group, regular performance of reverse nordic curls can result in greater hip flexion mechanic function - both in terms of capacity to remain stable under duress as well as total effective range of motion.

This is a direct result of both the muscular development caused by training stimulus accrued through the exercise as well as mobility improvements in the connective tissues of the hips from the stretching motion of the reverse nordic curl’s movement.

As such, individuals with poor hip mobility, unstable hips during lower body resistance exercise or athletes wishing to maximize their performance within a particular sport can all greatly benefit from the inclusion of reverse nordics in their warm up or training routine.

Knee Extension and Flexion Reinforcement From Reverse Nordics

The biomechanics of knee extension and knee flexion refer to the direction the thigh and shin are in relation to one another, with knee extension creating a parallel plane with the femur and the two bones of the shin, with knee flexion placing them more at a bent angle as would be the case in squatting or sitting upright.

Reverse nordic curls are a particularly effective method of stimulating and reinforcing these two knee-related biomechanics, as the quadriceps femoris are the main muscle responsible for execution of such movements and as such any improvements in its mobility will also result in a more stable knee joint.

In addition to this, the flexibility improvements offered by regular and correct performance of reverse nordics will also reduce the risk of both chronic and acute knee tendon injury during the execution of either biomechanic, not only aiding in the function of the knees but also in preserving their long-term health.

Unfortunately, some exercisers with poor quadriceps femoris mobility or a history of knee weakness will find that the very performance of reverse nordics itself can result in knee pain. In order to remedy this, the exerciser must utilize the concept of progressive overload but in regards to the total range of motion involved in the exercise’s performance.

This is done by initially only performing reverse nordic curls within a range of motion that the exerciser finds comfortable, and slowly increasing it over time as their mobility and tissue strength increases from the resulting stimulus.

References

1. Alonso-Fernandez D, Fernandez-Rodriguez R, Abalo-Núñez R. Changes in rectus femoris architecture induced by the reverse nordic hamstring exercises. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2019 Apr;59(4):640-647. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.18.08873-4. Epub 2018 Oct 1. PMID: 30293403.

2. Iga J, Fruer CS, Deighan M, Croix MDS, James DVB. “Nordic” hamstrings exercise—engagement characteristics and training responses. Int J Sports Med. 2012;33: 1000–4. pmid:22895870

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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