It almost seems too easy; an equipment-free, leg-focused exercise you can do anywhere, for just a few minutes, that may cut your injury risk and increase your strength and speed. Does it come with a massage?
It exists, and there’s research to back it up. Meet the Nordic hamstrings exercise, also known as the Nordic hamstring curly – your potential new favorite go-to that can help keep you healthy while boosting your performance.
According to recent research publish in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that assessed 15 studies on injury prevention across different sports – including age groups from 18 – 40 and both men and women - programs that included Nordic hamstring exercises showed an overall injury risk reduction by up to 51%.
Lead researcher Dr. Nicol van Dyk, of Aspetar Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Hospital in Qatar, told Runner’s World the move is simple: Begin in a kneeling position with both ankles secured—tucking your feet under a bar, for example, or having a running buddy hold them down—and then progressively lean forward as slowly as possible while keeping your back straight. When you can’t resist anymore, just fall forward, catching yourself with your hands against the floor.
“It’s recommended to gradually increase the load over an eight to 12-week period,” van Dyk said, adding that three sets of six-to-eight reps once a week can maintain the effect. You can do that by attempting to lean forward more and more over time before you have to fall and catch yourself.
As your muscles adapt to load, van Dyk said, you’ll likely need to modify the exercise as well. The most common way is to add weight, such as holding dumbbells in your hands.
He added that athletes should be aware there may be initial delayed onset muscle soreness when introducing the exercise, but most report that the feeling dissipates after incorporating the move into your workout for a couple weeks.
Is this the magic-bullet exercise that will transform your running performance forever? Not quite, van Dyk said. But it may protect your hamstrings against injury, which could potentially help you run faster and further, he believes.
Why is it so protective? The Nordic hamstring exercise is an eccentric movement, meaning a motion that is done when the muscle is lengthening under load. It increases strength and alters the architecture of the muscle, he said, improving the ability of the hamstring muscle to produce and withstand forces during running and other sports.
“Many factors play a role in your performance, including training load and recovery,” said van Dyk. “But the simple truth is that the hamstrings are very important for how you run. And spending ten minutes per week to reduce injury rates by 50 percent? That’s a lot of bang for your buck.”