Nordic Hamstring Lowers to reduce Hamstring strains
Nordic Hamstring Lowers: The BEST Prehab Exercise You’re NOT Doing!
By Mike Brennan – BSc (Hons) Sport & Exercise Sciences
Hamstring injuries are extremely common in athletes. Whilst there are several risk factors which can lead to hamstring injury such as a lack of flexibility (Burkett, L.N., 1970), a particularly common factor is injury re-occurrence (Brockett et al., 2004). Quite simply, if you injure your hamstring once, you are more likely to injure it again! Therefore, measures need to be taken to PREVENT hamstring injuries in the first place.
So how can we do this? Well aside from an adequate warm up and improving mobility, a well-designed, balanced strength programme with the inclusion of specific prehabilitation exercises may help prevent hamstring injury. One exercise has been shown to be very effective at achieving this: the Nordic Hamstring Lower.
What makes it so effective?
Muscle pulls/tears often occur during the ECCENTRIC portion of muscle contraction. The eccentric portion refers to when the muscle is lengthening under load. Many people place far more emphasis on the concentric portion (muscle shortening). Neglecting the eccentric portion during strength training can often predispose people to these kinds of injuries.
The Nordic Hamstring Lower is an ECCENTRIC-based hamstring movement. This means that the emphasis is on the lowering phase of the movement as the muscle is being lengthened under control. It has been shown to improve eccentric strength (Mjølsnes et al., 2004) which can help safeguard against hamstring pulls/tears.
Research has shown that inclusion of the Nordic hamstring lower decreased instances of new and recurrent hamstring injuries (Peterson et al., 2011; Clark, R.A., 2008; Arnason et al., 2008). It is worth noting that due to the very high eccentric load of the movement, it should NOT be utilised all year round (Clark, R.A., 2008). Using this exercise every other week would be more appropriate. In addition, it is likely that when first using this exercise, you may initially experience some particularly intense delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) due to the high eccentric load.
How do to it
- Start in a kneeling position whilst your training partner holds your heals, preventing the feet from leaving the ground. Alternatively, you can weigh down your heals through another means, such as placing your heals under a loaded barbell.
- Slowly lower your body towards the floor, controlling the eccentric portion for as long as possible.
- Once you are unable to maintain the eccentric contraction any longer, push yourself back up to the starting position using your hands.
- Begin with 3 sets of 5 repetitions and aim to gradually increase reps over time until you can complete sets of 8 repetitions.
Not strong enough to do them….yet? Here are some alternatives:
If you struggle with exercise above, here are two variations that you could use to build up to the full Nordic hamstring lowers.
Start with the swiss ball assisted variation and begin with 3 sets of 5 repetitions. Once 3 sets of 8 repetitions can be competed, progress to the band assisted variation, again starting with 3 sets of 5 repetitions. Once 3 sets of 8 repetitions can be completed, you can then progress to a lighter band and repeat the same progression. Finally, once you can complete 3 sets of 8 repetitions with the lighter band, you can progress to body weight Nordic hamstring lowers.
Endurance athletes and runners need to be doing higher reps to help reduce the risk of injury. When muscles fatigue, the risk of injury increases. Doing 3 sets of 15-20 reps would be more beneficial to help build up endurance and train the muscles to fatigue. Recovery and technique are vital aspects when working into higher reps.
See the below videos for the two assisted variations:
Swiss Ball Assisted Nordic Hamstring Lowers
Band Assisted Nordic Hamstring Lowers
Nordic Hamstring Lowers: Key Points
- Hamstring pulls/tears usually occur during the eccentric portion of muscle contraction.
- Nordic Hamstring Lowers are an eccentric-based movement.
- It has been shown to improve eccentric strength and reduce risk of hamstring injury.
- Nordic Hamstring Lowers may be a good addition to your strength programme to help reduce risk of hamstring pulls/tears.
- Begin with the Swiss Ball/Band variations if you struggle with the standard Nordic Hamstring Lower.
- Due to the very large eccentric load that occurs during the exercise, they should NOT be done year round. Every other week should be sufficient.
Arnason, A., Andersen, T.E., Holme, I., Engebretsen, L. and Bahr, R., 2008. Prevention of hamstring strains in elite soccer: an intervention study. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 18(1), pp.40-48.
Brockett, C.L., Morgan, D.L. and Proske, U.W.E., 2004. Predicting hamstring strain injury in elite athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(3), pp.379-387.
Burkett, L.N., 1970. Causative factors in hamstring strains. Medicine and science in sports, 2(1), pp.39-42.
Clark, R.A., 2008. Hamstring injuries: risk assessment and injury prevention. Annals Academy of Medicine Singapore, 37(4), p.341.
Mjølsnes, R., Arnason, A., Raastad, T. and Bahr, R., 2004. A 10‐week randomized trial comparing eccentric vs. concentric hamstring strength training in well‐trained soccer players. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 14(5), pp.311-317.
Petersen, J., Thorborg, K., Nielsen, M.B., Budtz-Jørgensen, E. and Hölmich, P., 2011. Preventive effect of eccentric training on acute hamstring injuries in men’s soccer a cluster-randomized controlled trial. The American journal of sports medicine, 39(11), pp.2296-2303.