How to Do the Reverse Nordic Curl for Max Lower-Body Strength

Illustration of a person performing a reverse Nordic curl.
The reverse Nordic curl targets all your quad muscles, prevents injury and builds balance and stability.
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com Creative

The reverse Nordic curl might sound like an Olympic winter sport, but it's actually one of the best quad-strengthening exercises you can add to your leg day arsenal.

Advertisement

While doing variations of squats, lunges and deadlifts is a must, one of the most notable benefits of the reverse Nordic curl is it offers the special benefit of eccentric strengthening.

"Eccentric means the muscles are lengthening under tension, says Wesley Spargo, MPT, APAM, who has a master's degree in physical therapy and is a member of the Australian Physiotherapy Association. "When you strengthen a muscle in an eccentric way, under good load, you make your muscle more robust and able to tolerate higher forces and increased workloads."

Advertisement

  • ​​What is the reverse Nordic curl?​​ It's a body-weight leg exercise you do kneeling on the ground. You keep your back and hips straight, bringing your torso backward as close to the ground as you can. Then you come all the way back up.
  • ​​What is the​ ​reverse Nordic curl​ ​good for?​​ It strengthens all four quadriceps muscles, as well as your hip flexors and core. It also promotes knee mobility and balance. You need to engage your core and squeeze your glutes to keep your torso in a straight line as you're slowly lowering and coming back up.
  • ​​Who can do the reverse Nordic curl?​​ This exercise requires a great degree of quad strength and knee mobility, so it can be challenging for those who can't kneel or don't have the proper quad strength. However, there are modifications you can start with to build up the necessary strength and practice the technique.
  • Do Nordic curls​ ​build hamstrings?​ The reverse Nordic curl specifically targets your quads. It's often confused with the Nordic hamstring curl, which is a different exercise that strengthens the muscles in the back of your legs. (The reverse Nordic curl and the Nordic hamstring curl are two separate exercises; there is no exercise called the reverse Nordic hamstring curl.)

Advertisement

How to Do the Reverse Nordic Curl With Proper Form

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level All Levels
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Start on your knees with your back straight and butt off your feet. (If your knees are tender, you might want to grab a mat or pillow to kneel on.) Your knees should be positioned about hip-width apart.
  2. Place your arms across your chest or keep them by your sides.
  3. Engage your abs and squeeze your glutes. This will help you maintain a straight line from the top of your head to your knees throughout the move.
  4. Begin to slowly hinge backward from your knees, lowering your shoulders toward the floor.
  5. Keep your hips pressed forward and lower to the edge of your range of motion.
  6. Engage your quads to return to the beginning kneeling position. That's 1 rep.
  7. Repeat.

Tip

If you're new to reverse Nordic curls, you probably won’t be able to lower down very far. You might only go back an inch or two. Don't fret! This move strengthens and lengthens your leg muscles quickly so you will gain a better range of motion with regular practice.

4 Reverse Nordic Curl Benefits and Muscles Worked

1. It's a Go-To Move for Stability and Balance

If you're looking to improve your balance, strengthening your quads is necessary for building the foundational stability you need for support.

Advertisement

"When you lock your knees out or when you are standing, your quads are working. So, if you are standing all day, walking, running or working a job that requires going up and down ladders, you need that quad control to keep your knees healthy while doing that activity over and over," Spargo, a physical therapist at PhysioElite USA, says.

"When we do the reverse Nordic curl, we are increasing tissue tolerance to stress. The more tolerance you have means the more work you can do without risking injury."

Advertisement

If you play a sport that requires using one leg at a time, or jumping and landing, adding the reverse Nordic curl into your routine ensures your legs will be strong enough to keep your knees in line correctly during off-balance or high-impact moves.

"It is very beneficial to have good, strong quads and good control to make sure the knee is tracking properly," Spargo says.

Advertisement

2. It Targets All Your Quad Muscles

The quadriceps muscle group has four parts: the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius.

"As a knee-extensor motion, reverse Nordic curls work all four quad [muscles], which is what makes the move more holistic than other leg exercises," Spargo says.

Advertisement

3. It Works Multiple Muscle Groups

Although this move primarily targets your quads, it also helps support other muscles. Because you need to control and stabilize your hips and torso while doing it, your core fires up to help out.

In addition, your hip flexors are working and lengthening, increasing both strength and mobility. This translates into better performance and functional movement.

Advertisement

4. It Prevents Injury

Your knee is the largest joint in your body, and it needs all the support it can get when performing complex and high-impact moves. Many athletes experience knee issues in addition to quad strains and even tears. But the reverse Nordic curl can help prepare your muscles for high impact.

"Many sports injuries arise because of lack of eccentric strength, or they happen in the eccentric portion of a movement, which is often when the muscle is at its most vulnerable point," Spargo says. "By improving the eccentric strength of the quads, you can avoid injury by priming the muscles to handle the load."

Are Nordic Curls Good for Your Knees?

The short answer is yes. That said, if you have recently had knee surgery, you don't want to attempt this exercise. You should wait at least 12 weeks and consult a doctor or physical therapist before trying it out.If you do try it and you feel reverse Nordic curl knee pain, it could just be tight quads that need to be stretched. But it could also indicate an underlying issue — the two most common culprits are quadriceps tendinopathy and patella tendinopathy (front knee pain).

Talk to a medical professional for advice. A physical therapist will be able to assess your pain and prescribe a tailored workout program for you.

3 Reverse Nordic Curl Form Tips

1. Go Slow

If you're going too fast, this exercise will feel very easy.

"Time under tension [the amount of time a muscle is under strain] is very, very important for this to work well," Spargo says. "Anyone can bust out 10 in 3 to 5 seconds, but that is not doing anything [for your muscles]."

Going slowly while lowering your torso is where the magic happens. The slower you go, the more time you're spending in an eccentric contraction, which means more control. You challenge your body's coordination and strength for longer.

Tip

When performing a reverse Nordic curl, lower down for at least a slow count of five.

2. Keep Your Hips Level

To perform the reverse Nordic curl properly and maximize the load on your quads, you need to keep your hips forward and locked out.

Move your torso and thighs together as one unit. The biggest mistake Spargo sees athletes make is the tendency to stick their butt out. It won't cause harm, but it won't benefit your body in any way.

3. Vary Your Foot Position

You can either have your toes tucked or have the tops of your feet flat against the floor. Many people say you can get more range with the tops of your feet flat against the floor, but that might be uncomfortable for those without a good range of flexion in their ankles. The bottom line: Place your feet wherever feels most comfortable.

2 Ways to Build Up to Reverse Nordic Curls

1. Limit the Range of Movement

The most straightforward way to modify the reverse Nordic curl is to not lower your torso as far. Your body will set that boundary, but you will begin to see increased range quickly if you add these into your regular strength program.

2. Work Your Way Into It

For some athletes, the first attempt at this move might be uncomfortable and shaky. If you feel unstable, take a step back and build strength in your quads before making this move one of your go-tos.

Here are two exercises that will help you build enough quad strength to be able to work up to reverse Nordic curls.

Wall Sit

For a reverse Nordic curl alternative, Spargo suggests starting with a wall sit, which is an isometric move that strengthens your quads. It will benefit your legs but in a different and more gentle way.

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level Beginner
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Stand with your back against a wall with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Engage your abs, and lower down into a squat position so your knees are at a 90-degree angle. It should feel like you're sitting in an invisible chair.
  3. Make sure your knees are directly above your ankles and not collapsing inward.
  4. Hold the position for 1 minute.

Step-Up

From there, you can practice stepping up onto a step or box, and stepping down in reverse. This will work your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Do this move slowly, and if it's too easy, try doing it while holding dumbbells. This will promote quad strength while challenging knee and core stability.

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level Beginner
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Region Lower Body
  1. Stand facing a box, bench or step with your feet hip-width apart. You can place your hands on your hips, keep them by your sides or hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Step up onto the box, bench or step with your right leg, followed by your left leg.
  3. Slowly step backward off the box or step down with your left leg.
  4. Repeat the move leading with your left leg.

How to Make the Exercise Harder

When you get more advanced, you can go all the way down so your shoulders and head literally touch the floor. Then engage your quads to go all the way back up.

When that becomes easy, add weight by holding a plate, dumbbell or kettlebell against your chest. Start on the lighter side to ensure you can perform the move without compromising form. Remember, this will be your body weight plus whatever load you add. You must be able to control the weight while moving your upper body as one unit, shoulders tall and hips locked out and level.

Reverse Nordic Curl With Weight

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level Advanced
Region Lower Body
  1. Start on your knees with your back straight and butt off your feet. (If your knees are tender, you might want to grab a mat or pillow to kneel on.) Your knees should be positioned about hip-width apart.
  2. Hold a plate, dumbbell or kettlebell against your chest.
  3. Engage your abs and squeeze your glutes. This will help you maintain a straight line from the top of your head to your knees throughout the move.
  4. Begin to slowly hinge backward from your knees, lowering your shoulders toward the floor.
  5. Keep your hips pressed forward and lower to the edge of your range of motion.
  6. Engage your quads to return to the beginning kneeling position. That's 1 rep.
  7. Repeat.

How to Add Reverse Nordic Curls to Your Workouts

Reverse Nordic curls can be easily added to any strength-training routine.

At the end of leg day:​ You'll gain maximum benefit if you include them at the end of a session so you're working the muscles eccentrically after accumulating fatigue from heavier, load-bearing lifts, Spargo says.

After cardio:​ To ensure your muscles are not too fatigued before you begin your cardio, wait to do reverse Nordic curls until after you finish your walk, run, bike or swim. This will also help ensure you maintain proper form during the cardio activity of your choice.

The intensity of reverse Nordic curls can be deceiving, and you might not realize how hard you're working your muscles until the next day. Spargo often hears his athletes say they experience delayed onset muscle soreness the first time they try it.

Here's a schedule to follow so you only experience a small amount of pain.

Week 1:​ Try 2 sets of 8 reps, with a 2-minute rest in between. Spargo says 8 reps give you enough work without overloading the muscles. Add them to your workout two or three times a week. If you feel too much soreness after the first day, wait until the following week, then try to do 2 sets in week two.

Weeks 2 to 4:​ Add another set so you're doing 3 sets of 8 reps three times a week.

Weeks 4 to 6:​ Go back to two days a week, with 2 sets of 10 reps. From here, you can progress to three days a week with 2 sets of 10 reps. This is a conservative progression that will still get you maximum results.

Related Reading

Advertisement

Report an Issue

Screenshot loading...