The reverse Nordic curl is an obscure exercise that may not seem to have any benefits to your training. I mean, it’s only done with bodyweight so it can’t help you get stronger or bigger, right?
The reverse Nordic curl is an eccentric exercise that targets the quadriceps muscles, mainly the rectus femoris. It is performed while kneeling, lowering yourself backward with your hips fully extended.
You may be surprised to know the reverse Nordic curl has many benefits ranging from performance to reducing your risk of injury.
Reverse Nordic Curl Benefits
Lengthening Of The Quadriceps
If you’re wondering how a strength exercise can make you more flexible, then I’ve got you covered. This is one of the great benefits of eccentric exercise which the reverse Nordic curl is. That is, completing the lowering phase and not being able to get back up.
Essentially, the muscles undergo a lengthening contraction at loads greater than they can lift. The adaptations to the quadriceps are very unique. For example, eccentric training was as effective as static stretching for improving hamstring flexibility .
It does this by adding new pieces of muscle fiber to the end of the existing muscle fibers. This is known as adding sarcomeres in series. This adaptation results in greater contraction velocity (i.e. speed) and a shift in the length-tension relationship (see graph below) .
This shift in the length-tension relationship and increase in muscle fiber length is what lengthens the quadriceps after the reverse Nordic curl. Specifically, the rectus femoris muscle. This quadriceps muscle crosses two joints (the hip and the knee) unlike the other three muscles which only cross the knee joint.
Because your hips are extended during the exercise, the extreme knee flexion puts the rectus femoris under huge stretch. Very few exercises will provide this kind of stimulus.
Reduce The Risk Of Injury
This shifting of the length-tension relationship to the right (see graph above) reduces your risk of injury when the muscle is placed at long muscle lengths and needs to produce force. For the rectus femoris specifically, think about the backswing of the leg when kicking a ball or even the backside of the leg when sprinting.
When the muscle is short, the optimum length where peak torque (force) is generated occurs at smaller joint angles. If the muscle is taken past this length during the activities presented above, its capacity to produce force is exceeded and that’s how muscle strains and pulls occur.
The reverse Nordic curl shifts the optimum length of peak torque to longer muscle lengths protecting the muscle from injury in these situations.
Reduce Knee Pain
When I’m referring to knee pain, I’m specifically referring to patellofemoral pain which is the tendon that runs in front of your knee. While tight muscles are not always the cause of this pain, it definitely contributes.
A tight rectus femoris from chronic sitting can pull on the patella tendon making walking up stairs or squatting down to pick something up painful. Since the reverse Nordic curl lengthens the rectus femoris, it can reduce this pain.
Further, eccentric exercise is often prescribed for tendon pain as it remodels the collagen fibers of the tendon so it can move smoothly and pain-free. Tendons love load and resting is the worst thing you can do for knee tendon pain. Therefore, use the reverse Nordic curl to load the tendon.
Reduce Lower Back Pain
The rectus femoris is not just a knee flexor. It also contributes to hip flexion making it part of the hip flexor muscle groups. Short and tight hip flexors can change your pelvic position causing excessive anterior pelvic tilt.
This is one potential cause of chronic lower back pain. By lengthening the rectus femoris, it can help bring the pelvis back into a neutral position.
What Muscles Does The Reverse Nordic Curl Work?
The reverse Nordic curl works the quadriceps muscles. But most importantly, it targets the rectus femoris muscle that isn’t activated to a great extent when performing squats. As the reverse Nordic curl is performed with the hips extended while undergoing knee flexion, the rectus femoris is maximally stretched.
Reverse Nordic Curl vs. Nordic Curl
The reverse Nordic curl targets the front of the legs known as the quadriceps. The Nordic curl targets the back of the legs known as the hamstrings. For the reverse Nordic curl, you lower yourself back while kneeling so your butt gets closer to your heels. The Nordic curl involves lowering yourself forward while kneeling so your chest is falling to the floor.
How To Do The Reverse Nordic Curl
Kneel down onto a soft pad. Do not do this on a hard surface as your knees will hurt. I prefer to be on my toes versus having my feet flat.
With the hips extended with a straight line from the knees to the head, slowly lower yourself backward. You should feel an immense stretch and tension in the quadriceps.
Once you get to a point you feel you cannot control the fall, break at the hips so you are sitting your bum on your heels. Return to the starting position.
The reverse Nordic curl is an epic exercise for those after performance and injury reduction benefits. The best thing is, you don’t need any equipment to do it. So, if you are training at home or looking to get a workout while away from home, the reverse Nordic curl can be a great addition to train your quads.
1. Nelson, R. T., & Bandy, W. D. (2004). Eccentric training and static stretching improve hamstring flexibility of high school males. Journal of athletic training, 39(3), 254.
2. Brughelli, M., & Cronin, J. (2007). Altering the length-tension relationship with eccentric exercise. Sports Medicine, 37(9), 807-826.
3. Brughelli, M., Mendiguchia, J., Nosaka, K., Idoate, F., Los Arcos, A., & Cronin, J. (2010). Effects of eccentric exercise on optimum length of the knee flexors and extensors during the preseason in professional soccer players. Physical Therapy in Sport, 11(2), 50-55.