The reverse nordic curl is a bodyweight exercise to stretch and strengthen your quads. In particular, it targets your rectus femoris, which as one of your four quadriceps (that’s why it’s called the quadriceps, because there are four of them), is most responsible for hip flexion, and to a lesser extent, knee extension.
A nordic curl targets the hamstrings and involves bending forward at the hips targeting the hamstrings eccentrically. This is effectively the opposite movement, targeting the quads eccentrically.
(Thanks to my colleague Nick Craven, the strength and conditioning coach of the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League for the demo. His article on SCAPH inspired me to go deeper with this exercise).
1. Set up just like a normal nordic curl in a half-kneeling position with hips forward.
2. Take a deep exhale and engage your ab muscles (like you’re about to get punched) as you do so. This will posteriorly tilt your pelvis, placing a slight stretch on the hip flexors and quads already.
3. Keeping your glutes and abs squeezed, slowly descend backward.
4. Descend until you feel a deep quad stretch or once you feel your other muscles (like your back muscles) bending instead of your hips. Because this is an eccentric exercise, you’ll get more benefit if you descend slowly. To start, aim for a ~5 second descent.
5. Pull through the hips back to the starting position. As you do so, keep your glutes and abs tight.
Nearly everybody has overactive, tight hip flexors, and we can always do more to lengthen them. This is especially true if you play sports or lift weights. Unlike a typical hip flexor stretch, though, this exercise lengthens the hip flexors in an active way. This is a buzz-wordy way of saying, the hip flexors move through deeper ranges of motions under load, building “active range of motion” and not just “passive range of motion.”
Active range of motion is necessary to do things like squat deeper, because those movements happen under load, even if it’s just your bodyweight. As a simple contrast, think about the difference between hugging your knee into your chest with and without your hands. The latter requires your hip flexor muscles to contract, even at their end range.
That has the unique benefit of strengthening the hip flexors at the end range. The reverse nordic curl has a similar benefit: you strengthen the quads near their most lengthened position. This makes this exercise a great option for overall hip mobility and eccentric leg strength.
Where should I put this in my program? Like a lot of exercises, there’s no one answer. Depending on your specific goals it can have a different place.
In my programming, I include one set of 5-8 reps of reverse nordics in the warm-up. After foam rolling, the next step in a complete warm-up is to activate muscles. It also continues to stretch the typically tight muscles. And it takes no equipment so you can easily do it right where you do your other warm-up drills.
You can also use it in your strength programming. For example, if you’re training legs, a superset could look like…
A2) Reverse Nordic Curl
A3) Ab Wheel Rollout
If you’re using it as a strength movement and the bodyweight version is pretty easy, you can add load by holding a dumbbell, kettlebell, or med ball in the front of your chest.
Even for advanced trainees and serious athletes, the bodyweight version works as an active rest movement. Active rest includes any stretches, “prehab” exercises, or mobility drills that you can do while recovering from your main lift. A leg day example of that may be:
A1) Bulgarian Split Squat
A2) Hamstring Curls
A3) Reverse Nordic Curl
That’s it. I’ve become a huge fan of the reverse nordic curl for all these reasons. It’s great for hip health, leg strength, and requires zero equipment. It’s also relatively simple so there’s not much downside.