How to Block Hamstring Injuries in Soccer With Nordic Curls
Feb 28, 2022
An old commercial featured wooden figures with pins stuck in their backs to illustrate the sudden jolt of back pain. That’s what hamstring injuries in soccer feel like - they seem to come out of nowhere and leave even the most formidable players clutching their hams or limping off the field.
They’re prevalent. Hamstring injuries account for more than 40% of injuries in professional soccer. Some of the biggest names, from Lionel Messi to Antoine Griezmann, have suffered. And they’re affecting youth players more now as well.
That’s why we want to introduce Nordic hamstring curls. They’re an excellent exercise for conditioning and strengthening hamstrings and help players prevent injuries.
The Purpose of Nordic Hamstring Curls
Strength athletes rely on nordic hamstring curls to build mass and strength in their legs, as can soccer players. But the primary purpose of Nordic hamstring curls in soccer is to counteract the loads and strain placed on the hamstrings. Remember, you’re running, jumping, cutting, tackling and doing all sorts of other “-ings” in soccer. Your hamstrings do a lot of work to make those maneuvers happen, so they’re under a lot of stress during the game.
Mechanism of Action
You have three muscles groups that make up your hamstrings: the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. Weird names indeed. Nordic hamstring curls activate these muscles and make them stronger. More importantly, though, they activate and stabilize your knee flexor muscles, so they’re more resilient to the shock of soccer movements. Of course, there’s research to back it up too.
Scientific Research Behind Nordic Hamstring Curls
Researchers in sports science has been fixated on Nordic hamstring curls and tested whether this exercise lives up to the hype. They found that it does.
In one particular study, researchers found that soccer conditioning programs that featured Nordic hamstring curls could reduce hamstring injuries by 51%. These results appeared consistent among men and women. And for that reason, coaches should make Nordic hamstring one of the critical soccer conditioning drills in their programs.
How to Perform Nordic Hamstring Curls
Like any other soccer conditioning drill, correct form is crucial for Nordic hamstring curls to work. They can be counterproductive if they’re not done right, but they’re not too complex once you’ve got the basics down.
Nordic Hamstring Curl Setup
- Begin on your knees, with your legs anchored underneath unmovable equipment like a Smith Machine
- Squeeze your abs and glutes with your hips fully extended. Don’t arch your low back too much.
- Bend your arms at your elbows and then put your hands on your chest with open palms
Nordic Hamstring Curl Movement
- Slowly drop to the floor, with fully extended hips and flexed core muscles.
- Keep the movement slow and steady.
- Bring yourself back to your starting position.
Nordic Hamstring Curl Variations for Soccer Players
Nordic hamstring curls don’t vary much in terms of the movement itself. However, you can switch up how you perform them with one of three variations. They are Partner-Assisted Nordic Hamstring Curls, Low Bar Nordic Hamstring Curls and Barbell Nordic Hamstring Curls.
- Partner-Assisted Nordic Hamstring Curls - A partner (can be a coach or teammate) holds your ankle instead of you anchoring your legs under a piece of equipment.
- Low Bar Nordic Hamstring Curls - A low bar or railing replaces a sturdier piece of equipment to keep your legs anchored.
- Barbell Nordic Hamstring Curls - With this variation, you anchor your feet under a barbell that sits on weights (ideally 35 pounds).
Beginners can use resistance bands around their torso for assistance. As they get stronger and more comfortable with the curl, they can rely on their body weight.
How to Incorporate Nordic Hamstring Curls in a Soccer Conditioning Routine
The next factor to consider is frequency and intensity. Nordic Hamstring Curls are quite strenuous compared to other soccer conditioning drills, so you don’t want to overdo it. Our suggestion is to start slow and start light - don’t get intense just yet.
Start with just two sets of 5 reps (especially for young players). Work your way up to 3 sets, completing 5-10 reps (you can start here for older and more conditioned players). In terms of frequency, once a week is suitable for starters, but players can eventually do it twice a week as they get stronger.
Beat One of the Most Common Leg Injuries in Soccer
For the first week or two, players will feel some soreness. Don’t worry, though; it’s not severe, and it will disappear as their threshold increases. Also, slowly ramping up the intensity over a period of 8-12 weeks will keep the soreness minimal. Nordic hamstring curls won’t prevent hamstring injuries completely, but they can strengthen the muscles enough so that you’re less susceptible to the injury.
Make sure to follow other recovery protocols such as rest and foam rolling, or even cold baths and percussion gun therapy. And get all your vitamins, minerals and macronutrients in so that you’re eating for better recovery. Doing all of these in combination with soccer conditioning drills like Nordic hamstring curls will lower your risk of getting jolted by a hamstring injury.