7 Nordic Hamstring Curl Alternatives To Work Hamstrings


Nordic Hamstring Curls are one of the most effective hamstring exercises for developing strong hamstrings. They’re especially good for athletes as there has been plenty of research showing that Nordic Hamstring Curls can be very beneficial for preventing hamstring injuries.

However, sometimes you may find yourself needing a Nordic Hamstring Curl alternative. The most obvious of which being you don’t have access to a cable machine. But, perhaps you’re just looking to change your workout up a bit.

Whatever the reason, you’re in the right place. In this guide, I’m going to give you 14 of my favorite Cable Crunch alternatives.

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Nordic Hamstring Curl Variations

Before we get into alternatives, I want to share a couple of ways you can do Nordic Hamstring Curls without a partner.

Using a Barbell

Load a barbell on the floor with enough weight that will hold you to the floor. (Weight will be dependent upon your body weight and hamstring strength)

Place your feet underneath the bar so that the backs of your heels are pressed up against the bar. Use padding (a rolled-up mat or a towel work great) to make this more comfortable. Now you can perform Nordics just as you would with a partner.

Using a Glute Ham Machine

The top half of a full Glute Ham Raise (which, spoiler alert, will be one of the alternatives below) is essentially a Nordic Hamstring Curl. Once you’re set-up, lower down to parallel and then leg curl yourself until your torso is vertical.

Alternatives to Cable Crunches

These Cable Crunch alternatives have a lot of variety within them. Some still require equipment – medicine balls, weight plates, stability ball – but many exercises don’t require any equipment at all.

My goal with this list was to give you a bunch of ideas so you could pick and choose which exercises you like the best to serve as a replacement for Cable Crunches.


Floor Slider Leg Curls


Equipment Needed

  • Furniture Sliders (Big enough to fit the heel of your foot on)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Lie down on your back and bend your knees at about 90 degrees.
  • Place the sliders under the heels of your feet.
  • Drive your elbows into the floor and keep your abdomen tight.
  • Drive your hips to the ceiling and engage your glutes.
  • Keeping your core nice and tight, slowly slide your heels away from your body until your knees are almost fully extended.
  • At the end range of this movement, your body should be straight, hips up, and core engaged.
  • Engaging the hamstrings, pull your heels back to the starting position and squeeze the glutes to resume the starting position.

Coaching Points

One of the most important points about Floor Slider Leg Curls is the surface you are sliding on and the type of slider you’re using. I personally like these Super Sliders with a hard plastic bottom. They are big enough for even large feet and I’ve had the most luck with them on multiple surfaces. (They’re also super cheap)

The furniture slide should freely move with little resistance, I would say carpet is ideal if available. If there is resistance, this may affect your technique and coordination.

Remember to always squeeze with the glutes and actively engage the hamstrings. Do not round the back and push your belly to the sky. Keep the anterior core locked in throughout the movement.

Controlling the eccentric portion of this movement is critical. Your hamstrings will engage and get a good stretch at the end range of this movement, so go slow, pause, and then curl back to the start.

Remember during the concentric movement,  keep the hips up as you curl your heels in. Quality movement is better than exhausting quantity here.


Stability Ball Leg Curls


Stability Ball Leg Curl (1)

Equipment Needed

  • Stability ball (Diameter is based on height but a 65 cm diameter should be good)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Lie down on your back and almost fully extend your legs.
  • Place your heels on the ball.
  • Drive your elbows into the floor and keep your abdomen tight. Drive your heels into the ball.
  • Drive your hips to the ceiling and engage your glutes.
  • Keeping your core nice and tight, pull the ball under your butt as much as possible.
  • At the top of this movement, keep the glutes engaged and core tight.
  • Engaging the hamstrings, roll the ball back until your body is almost fully straight.

Coaching Points

Make sure the stability ball is properly inflated when doing Stability Ball Leg Curls. If it is not, the muscles we are training will not engage fully.

Remember to always squeeze with the glutes and actively engage the hamstrings. Do not round the back and push your belly to the sky. Keep the anterior core locked in throughout the movement.

Controlling the eccentric portion of this movement is critical. Your hamstrings will engage and get a good stretch at the end range of this movement, so go slow, pause, and then curl back.

Remember during the concentric movement, keep the hips up as you curl your heels in. Quality movement is better than exhausting quantity here.


Glute Ham Raise


Hyperextensions

Equipment Needed

  • Glute-Ham Raise Machine

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • First, you are going to want to get the glute-ham raise machine adjusted to the correct length.
  • I recommend adjusting the machine so that your hip crease is at the end of the padding of the machine.
  • Locking your feet in, facing the ground, keep a neutral spine by focusing your eyes on the floor below.
  • Take in a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and keep your hands on the handles until you are ready to perform the eccentric movement.
  • Once ready, take your hands off the handles, extend your body, keep your arms at your side, and control your body down until your torso is about perpendicular to the floor.
  • Pause for 1 second in the bottom of the position to maintain stiffness in the muscles before coming back up.
  • After 1 second of the isometric hold, pull yourself back parallel to the floor, engaging the glutes, hamstrings, and low back, while also keeping stiffness in the abdomen and upper back.
  • At this point, you have completed a hyperextension.
  • From this position, you are going to keep the toes flexed up toward the shin, pull with the hamstrings, and extend the glutes until your torso is perpendicular to the ceiling.
  • Slowly lower your body back down to the parallel to the floor position to prepare for the next repetition.

Coaching Points

One of the common mistakes I’ve seen with Glute-Ham Raises is athletes will pull with the hamstrings and not engage the glutes.

What this looks like is the athlete leaves their hips behind and they don’t quite get to perpendicular because they didn’t extend the hips and engage the glutes.


Manual Leg Curl


Equipment Needed

  • Partner

Muscles Worked

  • Hamstrings (Biceps Femoris, Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus)
  • Calves (Gastrocnemius)

How To

  • Lay on your stomach with your legs straight.
  • Have your partner grab the backs of your heels.
  • Curl your feet toward your butt and have your partner give you resistance as you do.
  • Now, have your partner pull your feet back to the floor, but resist them from pulling you down.
  • Continue until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

One of the keys to Manual Leg Curls is to not miss out on the eccentric portion of the exercise. Make your partner really have to work to pull your feet back to the floor. Depending on your hamstring strength, your partner may end up having to work as hard as you do!

Having a good partner is critical. They should be modifying how much resistance they’re applying throughout the movement so that you’re constantly challenged but still able to move through the range of motion.


Romanian Deadlift (RDL)


Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates (Bumper or Iron)

How To

  • Address the bar with feet shoulder-width apart, and toes straight ahead.
  • Use a pronated grip about a thumb length from the start of the knurling.
  • Now, with a good flat back, pick the bar up to a standing position.
  • From here, put a slight bend in the knees and ‘set the back’ by squeezing the shoulder blades and engaging the lats.
  • Brace the core and hinge forward by pushing the hips back.
  • The bar should almost drag right down the legs, across the knees and straight down the shins. The whole foot should stay flat on the ground, but the weight should be on the mid-foot to heel.
  • Maintain the neutral spine position throughout the descent and once you feel a good stretch in the hamstrings, drive the hips forward (hip extension) and return to the starting position.

Coaching Points

The ‘depth’ that each person gets when doing Romanian Deadlifts will be different and absolutely solely dependent upon hamstring flexibility.

Do NOT try to ‘reach’ the barbell toward the ground because you believe the plates should touch the floor. If you have tight hamstrings you may be doing well to get the bar to mid-shin.


Single Leg Dumbbell RDL


Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbell

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Keep a neutral spine, take in a deep breath, hinging at the waist and slightly bending the knee, and grab the dumbbell.
  • Standing nice and tall, squeeze the shoulder blades back and create tension in the abdomen.
  • On the opposite side of the arm holding the dumbbell will be the up leg.
  • For example, if you are holding the dumbbell in your right hand, your left leg will be off the ground and hinging backward.
  • Keeping a neutral spine, fixing the eyes forward (DO NOT CRANE THE NECK BACK).
  • Initiate the movement by lifting one foot off the ground, bending the off-leg knee slightly, pushing the hips back, hinging at the waist, and keeping a slight bend in the knee.
  • Create and maintain tension in the arch of the foot and imagine squeezing the floor with your toes. This will help maintain balance and engage the small musculature of the foot and shin.
  • The eccentric movement will continue until the dumbbell is about 3/4 down your shins. Keep the dumbbell in front of the down leg. Do not let the weight drift over the midline.
  • For example, if you are holding the dumbbell in your right hand, keep the dumbbell right in front of the right shin.
  • Once the dumbbell is about 3/4 of the way down your shins, start to extend the hips, keeping tension in the abdomen and keeping the upper back nice and tight, straightening the knees until you return to standing in the starting position.
  • Squeeze the glutes in the last 1/4 upward movement to maintain engagement and help with balance.

Coaching Points

When doing Single-Leg RDLs, do not let the weight drift over the midline. You will train for more structural stability if you keep the dumbbell in front of the down leg.

Maintain the arch of the foot. When performing single-leg movements, it is very important to maintain balance to yield all the benefits of single-leg exercises.

It is important for the lifter to maintain a neutral spine, maintaining tension in the abdomen and upper back.

Remember to breathe in and hold the breath during eccentric (lowering the weight) and breathe out as you perform the concentric movement (bringing the weight back up).


Machine Leg Curls


Leg Curl Machine

I don’t suggest using machines often, but I think the leg curl machine can be a very effective hamstring developer. If you have access to a leg curl machine they can be a good alternative for Nordic Hamstring Curls.

How you set up and curl will depend solely on the particular machine that you are using.

Final Thoughts

Nordic Hamstring Curls are one of my absolute favorite exercises for hamstring development, however, sometimes Nordic Hamstring Curls are just not possible. You may not have the proper equipment, but you also may just want something a little different.

In these situations, you’ll need a Nordic Hamstring alternative and I hope that at least one of the alternative exercises I’ve listed here fits what you were looking for.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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