Romanian Deadlift vs Nordic Hamstring Curl

Nordic Hamstring Curl vs RDL (Better for Hamstrings?)

When it comes to hammering those hamstrings, Nordic Hamstring Curls and Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs) are two very effective options. But which one really gives your hammies the extra love they deserve?

Let’s cut to the chase and dive into the nitty-gritty of these two popular exercises, breaking down the benefits and techniques, so you can decide which one to add to your leg day routine.

I’ve been a College Strength Coach for 20 years and Nordic Hamstring Curls and RDLs are two exercises I’ve used extensively during that time. So, whether you’re an athlete looking to build explosive (and injury-free!) hamstrings or just looking to carve out some definition, you’ll find the answer here.

Nordic Hamstring Curls

Nordic Hamstring

Equipment Needed

  • A Partner (or something that can hold your feet on the ground)

Muscles Worked

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

How To

  • Start on your knees with a partner holding your feet (dorsiflexed, toes in the ground).
  • Hold your hands in front of your chest, brace your core and lock in your hips.
  • Now, keep your body in a straight line (shoulders, hips and knees) and lean forward.
  • Lower slowly and under control as long as possible.
  • Touch your chest to the ground, using your hands if necessary (they will most likely be necessary)
  • Finally, give yourself a little push to get started and then use your hamstrings to curl yourself back to the start.

Coaching Points

The ultimate goal with Nordic Curls is to be able to lower yourself to the floor, touch the ground with your chest, and then curl yourself up without using your hands. However, this takes practice and a ton of hamstring strength. Be patient and focus on your progress each time.

Don’t allow your hips to shoot out, breaking the straight line going through your shoulders, hips and knees.

Only use as much push with your arms coming off the ground as needed. How much is the right amount? Trust me, when you get it just right – you’ll know.


The Nordic hamstring curl is a great exercise for strengthening the muscles of the hamstring. Strong hamstrings can help improve athletic performance and reduce the risk of injuries, such as strains and tears.

The Nordic hamstring curl is also a great exercise for developing strength and stability in the knee joint. Additionally, it can be done with little to no equipment, making it a versatile exercise for most gyms.

Horton Barbell Logo 3

Tired of coming up with your own workouts? But don’t want to pay an arm and a leg?

I post workouts 5 days a week right here. (Did I mention they’re free?)

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)


Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates (Bumper or Iron)

Muscles Worked

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Erectors (Low Back)

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 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.

Trying to reach the bar to the floor will result in the lifter losing their neutral spine and rounding their back… which leads me right into common RDL mistakes.

Benefits of the RDL

The RDL, also referred to as a stiff leg deadlift, is a great exercise to work the posterior chain muscles, specifically the hamstrings, glutes and erector spinae of the low back.

Many of the movements that I utilize with athletes demand a very strong posterior chain (as does many sports movements as well).

Olympic lifts, Back Squat and Front Squats are all great exercises for building strong, explosive athletes and all three demand a strong posterior chain.

Romanian deadlifts work as a terrific accessory lift to aid in the development of those bigger compound lifts.

Finally, the Romanian deadlift, as part of a holistic approach to strengthening the hamstrings and exposing the hamstrings to high-speed running can lower the risk of hamstring injuries.

Nordic Curls vs RDL: Is One Better?

Now, let’s take a look at both exercises, side-by-side, to see if one is better than the other for specific situations.

Better For Strength: Both

When it comes to hamstring strength, it’s not as simple as one exercise being ‘better’ than the other. Both RDLs and Nordic Hamstring Curls have their unique benefits because they work the hamstrings in different ways.

Romanian Deadlifts are a fantastic way to challenge the hamstrings eccentrically. This means that the muscles are lengthening under tension, like when you’re lowering the weight during the RDL. This type of work is excellent for improvement of athletic performance (speed, jumping, change of direction).

On the flip side, Nordic Hamstring Curls focus on the concentric phase—where the muscle fibers shorten as they contract. When you pull yourself up during a Nordic Curl, you’re giving those hamstring muscles a serious workout, developing their strength in a different way compared to the RDLs.

So, it’s not about which exercise is better, but rather how they complement each other to give your hamstrings a well-rounded strength profile. Incorporating both into your strength training can provide a comprehensive approach to hamstring development.

Better For Beginners: RDLs

RDLs, if executed with proper form, are what I would recommend as a starting point for beginners looking to strengthen their hamstrings because they are less physically demanding than Nordic curls.

The Romanian Deadlift allows a beginner to learn the movement with a manageable load, which can be adjusted according to their strength level. It emphasizes the hinge movement — a fundamental motor pattern — and teaches beginners how to properly activate their hamstrings and glutes while maintaining a neutral spine.

Nordic hamstring curls, on the other hand, are significantly more challenging. They require a high level of hamstring strength and body control, as the exercise involves lowering the body toward the ground from a kneeling position, using the hamstrings to decelerate the movement, and then pulling back up.

This can be quite demanding, and many beginners may not have the necessary strength to perform this exercise safely and effectively.

free daily workouts
Horton Barbell Logo 3

Get Shredded… For Free

Get a free workout Monday through Friday, posted right here on Horton Barbell. These workouts are designed to help you get strong, in shape and look great at the beach!

Final Thoughts

Both Nordic Hamstring Curls and Romanian Deadlifts are valuable players in the game of hamstring development. RDLs serve as a great entry point for beginners, offering a way to build strength and master movement patterns with a customizable load.

As for Nordic Curls, they’re the next level up, challenging even elite athletes with their intense focus on the hamstrings.

Rather than picking a champion, think of these exercises as teammates working towards the same goal: stronger, more resilient hamstrings.

Related Posts

Glute Ham Raise vs Nordic Curl

RDLs: Barbell vs Dumbbell

Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *