Hamstrings are particularly prone to pulls and tears that can necessitate two to 12 weeks or more for full recovery, according to Common Sports Injuries.com. Hamstrings are, by nature, less flexible than most other muscles. The Russian hamstring exercise, otherwise known as the Russian leg curl or Nordic leg curl, aims to strengthen your hamstrings to increase athletic performance while minimising the risk of injury to this often overstressed muscle group.
Hamstring injuries often occur when the muscle is tired and the leg suddenly extends, such as in activities requiring running or kicking. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the Russian curl isolates and strengthens the hamstring via eccentric contractions, or contractions that occur as the muscle lengthens. These types of contractions are common during muscle exertion. Strengthening hamstrings in this way can make them slower to fatigue during strenuous activity.
To perform Russian hamstring curls, kneel on the ground with your arms at your sides and your back perpendicular to the floor. Secure your feet either with the help of a partner holding your ankles steady or by hooking them under an object that will remain stationary. Leading with your hips, pitch yourself forward. As you do so, keep your shoulders, knees and hips in line. Once you’re all the way down, contract your hamstrings to lift yourself back up.
You can tell that the curls are working when you feel a burn in the back region of your thighs while doing the exercise. If the exercise doesn’t feel like it’s working, it may be due to insufficient repetition or improper technique. The USC Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Research Laboratory (MBRL) recommends that you avoid bending your waist while performing the exercise and that you do three sets of 10 repetitions.
The NSCA points out that most beginners do not have the hamstring strength to perform the exercise unassisted. If this is the case, it recommends stabilising yourself with a bench or stability ball. You can also perform the exercise with a partner and a resistance strap. In this method, you wrap the strap around your torso. Your partner then holds the ends of the strap as you perform the exercise, pulling gently to help lift you back to the starting position.
Due to the strenuous nature of the Russian leg curl, it is inadvisable to do the exercise without first warming up your hamstrings and your legs as a whole. The MBRL recommends light jogging, then a regiment of stretching including the calf, quadricep, hamstring, inner thigh and hip before attempting the Russian leg curl. It is safest for beginners to do the curls with partner assistance until they develop proficiency with the exercise.
- Common Sports Injuries.com: Hamstring
- Sports Injury Clinic: Pulled Hamstring / Hamstring Strain
- The National Strength and Conditioning Association: Eccentric Training to Reduce Hamstring Injuries in Sprinters
- University of San Diego: Muscle Physiology Home Page
- The USC Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Research Laboratory: PEP Training Program