Inverse Curl

Inverse Curl – Blow up your deadlift, run faster, jump higher, increase your Olympic lifts and prevent hamstring tears

By Christian Stricker,

You know that saying “You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone?”? While that’s true in many circumstances in life, it’s definitely applicable to hamstring injuries. You really don’t realize how much you use them until after you tear one and every movement of your lower body that you take for granted becomes terribly painful. Having torn my hamstrings several times, all during sprinting, I have come to greatly appreciate having healthy, functional muscles back there.

Aside from getting injured, your hamstrings play a few critical roles to your athletic success including but not limited to the following:

* Extending the hip during athletic movements such as sprinting, any type of jumping, squatting, deadlifting, cleans, snatches, jerks, push presses and pretty much anything else that involves hip extension. The stronger the muscles that extend your hip are, the more weight you’ll lift, the faster you’ll run and the higher you’ll jump.

* They play a critical role in change of direction, which is especially important for any sport where you change directions (pretty much all of them…), whether it’s on the field, the track, the court or the rink. So unless you’re a cyber athlete (seriously, it’s a thing, Cyberathlete Professional League), strong hamstrings will help you play your sport better and navigate the world in a more agile and efficient way.

* Decelerating your moving body. Being able to stop or slow motion down can be just as important as accelerating it.

* Stabilizing the knee. Since the hamstrings cross the knee, they provide an opposing force to the quadriceps, keeping the lower leg in the correct place. If your hamstrings are weak, it can increase your susceptibility to knee injuries such as torn ligaments (the ACL is a commonly injured ligament preventable, to a degree, by strengthening the hamstrings). If your knees look as if they have their own gravitational pull towards each other, your hamstrings are probably weak and you’ll benefit greatly by making them stronger. Women, for some reason tend to be more prone to hamstring weakness than men so it’s particularly important for the ladies to pay extra attention to this area. Louie Simmons, creator of Westside Barbell and the inverse curl machine has said that if you get knee pain when you squat, it can be because your hamstrings are weak. To fix this do 4 submaximal sets (enough reps to get a pump and be somewhat challenging) of either GHD raises or inverse curls before you do your lower body training until the problem goes away.

* Flexing the knee. The more powerfully you can flex the leg, the faster you can move in activities like walking, running, and sprinting.

As you can see, they are fairly important for almost all things athletic.

The inverse curl machine has a few important advantages over other hamstring training methods.

* It’s easier to use good technique, train the right muscles and develop good habits. The GHD raise is a very similar movement, when performed correctly, is a great tool for hamstring development. The only problem is, it’s really easy to “cheat”. The inverse curl machine still allows for some “cheating” but it’s easier to do it right.

* It teaches you to coordinate the usage of your hips, midsection and hamstrings together, something you don’t get when doing traditional isolation type exercises. Using all the muscles together correctly will help your body function better and help prevent any one area from being overloaded which is a common cause of injury.

* It’s easy to see progress on it. As long as your technique is at least moderately consistent, you know when you’ve become stronger as you’ll be using less counter weight or be able to use a more difficult setting on the machine (adjusting the length and positions of the various parts of the machine allows you to change the leverages in many different ways, making it either easier or harder, depending on what you change).

* Anyone can use it. The GHD raise and the Nordic hamstring curl (imagine doing a hamstring curl with almost your entire bodyweight as resistance) are both very difficult movements that many people simply cannot do, at least at first. Being able to adjust the amount of help you’re receiving by adding or subtracting the amount of counterweight makes it easy for someone of pretty much any size or level of strength to effectively and functionally strengthen their hamstrings.

Tips and Cautions

* The weight is a counterweight, the more you put on it, the easier it will be. Be conservative when you first start using it (add more weight than you think you’ll need and incrementally take it off as you get the feel for it). Having a partner that can catch/spot you if need be is a good idea.

* You have to resist on the way down, at least when you’re first learning how to use it. This is one of those things that as a coach, you would think that you wouldn’t have to say but there’s always that one person that makes you realize that when you think that, you need to say it. I have seen people plant their face into the ground because they didn’t resist at all. You don’t want to be that person.

* Use it 1-3 times per week.

o If endurance in the hamstrings is what you’re looking for. For instance, if you notice when you go on long runs, bike rides, etc., your hamstrings always feel like they’re on fire or tired before anything else. Then do several (3+) sets of 20+ reps up to 100 or more. If you improve on your weight or the time it takes you to complete a set, you have gotten better and your endurance will likely improve as a result.

o If strength is your goal, low reps and high sets are the ticket. If you’re not able to hold the right positions in your Olympic lifts, sit back on your heels and pull your shins vertical during squats and deadlifts or you’re a slow runner, you probably want to improve the strength of your hamstrings. Doing 5-10 sets of 3-6 reps will help you build both size and strength in them. If you don’t want size, aim for a higher weight, less reps and less sets which equals less volume, which is a big factor in hypertrophy. Also, working up to a rep max of 1-20 reps is great for this purpose as well

o Traditional bodybuilding schemes like 4x8, 3x10, 3x12, etc. are also effective.

o You can also combine endurance, strength and hypertrophy schemes throughout the week if your sport or goals require it.

As always, ask a coach at Oregon CrossFit or someone who’s experienced in using the machine for help on how to use it effectively and about different variations of performing the movement. Do them regularly and email me your results at christian@oregoncrossfit.com or tell me in person at the box.


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