Hamstrings are as large as they can be limiting. Running the length of the thigh from the back of the knee to the hip, the stringy muscles and tendons are engaged in bending the knee and straightening the hip, relied upon heavily for any movement involving power and speed.

With each running stride or jump, the strain on the hamstring is considerable and, if insufficiently prepared, they will buckle beneath it, a pull or tear being the painful consequence.

Statistics show that hamstring strains are the most common non-contact injury in elite sport and, for athletes in all events, hamstring protection is paramount. Yet it remains a neglected focus for some. “It’s very overlooked for many athletes,” says physiotherapist Philip Coleman of the Running Physio clinic in Newbury.

“In sports like football, where hamstring injuries are rife, it has become a prime area of attention in training, but while many sprinters do have adequate hamstring-strengthening programmes, others don’t. And many distance runners think they are immune from tears, which is completely wrong.”

Power of the Nordic curl

What, then, should we be doing to power up the mass of muscle and tendons at the back of the legs? If there is one exercise that is touted as a hamstring savior over any other, it is the Nordic curl.

Professional football clubs have invested thousands of pounds in equipment designed to help players execute this simple strengthening move correctly and sports scientists have devoted more research time to it than any other lower-limb exercise.

“It is not a new exercise, but has really come into prominence over the last few years as its value has been better understood,” says Sammy Margo, a spokesperson for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. “We now know that it can be hugely important in preventing hamstring injuries if it is done in a considered and graded way.”

How to do the Nordic Curl

Kneel on the ground, with someone sitting behind to hold your ankles. As slowly and smoothly as possible, lean forward so that your chest approaches the ground.

Use your hamstrings to control your forward momentum until you can no longer resist gravity. Put out your arms at that point to halt your fall.

When your chest touches the ground, push yourself upright to repeat the exercise initially 8-12 times.

This article was first published in Athletics Weekly. For more of the latest running and athletics news, plus performance features and much more, grab a copy of the magazine or check out www.athleticsweekly.com