Cross-sectional Study of EMG and EMG Rise During Fast and Slow Hamstring Exercises

Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2021 Aug 1;16(4):1033-1042. doi: 10.26603/001c.25364. eCollection 2021.


Background: Hamstring injuries remain a major burden in football while the effective prevention exercise the Nordic Hamstring is poorly adopted, despite the added positive effects on performance. Better understanding of hamstring function during Nordic Hamstring compared to other exercises may provide better insight to the physiological adaptations of different types of hamstring curls.

Purpose: This cross-sectional study therefore aimed to compare the Nordic Hamstring curl with a conventional prone Leg Curl at different loads, and novel high velocity Hamstring Catches; in terms of peak normalized electromyographical activity (nEMG) and rate of electromyographic rise (RER) of Biceps Femoris long head, and angular velocity of the knee.

Study design: Cross-sectional study.

Methods: Out of 28 participants enrolled, the final sample included 23 recreationally active male participants who attended a session for determining RM (repetition maximum) to establish loading (8 and 16RM for Hamstring Catches, and 8, 16 and 24RM for Leg Curl) and to familiarize themselves with the three different exercises (Nordic Hamstring, Leg Curl and Hamstring Catch), and a testing session >4 days after during which EMG data were collected during 3 repetitions of each exercise performed in a random order.

Results: The Nordic Hamstring evoked higher RER (1091.8 nEMG/s) than Hamstring Catches (mean difference: 421 nEMG/s, p<0.0001) and Leg Curl (mean difference: 705 nEMG/s, p<0.001), and at the earliest numerical timepoint from onset of muscle contraction (the Nordic Hamstring: 6 ms; Hamstring Catches: 36-41 ms; Leg Curl: 12-14 ms). Hamstring Catches displayed high peak angular velocity (mean: 471°/s). There was no difference in peak nEMG, irrespective of load for Leg Curl (8, 16 or 24RM) or Hamstring Catches (8- or 16RM).

Conclusion: The Nordic Hamstring displayed the highest level muscle activity and most explosive recruitment characteristics with early and high rate of electromyographic rise, compared to even high velocity exercises, thus providing a possible mechanism by which it may increase performance and reduce injuries.

Levels of evidence: 3.

What is known about the subject: Early phase force and muscle recruitment have been linked to both performance and hamstring-related inhibition and fatiguability. However, the potential for different hamstring exercises to elicit explosive recruitment is unknown.

What this study adds to existing knowledge: Early phase recruitment was higher and faster during the Nordic Hamstring exercise compared with conventional hamstring Leg Curl exercises with different loads and a high-velocity hamstring exercise.

Clinical relevance: The surprisingly fast and explosive recruitment characteristics during the Nordic Hamstring exercise suggests the possibility that this exercise have the potential to improve the rate of force development and perhaps counter the effects of hamstring-related inhibition and fatigue.

Keywords: electromyography; hamstring catches; hamstring strain injuries; leg curl; nordic hamstring; rate of emg rise.