Understanding The Study: Romanian Chair Better than Nordics in Building Hamstring Strength?
On the surface, this study seems to demonstrate how the Isometric Romanian Chair Hold is vastly superior to the Nordic when it comes to developing hamstring strength. For this reason, many will blindly scrap all other hamstring methods for this far superior method.
The problem? This study doesn’t show that at all.
In no way am I refuting the study. I want to show how we take it in context, and use the data to better inform our approaches with our athletes. I will discuss 4 areas of this study that were interesting to me followed by my 5 biggest take-aways.
- This study is on athletes with history of hamstring injury, so they are likely looking at a pretty sizable strength or confidence imbalance. It really is all about context. Let’s always make sure to never read context out of the research.
- The method of testing hamstring strength was a max rep hamstring bridge. A hamstring bridge is typically done with a relatively straight leg. What we know about isometric training is that there is good strength carryover within roughly 10-20 degrees, so it is not surprising to see how the isometric Romanian chair would help strengthen in that position. The danger of looking at this as some sort of final word on hamstring strength (which I’m sure it’s not intended to be) is that we need to see translation to a fuller range of flexion.
- The Romanian Chair is an isometric, unilateral exercise while the nordic is a bilateral eccentric exercise. Again, it’s awesome to see the benefit of isometrics in this particular range – which I touched on earlier. In addition, the nature of the exercise being unilateral translates better to the testing through specificity. It didn’t surprise me at all that the healthy hamstring actually lost some strength during the eccentric nordics. Why? The athlete’s healthy hamstring is going to be limited by the affected hamstring. I see this as a potentially cool way to restore a semblance of strength symmetry once a rehab or strength protocol brings the weaker leg up to good strength. But, we know eccentrics are HUGE strength builders. What gives? Well, Nordics stress the hamstring starting in knee flexion – moving into extension before the athlete typically falls to the ground as they get closer to knee extension. It would make sense that most of the strength gains would come in the middle of the movement, but with the test being closer to knee extension than flexion, one can see how the Nordic would potentially yield lackluster results. For this reason, the study does a great job to show that there is a hole in most rehab that chooses eccentric nordics (which is pretty mainstream). The fact that we are looking at an isometric is also an important note. Isometrics improve capillary density, neural drive and bias stress toward the tendon – especially in this less than advantageous joint angle. If the injury occurred around the Myotendonous junction, then the simple idea of employing an isometric is far more enticing.
- The periodization of the Romanian Chair was progressively overloaded while the Nordic was simply a volume increase. This is where many coaches get into trouble when reading research. They don’t actually look at the methods. It should be obvious that the progressively overloaded exercise would yield greater strength returns, so I suppose the point to look at is how strength endurance gained from the Romanian Chair outpaced the added volume of the Nordics. To me, this too is attributable to the progressive overload. As we’ve seen many times, simply increasing strength provides more strength enduring when handling previous, submaximal loads. In our NFL Combine training, Kyle Kleeman got great results from Emeke Egbule in an 8-week span on the bench press test simply by increasing his 1RM (he went from 8 reps to 22 reps). In the study, the Romanian Chair also had variance. They included a row later in the progression while the Nordics only increased in volume. Variance is HUGE.
Now, here are my 5 takeaways:
- Isometrics are still massively under-appreciated in strength and conditioning. Eccentrics are great for mass, extensibility and strength, but isometrics can be just as – if not more – effective in certain situations.
- Nordics are great. Including them in programming has been shown to decrease injury risk across sports by up to 50%… but they’re not magic. There are better ways to strengthen further toward knee extension which relates closely to joint angles of max velocity sprinting.
- Use variations throughout your periodization. If it’s an athlete returning from an injury, look into single-leg variations. Otherwise, the athlete will compensate.
- Switch to bilateral variations once single-leg strength levels are good on the lagging side. This will help the athlete regain strength symmetry. Sure, some strength will be lost on the stronger side. Once a relative strength symmetry is achieved? VARIANCE.
- When possible, increase load for strength endurance rather than volume.
At the end of the day, this will affect the way I program. I’ve never claimed to know everything. I’ve got no pride in this. I thought about things reading this study that I had never considered, and I am better for that.
Don’t just read research and blindly accept the attention grabber. Look at context, method, etc., compare to other research, and if there are seeming conflicts ask why. Having done that, I will be able to better assist our athletes, and THAT is all that matters.