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Glute Ham Raise – The Ultimate Functional Hamstring Builder

Picture this, You walk into a gym and spot what at first glance appears to be a new back extension machine, however, a few minutes of playing around on it and you’re not even sure you know what it’s supposed to be. No, that machine isn’t just some showoff/fancy equipment and it certainly isn’t for back extensions –  It’s a glute ham raise bench that’s meant to light up your entire posterior chain.

The glute-ham raise is possibly the greatest exercise for increasing strength in your hamstrings, and bulletproofing your lower body in general. It’s a potent posterior chain exercise that increases strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance in the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.  In reality, the glute-ham raise targets nearly every muscle from the top of your back to the back of your heels, so everyone who has access to a glute-ham bench may benefit from doing it.

Furthermore, the glute-ham raise is critical for a well-rounded accessory program for power, strength, and fitness athletes because it places a high premium on those muscle groups for performance and injury prevention.

How To Do The Glute-Ham Raise

First and foremost, if you want to do this exercise with complete and proper form, then you should do it on a glute-ham machine. If you don’t have access to one, there are other viable alternatives. However, the following instructions are only for individuals who know how to use a glute ham machine/bench.

Adjust the glute-ham machine’s pad so that your quads rest on the pad and your feet are firmly placed against the toe plate. Your knees should “fall through” the area between the pad and the toe plate when you come back up for a rep. Keep in mind that resting the knees too much on the pad elevates the risk of hyperextending your knee. Push your toes into the plate and stretch your knees once the GHD is set up and you’re positioned on it. Brace your core and steadily lower your torso forward over the glute-ham machine’s edge until you’re completely horizontal. Maintain a flat lower back and allow your knees to flex and straighten naturally. To return to the starting position, imagine lifting yourself up by flexing your knees and falling back into the same space you were in before by contracting your hamstrings.

Glute-Ham Raise Benefits

Great At Developing Hamstring And Glute Strength

The glute-ham raise is one of the few exercises that isolate the hamstrings and hips without adding additional stress. While moves like the Romanian deadlift, good morning, and stiff-legged deadlift all have their place, lifters can use the glute-ham raise to increase muscle fitness and hypertrophy in the hamstring, glutes, and lower back without touching a weight. That’s crucial if you’re at risk of injury or simply want to give your joints a rest from the pounding of iron.

The glute-ham raise (when done properly) can offer such a huge overload directly to the glutes and hammies—without much lower-back strength demand—that it can serve as most people’s (irrespective of strength level) main strength move for those muscles.

Increased Lower Back Strength

The glute-ham raise is excellent at increasing lower back strength too – which works in two ways. To begin with, your lower back will not be burdened with weights, which is always a plus because heavy back squats can put a lot of strain on your spine and spinal erectors. Second, when the hamstrings and glutes are unable to keep up, the lower back may be called into action. If you’re executing a deadlift and can’t contract your hammies and buttocks in a way that allows you to raise the weights, your lower back will step in. You get the best of both worlds by developing your glutes and hamstrings while giving your lower back a break by isolating them.

Better Posture

The alignment of your spine is crucial to optimal posture. Your spine has three natural curves: one in the neck, one in the middle, and one in the lower back. These curves should be maintained, not increased, through good posture.

When it comes to appropriate posture, it takes more than just standing up straight and pulling your shoulder blades back. Yes, squeezing your shoulders back and together is a part of good posture, but your posterior chain — your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes — helps to maintain your torso straight. Rather than straining one single group, these muscles distribute mechanical tension and loading across the complete posterior chain (often the erectors).

Mistakes To Avoid And Tips

The glute-ham raise is pretty much straightforward to do, however, since it’s novel to most people, it’s quite possible to result in form issues at first. If you notice your calves cramping up, it’s an indication that you’re setting up with your upper body too much in front of the pad. Your calves are having to work more than they should to lift you back up.

At the beginning of the exercise, move the footplate further back and make sure your knees are pointing out below the bottom of the pad. Fold a towel over the hip pad or throw a rubber mat over it to add a little more heft to the pad and place your body further back if your bench doesn’t move to the proper position for you. You’ll figure that a fraction of an inch can make quite a lot of difference.

You’ll probably see some guys lowering their bodies to the point where their torso is precisely parallel to the ground. This posture shortens the range of motion slightly, but it’s also the most difficult and places you at the largest leverage disadvantage. When doing glute-ham rises for the first time, it’s a good idea to drop your body a little deeper so your hips flex; then you may utilize your stretch reflex to get out of the bottom position. This makes the lift more secure and allows you to complete more reps.

Finally, on the way up, avoid hyperextending your spine. As your hamstrings get tired, you’ll want to finish the exercise by arching your back strongly – however, remember to keep your ribs down and your core tight to avoid injury.


Rahul is a sports and performance consultant. Over the course of his 15-year career in the fitness sector, he has held positions as a strength and conditioning instructor, gym owner, and consultant. He is deeply committed to assisting people in finding happiness and feeling good about themselves. Rahul has a master's degree in exercise science and is a certified NSCA CSCS and CISSN.

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