Many exercises strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back as a unit, but one exercise often gets overlooked: the glute-hamtring raise.
The beauty of the glute hamstring raise, aka glute ham raise or GHR, lies in isometric glute contraction and the controlled eccentric muscle contraction. That’s a whole lot of muscle-building posterior tension for a body-weight exercise.
Glute ham raise is one of a few exercises that performs multiple functions:
Builds muscle: Check.
Improves performance: Check.
Reduces hamstring injury risk: Check.
The glute ham raise checks many boxes, and if you have access to this equipment at your local gym, it’s definitely one exercise you should insert into your routine. Here, we’ll dive into everything glute ham raises for your posterior gains.
What is the Glute-Ham Raise
At first glance, the GHR machine looks like a medieval torture device, specifically for your glutes and hamstrings. It has a pad and plate where you secure your feet and a semi-circular pad where you secure your thighs. You keep your knee flexed and glutes locked in as you slowly lower your upper body, focusing on the eccentric strength of your glutes and hamstrings. Then, you pull yourself up using the same muscles.
It might look easy, but wait until you do it.
- Adjust the machine so your feet are secure and you can press back against the backboard when required.
- Ensure your thighs are secure on the middle of the pad and the knees are slightly below it.
- Your knees need to be at a 90-degree angle, engage your glutes, and get your chest up, shoulders down, and arms folded across your body.
- Push your toes and feet into the backboard while slowly extending the knees.
- Lower your upper body until you’re horizontal to the ground.
- Pull back to the upright torso by contracting your glutes and hamstrings.
- Reset and repeat for desired reps.
Muscles Trained By the Glute Ham Raise Exercise
It is given away in the exercise title, but a few more muscle groups are involved than meets the eye. Here are the muscles trained by the glute-ham raise.
- Lower Back: The three lower back muscles keep the spine neutral so the larger muscles can do their job.
- Hamstrings: The GHR differs from many hamstring exercises because it trains the two primary hamstring functions: knee flexion and hip extension.
- Glutes: The GHR covers all the glute bases. The glutes are trained isometrically to keep your spine neutral. Eccentrically, along with the hammies, they lower your torso. Concentrically, the glutes work to extend your hips to pull back you to the upright position.
- Calves: This calf muscle crosses both the ankle and knee joint to assist with knee flexion, and plantar flexes the foot to ensure the glutes and hamstrings are engaged correctly.
4 Glute Hamstring Raise Benefits
The GHR provides, when performed well, fantastic muscle tension for the glutes and hamstrings that gives you that baby-got-back look. But it also has performance and health benefits, which are listed below.
- Better Posture: Your upper back muscles get all the love regarding posture but don’t forget about the lower body. The length and strength of your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings are vital in supporting the torso position.
- Lower-Back Friendly: Barbell exercises like squats, deadlifts, and good mornings are fantastic for the glutes and hamstrings. As great as they are for the lower back, they put a compressive load on the spine. And if your lower back is hurting, you want to avoid putting excessive load on the spine. Many great exercises for the glutes and hamstring involve the barbell. But if you’re lower back is flipping you the bird, you can hit the glutes and hammies hard with the GHR exercise without stress on your lower back.
- Reduces Hamstring Strains: Hamstrings don’t strain concentrically when you flex the knee but eccentrically when you extend the knee. The GHR focuses on eccentric contraction, increasing eccentric hamstring strength, which has been shown to lower the risk of hamstring strains.
- Posterior Of Steel: The GHR puts the glutes, hamstrings, and lower muscles through a more extensive ROM and provides a stretch during the eccentric contraction before the concentric contraction. Exercises with a large ROM, like the GHR, are great for building muscle.
Top 3 Common Glute Hamstring Raise Mistakes
Let’s not get too nitpicky in terms of proper form, but you need to avoid the big rocks to get the best out of this exercise.
Avoid Breaking At The Hips
At the end of the eccentric contraction, when you’re parallel to the floor, the hip tends to move first or backward before anything else moves. Prevent this by locking in your glutes before the concentric contraction so your hamstrings can work to flex the knee and extend the hips.
Pay Attention To Your Set-Up
Like you cannot just bend down and rip a barbell from the ground, the GHR requires a little preparation to perform well. First, ensure the quads are secured against the pad, and your knees are just off the pad. Your knees on the pad will lessen the ROM and aggravate achy knees. Two, ensure your feet are adequately secured against the backboard and pad because you must push against this during the concentric contraction.
Avoiding Low Back Hyperextension
Keeping your spine neutral from head to butt is needed to get the best out of the GHR. If you finish with a lower back hyperextension instead of a glute contraction, then some muscle-building benefits go bye-bye. If you’re not feeling your glutes at lockout, something is amiss.
Glute Ham Raise Programming Suggestions
There are exercises better designed for absolute strength, like the barbell deadlift and squat, and other exercises designed to add muscle and sore up weak spots. Guess where the GHR falls? Because no one cares about your GHR one-rep max.
Building Muscle Suggestion
As always, the key to building muscle is to focus on muscle contraction and ensure adequate time under tension to progressively overload your posterior. Perform three to five sets of six to 12 repetitions, resting 2 minutes or more between sets. If you can perform 10-12 reps well without load, add resistance to further your glute gains.
Muscle Endurance Suggestion
Training for muscular endurance means fewer sets and rest and more reps. When it’s your goal to really feel the burn, two to three sets of 15 to 20 reps, resting around 60 to 90 seconds between sets, is a great start.