Glutes

7 Best Glute Ham Raise Alternative Exercises & Benefits

glute ham raise alternative

Glute ham raises are the ultimate bang for your buck exercise for those of you wanting to develop posterior chain strength.  

But, there’s one significant drawback.  They’re not easy to do.  


Recommended Reading – 8 Best Dumbbell Glute Exercises For Stronger Glutes


In fact, to be able to perform a glute-ham raise with proper form you already need strong glutes, hamstrings, and lower back muscles.  

So, while this makes it a great exercise for progression, you’ll need to consider a glute ham raise alternative to build strong posterior chain muscles before trying out the glute ham developer.  

What Is The Glute Ham Raise

The glute ham raise is a bodyweight exercise performed on a piece of equipment called the glute ham developer (or GHD).  

It’s designed to load the hamstrings while recruiting the glutes and lower back muscles.  

There are a couple of reasons why people don’t incorporate the glute ham raise into their strength training program.  

glute ham raise for posterior chain

Firstly, they may not have access to a glute-ham machine in their gym.  

Many commercial gyms don’t have them as part of their equipment range and you’re more likely to find them in independent strength facilities specializing in powerlifting or weightlifting.  

Secondly, as we mentioned, they’re difficult to do.  It’s not uncommon to see people perform them with an incorrect movement pattern.  

Common mistakes when performing a glute ham raise include not moving through a full range of motion or performing more of a back extension exercise.    

This is often due to muscle imbalances and a lack of strength in the entire posterior chain.  

What Muscles Does The Glute Ham Raise Work

The glute ham raise is an excellent exercise for targeting muscles of the posterior chain, with a particular emphasis on the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. 

Here’s a breakdown of the primary muscle groups recruited:

Your glutes are made up of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus and it’s the glute max, the largest muscle in the buttocks, that is heavily engaged during the glute ham raise.  

Especially during the lifting phase when extending the hips and raising your upper body back to the starting position.

Gluteus-Maximum-Anatomy

The hamstrings, which consist of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus muscles at the back of your legs, are responsible for knee flexion and hip extension.

They are highly activated during the lowering phase of the glute ham raise and play a significant role in controlling the movement and helping to keep you stable.  

The spinal erectors are long thin muscles that run down both sides of your spine, are engaged isometrically to help you maintain a neutral spine and provide stability throughout the exercise.

Erector Spinae

The adductor magnus, located on the inner thigh, assists in hip extension during the lifting phase of the glute ham raise.

Your calf muscles are also engaged to some extent, especially during the eccentric (lowering) phase of the exercise when your lower body muscles are working hard to control the movement. 

Calf-Muscle anatomy

Best Glute Ham Raise Alternatives For Posterior Chain Strength

Now you know more about the glute ham raise and the muscles worked, let’s consider some alternative exercises that will fire up the posterior chain muscles in much the same way.  

Some of these are great for beginners and most of them can be progressed.  

The RDL is a hip hinge exercise that primarily targets the hamstrings and lower back.  

Like the glute ham raise, the RDL strengthens the hamstrings and glutes while also improving hip hinge mechanics and posterior chain strength.

romanian deadlift

How To: 

  1. Stand with your feet at a hip-width stance while holding a barbell in front of your thighs, use an overhand grip. Keep your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Retract your shoulder blades, brace your core, and maintain a slight arch to your lower back.
  3. Keeping your back straight and chest up, initiate the movement by pushing your hips back. You can allow your knees to bend slightly for a full range of motion, but keep them relatively fixed throughout the movement.
  4. Lower the barbell until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, typically when the bar reaches just below knee level. 
  5. Once you reach the bottom of the movement, reverse the motion by driving your hips forward and standing up tall. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement to help fully extend your hips.
Progression:

Start with a lighter weight and as you become stronger, try pulling heavier loads.  

Alternatively, try performing the exercise on a deficit (elevating the feet), or perform single leg RDL variations for added challenge.

The Nordic curl is one of the best alternatives to the glute ham raise as it allows for a very similar movement pattern.  

It involves kneeling on the ground and lowering your torso forward while keeping the hips extended, then using the hamstrings to pull your upper body back up to the start.  

While it’s an easier variation compared to the glute ham raise, it’s still a challenging exercise.  

Nordic curls specifically target the eccentric strength of the hamstrings, similar to the glute ham raise, making it an excellent alternative for hamstring development and injury prevention.

Another great thing about this exercise is that it can be done with minimal equipment, just grab yourself a gym mat and you’re good to go.  

How To: 

  1. Kneel on a padded surface like a mat, keeping your body upright. Your toes should be pointed behind you.  If you’re new to the exercise, ask a spotter to hold you in place by securing your ankles.  
  2. Engage your core and glutes to keep your body in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Place your hands just in front of you, so you can catch yourself as you lower down towards the floor.
  3. Begin to lean forward, leading with your hips and keeping your body in a straight line. Lower yourself as slowly and with as much control as possible.  Contract your hamstrings to resist the downward movement.
  4. Once you reach a point where you can no longer hold the descent using your hamstrings, use your hands to catch yourself. Try to go as low as possible before this happens, ideally lowering until your body is almost horizontal to the ground.
  5. Push back up slightly with your arms to help you return to the starting position, try and focus on using your hamstrings to pull yourself back up as much as you can.  
Progression:

Perform the exercise with less assistance or try and control the movement through a greater range of motion.

The glute bridge is a body weight beginner-friendly exercise that’s perfect for working the posterior chain muscles, making them a suitable alternative for those unable to perform glute ham raises.  

The primary muscles recruited are the glutes with secondary activation from your hamstrings.  

glute bridge

How To: 

  1. Lie on your back and keep your arms down by your side with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
  2. Your palms should be facing the floor for support and feet around hip-width apart. 
  3. Push your low back into the ground and maintain that position to help protect your lumbar spine. 
  4. Exhale as you push through your heels to lift your hips off the ground. 
  5. Push your hips towards the ceiling, squeezing your glutes tightly at the top of the movement. 
  6. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. 
  7. Inhale and use control to lower your hips back to the floor. 
Progression:

You can progress the exercise by looping a resistance band just above your knees.  

Alternatively, elevate your shoulders and rest them against a weight bench, place a loaded barbell across your hips and perform hip thrusts which allow for a larger range of motion and increased resistance.  

The good morning exercise closely mimics the hip hinge movement of the glute ham raise, targeting the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes.

This fantastic exercise improves flexibility and strengthens the entire posterior chain, especially your hamstring muscles.  

As the hip joint moves through a wide degree of hip flexion, with the resistance from the bar or dumbbells, this helps to increase the stretch making it one of the best ways of boosting muscle size and muscular endurance to the hamstrings.  

How To:

  1. Stand upright with either a barbell resting across your upper traps or by holding a pair of dumbbells over your shoulders. Keep a slight bend in your knees. 
  2. Engage your core muscles by drawing your belly button towards your spine. This will help stabilize your spine and protect your lower back throughout the movement.
  3. Push your hips back and allow your torso to lower towards the ground.  
  4. Continue to hinge at your hips until your torso is parallel to the ground or until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Keep your back flat and avoid rounding your spine.
  5. At the bottom of the movement, you should feel a good stretch in your hamstrings and tension in your glutes and lower back. 
  6. To return to the starting position push through your heels and push your hips forward. 

The kettlebell swing is a compound movement that targets the muscles of your posterior chain.  

It offers a lower impact option for those who may find the glute ham raise too intense or difficult to perform correctly.  

As you need minimal equipment, just a kettlebell, this makes it a good choice for home gym workouts.  

How To: 

  1. Begin by standing with your feet just past hip-width apart.  Place a kettlebell just in front of you.  
  2. Bend at your hips and knees to squat down slightly, reaching forward to grab the kettlebell handle with both hands. Your upper back should be flat, and your spine neutral.
  3. Lift the kettlebell off the ground slightly and swing it back between your legs, keeping your arms straight.
  4. Use power and momentum to drive your hips forward, straighten your legs and, swing the kettlebell up to chest height. 
  5. The motion should be driven by your hips and glutes, not your arms.
  6. Allow the kettlebell to swing back down and between your legs, hinging at the hips and slightly bending your knees as it goes back.
  7. Continue this motion, driving through your hips to swing the kettlebell upward and then controlling the swing back down between your legs.

The sumo deadlift targets the same primary muscle groups as the glute ham raise, particularly the glutes and hamstrings, but with the added benefit of engaging the adductors and entire back.  

As you need to adopt a wider stance with a more upright torso, this can be less stress on your lower back making it a good option for those with any back issues.  

sumo deadlift exercise

How To:

  1. Approach the barbell so that it is centered over your feet.
  2. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing outwards at about a 45-degree angle.
  3. Bend at the hips and knees, and grip the bar with your hands inside your legs. 
  4. Your grip should be slightly narrower than shoulder-width.  Try using either an overhand grip or a mixed grip (one hand over, one hand under).
  5. Keep your back straight and ensure your spine is in a neutral position. Your chest should be up, and your shoulders slightly back to engage your upper back muscles.
  6. Drive through your heels and straighten your legs while bringing your hips forward to lift the bar from the ground. 
  7. Keep the bar close to your body as you stand up. The power should come from your hips and legs, not your back.
  8. Reverse the movement by hinging at the hips and bending your knees to lower the bar back to the ground, maintaining a neutral spine throughout the descent.
Progression:

There are several different ways to progress a Sumo deadlift.  

You can increase the volume and weight load.  

Alternatively, try adding bands or chains for increased muscle hypertrophy.  

While the glute ham raise focuses more on the hamstrings and glutes, the reverse lunge provides a more comprehensive lower body workout that also significantly engages these areas.  

You need good balance and stability for this exercise, so it’s a great idea to start with just your body weight and then add in a pair of dumbbells once you’ve mastered the technique.  

How To:

  1. Stand upright with your feet around shoulder width apart. 
  2. Brace your core for stability. 
  3. Take a large step back with one foot while keeping the other foot in place.  You should feel a contraction in the muscles of your front leg.
  4. Bend both knees to lower your body towards the ground. Your front thigh should be parallel to the ground, and your back knee should be hovering just above the floor. 
  5. Make sure your front knee doesn’t beyond your toes to avoid stressing the knee joint. 
  6. Push through the heel of your front foot to return to the starting position. 
  7. Be sure to complete equal reps on both legs. 

How To Do The Glute Ham Raise Properly

Being able to do the glute ham raise with proper form is key to increasing your hamstring strength and preventing injury.  

Before you’re tempted to jump on the GHR machine in your gym, be sure that you’ve worked on your posterior strength with our suggested glute ham raise alternatives.  

When you’re ready, here’s how to execute the glute ham raise:

  1. Position yourself on a glute ham raise machine with your knees firmly on the pad and your feet securely anchored between the foot rollers. Adjust the footpads so that your feet are comfortably secured.  They need to hold you securely in place as you perform the exercise.  
  2. Brace your core muscles and squeeze your glutes to stabilize your body throughout the exercise. This will help maintain proper alignment and prevent your lower back from arching.  
  3. Slowly lower your upper body towards the ground by bending at the knees, maintaining a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Keep your back flat and avoid arching or rounding your spine.
  4. Lower your body as far down as you can while maintaining control and stability. Aim to lower your body until your torso is parallel to the ground or until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
  5. Once you reach the bottom position, focus on squeezing your hamstrings and glutes to lift your body back up.

Common Glute Ham Raise Mistakes to Avoid:

Avoid using momentum or swinging to lift your body back up.

This takes the emphasis off the targeted muscles and increases the risk of injury.

Ensure that you’re moving through a full range of motion, lowering your body as far down as possible while maintaining control.

Avoid cutting the movement short, as this limits the effectiveness of the exercise.  

Ask a spotter to stand in front of you, in the event of a failed movement they can help catch you. 

Keep your back flat and avoid arching or rounding your spine throughout the movement.

Engage your core muscles to maintain a neutral spine position

It’s important to focus on squeezing your glutes throughout the exercise to maximize activation of the posterior chain muscles.

Lower your body down slowly and with control to maximize muscle engagement and minimize the risk of injury.

Final Thoughts

The glute ham raise is one of the best exercises for strengthening the posterior chain muscles, improving hip and knee joint stability, and enhancing athletic performance.  

Because of these benefits, it’s a firm favorite with powerlifters as they see significant gains in their squat and deadlift numbers.

However, you don’t have to be a competitive powerlifter to enjoy the benefits.  

When you improve the strength of your hamstrings and glutes, your hip joints are much better supported.  

This in turn can help to improve your posture and alleviate common complaints like low back pain making it a worthwhile exercise to work up to.  

Before you give it a go be sure to focus your energy on improving your posterior chain strength with the glute ham raise alternatives in this article.  

That way you can perform the ghr with confidence leading to even better glute and hamstring gains.  

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