The Glute Ham Raise, or GHR, is an elusive exercise for most athletes in the gym.  Here at Crossfit Ironborough it is programmed on the Glute Ham Development machine almost weekly as extra credit after the daily workout. It is also a movement that is skipped over by most athletes, even the dedicated extra credit warriors.  I do not blame you!  It takes an incredible amount of strength in the posterior chain and often leaves those who attempt it with that lovely “charley horse” tightness in the calf area.  The guide that follows is a roadmap on how to acquire this movement for yourselves and add it into your weekly repertoire of strength exercises.  As with any exercise we practice in the gym, we must first understand the movement itself.

The GRH, broken down

The GHR is one of the best movements you can do to strengthen the hamstrings, gluteal muscles, low back, and spinal erectors.  What makes it more effective (and more difficult) than most posterior chain exercises  is that it builds kinesthetic awareness in the trunk.  This term refers to being aware of one’s own body, specifically here being able to control the core muscles in trunk flexion and extension.  Having control over trunk flexion and extension is key in acquiring butterfly pull-ups, being more explosive in the olympic lifts, and having better running form.  The GHR will help improve ALL of these.

Progression #1

If the GHR is not in your arsenal, then here is a great place to start.  Progression #1 is the lying hip bridge.  This exercise strengthens all of the same muscles as the GHR, and the good news is anyone can do it anywhere, without any equipment.  

How to do it:

  • Lie down on the floor with your feet flat on the ground, knees bent past 90 degrees.  
  • Press through the heels and extend your hips towards the sky

Checklist:

  • Squeeze your butt at the top of the movement
  • Drive upwards quickly, and lower the hips slowly (up fast, down slow)
  • Do not press down with your arms for assistance.  The movement should come from the hip

Variation:

  • Legs straight, feet up on bench
  • Isometric hold at hip extension
  • Weighted hip bridge
  • Single leg hip bridge

Progression #2

The second progression will mimic the exact movement of the GHR.  This time you need two things: a partner and a knee pad for support.  The partner who is completing the exercise will kneel on the pad with the second partner holding down his or her ankles.  From here, lower yourself down as slowly as possible.  When you get close to the floor, or feel like you may fall, then “catch” yourself with your hands.  To finish the move, flex at the knee and pull yourself upwards.  The good part about this move is that you can use your arms for assistance on the way up, like a push-up.

 

How to do it:

  • Partner A kneels on the knee pad while partner B holds down his or her ankles.
  • Partner A slowly lowers down towards the floor by extending the knee as partner B holds down the ankles
  • Flex at the knee and use your hamstrings to pull yourself upwards.  Use the hands for support.  

Checklist:

  • Keep the hip and shoulder in one line.   Do not bend or break at the hip.  
  • Keep feet flat on the floor.

Progression #3

Progression #3 is the back extension.  This movement is tough, but much easier to attain than the GHR.  it is performed on the GHD machine and is the prerequisite exercise for the GHR.  This movement is very similar to a stiff legged deadlift.

 

How to do it:

  • Insert your ankles into the GHD machine and place your feet on the footpad

  • Lay face down with knees extended and thighs resting on the pad

  • Keeping a flat back, slowly lower the chest and trunk down towards the floor (trunk flexion)

  • Extend the trunk and squeeze your butt at the top, rising into what will look like a face down plank (trunk extension).  

Variations:

  • Use the Sorensens Hold as an isometric strength builder for the posterior chain, and as a way to challenge your training partner!  Simply hold the top of the back extension, like a face down plank, for :30 to :60 seconds at a time.  Repeat for 3 total sets.  

Progression #4

This is a fun one ladies and gents.  The TRX hamstring curl is an excellent way to balance out your leg strength ratios, as well as work on stability in the lower extremity.  If you see GHRs programmed and you have all of the above exercises in your arsenal, then give these a try!

 

How to do it:

  • Set the TRX trainer so that the Progression #3

Progression #3 is the back extension.  This movement is tough, but much easier to attain than the GHR.  it is performed on the GHD machine and is the prerequisite exercise for the GHR.  This movement is very similar to a stiff legged deadlift.  

 

How to do it:

 

  • Insert your ankles into the GHD machine and place your feet on the footpad

  • Lay face down with knees extended and thighs resting on the pad

  • Keeping a flat back, slowly lower the chest and trunk down towards the floor (trunk flexion)

  • Extend the trunk and squeeze your butt at the top, rising into what will look like a face down plank (trunk extension).  

Variations:

 

  • Use the Sorensens Hold as an isometric strength builder for the posterior chain, and as a way to challenge your training partner!  Simply hold the top of the back extension, like a face down plank, for :30 to :60 seconds at a time.  Repeat for 3 total sets.  

  • handles are roughly six to eight inches off of the floor

  • Put your heels into the handles of the TRX trainer, and lie back face up

  • Perform a hip bridge exercise to raise your hips up off of the floor.  Hold this position throughout the movement

  • While your hips are raised, curl your heels towards your butt slowly, and uncurl them away from your butt slowly.  That’s 1 rep.  

Variations:

  • You can also simply raise and lower the hips and use the TRX for hip bridges

Progression #5

If the exercises above are accessible to you, then it is time to give the GHR a try.  Use this final progression to scale the actual movement until you are strong enough to perform it without assistance.  

How to do it:

  • Secure a band around the foot plate of the GHD machine.

  • Wrap the band around your shoulders like the shoulder straps of a back pack.

  • The thicker the band the easier the exercise becomes.

Variation:

  • Without using a band, lower yourself down in a GHR only until you reach a point where you can flex at the knee and return to the top.  

  • Try this! Have a partner stand in front of the GHR and use their shoulders to push back to the return position.  

Brian Graves

Brian Graves

Coach at CrossFit Ironborough
Brian Graves