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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
March 30, 2022
The GHD, or glute-hamstring developer, is one of the best machines you can find in the gym to develop impressive glutes and hamstrings. If you've ever used one, you know how you don't need to do much to feel it working. Part of the beauty is its simplicity, as there are actually no moving parts - just pads and foot holders that allow you to manipulate your body into a position to kill your hamstrings and butt.
Unfortunately, not every gym has one of these machines. While you'll probably be able to find one in any serious strength training gym or CrossFit gym, your average commercial gym may or may not have one. However, this doesn't mean you can't still get in a killer workout for your glutes and hamstring.
Not having access to a GHD to do glute ham raises isn't going to stop you anymore, as we're going to give you the best glute ham raise alternatives to build strength and slabs of muscle to your posterior chain.
In this article, you're going to learn:
The glute-ham raise is a powerful posterior chain exercise that will train the glutes and hamstrings. However, the primary muscle targeted is definitely the hamstrings. This is because they are responsible for lifting the entire body, which means a ton of stress.
The glute-ham raise is performed by situating yourself on a Glute Ham Developer aka GHD - which is a type of machine (pictured above) - so that your thighs are located on the hip pad and your knees are just below it, and your feet are set in the foot holders. In effect, it looks like you're kneeling during the starting position. Next, you will flex your hips while allowing your body to come down. Go down as far as you can (so your upper body is parallel with the floor), and then pull yourself back up using your hamstrings.
What's unique about the glute-ham raise is that it will train the hamstrings by performing two actions; extension of the hips AND flexion of the knees. This means your hamstrings get a double dose of activation. Combine that with the fact you're lifting the entire weight of your body. Now you know why it's such a great hamstring workout. At the same time, the glutes will also be involved in hip extension, but most of the activation will come from isometric contraction.
If this piqued your interest in glute ham developers then you shouldn't miss our post covering the Best GHD Machines on the market today.
We have compiled an incredible list of the best exercises to use instead of glute ham raises. These exercises will all target the hamstrings and glutes to varying degrees. When choosing these exercises, we looked for movements that trained the glutes and hamstrings in a very similar manner as glute ham raises, such as this first one…
The Nordic ham curl is the first glute-ham raise alternative due to how similar the movement is. It basically looks like a glute-ham raise performed on the ground rather than using a GHD, and it feels like it too - actually, it feels even harder. The nordic curl is notorious for being one of the most challenging bodyweight exercises there is (but there are exercise regressions for it).
The Nordic ham curl consists of simply kneeling on the ground with your feet anchored, then lowering your body down to the floor while maintaining an extended torso. If the trainee has the strength, they can pull themselves back up to the starting position by flexing the knee with their hamstrings (this is a lot easier than it sounds).
While this exercise seems simple, it's extremely difficult to do, and most trainees only train the eccentric portion of the movement. That is, they focus on completing slow negatives in which they lower their body as slow as they can until they're no longer able to hold anymore; they then drop to the floor, catching themselves with their hands.
Again, there are simpler versions of this movement, with the main option being to use your hands to hold onto some sort of object to help lower yourself down. A resistance band can be used to assist with Nordic curls.
The only downside is that the set-up can be cumbersome. The easiest method is to have a partner hold your ankles as you perform the movement. If you train alone, you can set up an apparatus to hold your ankles. Many trainees will use the Smith Machine and set the bar low to "hook" the ankles.
Regardless of what method you choose, you can be sure your hamstrings will never feel the same again. The Nordic curl might just be the single best glute-ham raise alternative.
Related: Complete Guide to Nordic Ham Curls
A reverse hyperextension, simply known as a "reverse hyper," was made famous by the infamous Louie Simmons and his Westside Barbell Club. Louie swears this is the single best exercise to train the entire posterior chain for strength and injury prevention, and he may just be right. There are countless testimonials of the "magic" that occurs once someone starts including reverse hypers in their training regularly. That's why we believe you should be performing this exercise, either as an alternative to the glute-ham raise or by itself. It's that awesome.
A reverse hyper basically involves you leaning over some type of object so that your upper torso is supported by while your lower torso can hang freely. You can use special reverse hyper machines, but finding these in a "normal" gym is rare. Therefore, you can also use a high box, a bench heightened by stacks of plates, or a GHD.
Regardless of what equipment you use, the set-up and instruction are relatively the same. You will situate your body on top of the implement so that the crease of the object sits just in front of your hips. This will ensure a maximal and free range of motion.
Next, you're going to lower your legs all the way down. Depending on the object's height you're using, you may need to bend your knees to keep your feet from hitting the ground. At this point, there are two ways to extend your body.
While you are extending your hips and bringing your legs up, you want to be sure to pull your torso in tight to the object. This will minimize the activation of your core muscles which includes your erector spinae or lower back. In turn, you will enhance the activation of your glutes and hamstrings during this movement. Using your hands to grip the bench/handles tightly will help with this.
Reverse hypers are fantastic and can be used for a variety of goals; strength, hypertrophy, injury prevention, and rehab. While bodyweight will be sufficient for beginners, you can easily apply a load by using a powerband or holding a small object with the feet, such as a small dumbbell. If you have access to a reverse hyper, you can simply load the machine. Whatever you choose, this glute-ham raise alternative is sure to do the trick.
Related: Complete Guide to Reverse Hypers
Another fantastic exercise to train the posterior chain with nothing but the body; well, almost. This exercise simply requires some sort of stability ball. The stability ball leg curl differs from the glute ham raise, which utilizes stationary legs to pull a moving upper body. The stability ball leg curl is the opposite, it depends on a stationary body to pull the legs closer.
To perform this exercise, you will need a stability ball and a mat to lay on if you're training somewhere with a dirty floor. Lay the mat down, lay on your back, and place the ball near your feet. Elevate your legs so your heels are resting on the ball and your back is on the ground. Next, pull your heels down to extend your hips and elevate your body off the ground.
With hips fully extended, drive your heels into the ball hard.. This will cause you to flex your knees and roll the ball towards your body. Flex your knees as far as you can go, which should be until the ball gets relatively close to your butt. Give your hamstrings and glutes a nice squeeze, and then let the ball roll back out away from your body with control. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Don't let the “stability ball” scare you away from this exercise by thinking it's too easy. It's a seriously hardcore movement that will challenge trainees of all levels. The biggest cue to remember is to drive your heels into the ball the entire time. This will ensure you are getting maximal activation of your posterior muscles.
The hack squat is one of the best machine-based exercises to train your legs. It's notorious for being able to target your quads with a heavy load for massive strength and muscle gains. However, an excellent glute-ham raise alternative doesn't hit the quads; it hits the hamstrings. No problem…just turn around!
The regular hack squat is performed on a machine with a sliding sled that you rest your back on. You then place your feet on the platform and squat away. As there's significant knee flexion and minimal hip flexion, your quads do the brunt of the work. Therefore, we want to turn around and stand on the platform to face the sled/back rest in order to allow hip flexion for activation of the posterior muscles. This is known as the reverse hack squat and they’re awesome!
You will still place your shoulders under the shoulder pads so that you're looking straight at the pad. You will want to push your hips backward to cause significant hip flexion to initiate the movement. This movement looks quite similar to a Romanian deadlift except exaggerated and with more squat. Since your body can't come forward due to the sled, your hips will need to push further back.
Continue coming down while maintaining a straight back. Once you reach a point where you can no longer continue descending, extend your torso by pushing your hips forwards. Really focus on pushing your hips through.
Due to the extreme hip flexion and heavy loads, the reverse hack squat is a fantastic exercise to use as a glute-ham raise alternative. As this is a bigger movement, you can choose to use this for strength building or muscle growth.
We just talked about the Romanian deadlift above, so we're now going to talk about why it also makes an awesome alternative to the glute-ham raise. With all of its variations, the deadlift is the epitome of hip hinge movements. While the conventional deadlift definitely trains the posterior muscles, we chose the Romanian deadlift due to its ability to isolate the hamstrings and glutes to a greater extent. When comparing the Romanian deadlift to the conventional deadlift, the Romanian deadlift has significantly less knee flexion. This means that the quadriceps have a smaller role in the movement, so the hamstrings will need to compensate, and they do!
Dumbbells or a barbell both work great for the Romanian deadlift, and the form is relatively the same when it comes to using a dumbbell or barbell. That being said, barbells tend to work better when using heavier loads for strength training, while dumbbells are great for lighter weight to produce a lot of volume for hypertrophy.
Let's go over the form. Pay attention as the way you do the Romanian deadlift will have a massive effect on muscle activation.
Set up the barbell or dumbbells, whichever one you'd like to use. When using a barbell, we like to set up low j-hooks to rack the barbell so that we don't have to bend down all the way to pick up the barbell. While that may seem lazy, the Romanian deadlift generally comes after one or two big compound exercises such as deadlifts or squats. Your muscles are already tired, so limiting that last foot or so can make a huge difference. Or you could lift from the ground too.
Stand up with your load and keep a slightly narrow stance. Generally, a lifter's feet will be somewhat less than hip-width apart during the exercise. One reason is this will make you "taller" and increase the range of motion. It will also ensure your legs are straight up and down to get an appropriate stretch. Initiate the movement by flexing your knees slightly, and we do mean slightly! One of the biggest mistakes with the Romanian deadlift is people allowing way too much flexion in their knees (in other words, bending their knees too much). All this does is recruit the quadriceps as they must flex to extend the legs. Therefore, keep the knee flexion just enough to allow yourself to go down.
While pushing your hips back, let your torso drop down in front of you. When letting your arms hang, the load should hang just in front of your legs. Continue going down but focus on building tension in your glutes and hamstrings. Your muscles should get tight, real tight. However, do not bend your knees to alleviate this! You want to load your hamstrings so don't bend your knees.
As you go down, you want to maintain a stiff back that's straight with the scapula pulled back. Continue going until you feel this form is about to break. You will eventually hit a point where your back will begin to bend and your shoulder will roll forward if you keep going. Stop before this point. And remember that there is no mandatory depth as it will depend on the mobility and flexibility of your hamstrings. That being said, most people will be somewhere around ⅓ of the way past the knee.
Once you've hit your max depth, drive your hips forward to pull your body up. Again, this is a must-do exercise, whether it's as a glute-ham raise alternative or just because you want to build some serious posterior muscles.
Related: Complete Guide to Romanian Deadlift
While the Romanian deadlift is enough to train the hamstrings and deadlift, we can make a minor tweak to make it perhaps an even better exercise. That's why we're also including the dumbbell split stance Romanian deadlift on this list of glute-ham raise alternatives.
For this variation, you may want to use a pair of dumbbells as your leg could get in the way of a barbell. However, some will still use a barbell, so you'll need to make that decision after experimenting. Pick up your load and then stand with a split stance. This means your front leg will be slightly in front of you, and your back leg will be stepped back. You will then perform a Romanian deadlift in a very similar manner as with a normal stance. However, because your feet are split, your forward leg will receive a significantly higher amount of stretch when you come down. Further, it will play a larger role in the actual exercise. This makes the dumbbell split stance Romanian deadlift an even better exercise at isolating the hamstrings.
In the same vein as Romanian deadlifts, the good morning exercise pushes the role of the hamstrings one step forward. Whereas the Romanian deadlift has minimal knee flexion, the good morning has zero knee flexion. This means there is basically zero involvement from the quadriceps making the hamstrings and glutes 100% responsible for pulling the torso up; precisely what you need in a glute-ham raise alternative.
In fact, the straight-leg deadlift and good morning are virtually the same exercises. The only difference is that with the straight deadlift, you hold a load out in front of you; with the good morning, the load (generally a barbell) rests on your shoulders.
Choose an appropriate load to use on a barbell and unrack it so it's sitting on your upper back, similar to where you would hold a barbell during a barbell back squat. Stand with a hip-width stance and begin the movement by bending forward, allowing your hips to come back slightly but do not bend the knees. Letting your hips come back will allow greater mobility and range of motion while only incorporating the posterior muscles when pulling the torso up.
Keeping a straight back, allow your torso to come down. Do this slowly and concentrate on loading your hamstrings; you should feel this more in your hammies than even the Romanian deadlift! Again, come down until you feel your form is about to break. To come up, think about pulling your hips to extend the hips to neutral.
When choosing between the Romanian deadlift and good morning...do both! However, they are similar enough, so you don't need to do them on the same day. Make note that the Romanian deadlift would work better with heavier loads for strength training (but you can still use it for hypertrophy too!), while the good morning is almost always used with lighter loads for hypertrophy training.
Related: Complete Guide to Good Mornings
Back to some good ol' bodyweight leg exercises. Heel slider leg curls are very similar to the stability ball leg curl, except now your feet stay on the ground. To perform these, you'll need solid floor and foot sliders, little pads that you can place your feet on that will slide across the floor. Depending on how slippery your floor is, if you don't have sliders, you could also possibly use a towel or even just your socks.
This movement is pretty easy to describe but surprisingly tough to perform. Lay flat with your back on the ground. Place the sliders under your heels and drive your heels into them. When ready, continue driving your heels into the ground and pull your legs toward your body. This will pull your body up into the air as you do so. Continue pulling until your shins are almost vertical. Give your hamstrings and glutes a little squeeze, and then let them slide forward.
A fantastic glute-ham raise alternative which makes a perfect exercise to use in a home leg workout!
Glute bridge walkouts are another glute-ham raise alternative that can be done in a home workout; except for this movement, you really need nothing but your body! Further, this is a great exercise to use for beginners as the load is relatively light (but it's still challenging enough).
Lay on your back so that your back is planted on the ground and your knees are bent and your shins vertical to the ground. Next, you will simply walk your feet out with small steps until your legs are almost extended (knees still bent at the end range). The maximum length is up to you, but the difficulty will increase the farther you go out. Next, you will simply walk your feet back in with small steps. Simple.
To make this move more challenging, shorten the steps you take so that one rep includes more. Regardless, this is a great exercise to use when you first start venturing into this world of exercises. Still, it also makes an excellent warm-up for the advanced lifter.
The last glute-ham raise alternative is the classic hip thrust. However, to further isolate the hamstrings (since we are looking at glute ham raise alternatives after all), you will place your feet farther forward when you perform the movement. This effectively requires you to pull with your hamstrings to extend your hips, thus creating greater activation.
Set-up a hip thrust in exactly the same way you would normally by using a bench to push your back against. The only difference is that you will want your feet farther forward. Usually, when you do a barbell hip thrust, your shins will be vertical when at the top position. With the hamstring-centric version, you want your shins to actually be angled away. This will be what causes you to pull more with your hamstrings. You still want to pull until your body is fully extended then pause, give your glutes a squeeze and then lower the barbell down.
Related: Complete Guide to Hip Thrusts
Take your pick from any of the above glute-ham raise alternatives, and you're going to definitely give your hamstrings and glutes an excellent workout. Also, notice how we provided you a mix of exercises to use with a lighter load and exercises to use with a heavier load. This is because we want you to have the availability to train both strength and hypertrophy to create some big strong hammies.
Related: 23 All-Time Best Hamstring Exercises
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