The Glute Ham Raise: Your Key to Stronger Hamstrings

There’s a common denominator between strong deadlifts, squats, Olympic lifts, sprint speed, jumping, and athletic performance. This denominator is strong hamstrings.

The hamstrings are composed of three major muscles and these are the semimebranosous (SM), semitendinosus (ST), and biceps femoris (BF). When any of these are weak or there’s an imbalance present, then we put our body at risk of injury. Also, there’s a decrease in sport performance and strength when hamstrings are lacking.

When it comes to strengthening the hamstrings there are a few lifts that offer more benefit than others. Two of these lifts are the Romanian deadlift (RDL) and the glute ham raise (GHR). These exercises provide the highest electromyography (EMG) ratings, in other words, the highest muscle activation. Today we’re going to dive into the glute ham raise and their benefits.

RDL photo from J2FIT Human Performance YouTube page. 

Glute Ham Raise

The glute ham raise is a closed-kinetic chain exercise. A unique aspect of the GHR is how it targets the hamstrings at both the hip and knee joints when performed with full range of motion (ROM). In addition to hitting each aspect of the hamstrings, the GHR actively targets the glutes, gastrocnemius, and lower back.

EMG

A study published in 2014 analyzed EMG ratings in 12 healthy, weight-trained males for the glute ham raise, good morning, RDL, and prone leg curl. Researchers found that both the RDL and GHR provided the highest EMG ratings.

The GHR and RDL both maximized biceps femoris activation. In the concentric (upward) portion of the movement, the GHR showed the highest EMG ratings for the semimembranosous and semitendinosus, when compared to the other three lifts. When it came to the eccentric (downward) portion, the glute ham raise provided a high EMG, but followed closely behind the good morning and RDL.

Benefits

  • Allow you to focus on loading the hamstrings both concentric and eccentrically
  • Excellent method to improve the stretch-shortening cycle
  • Great for hamstring hypertrophy (size) at both the knee and hip joint
  • Help improve sprint speed and jump capabilities
  • Good for those with back issues, as the GHR doesn’t place a ton of stress on the lower back
  • Injury prevention at the knee joint by promoting medial hamstring strength, which can help inhibit knee valgus (knee knocking)
  • Improve range of motion of hamstrings

Things to Remember

An issue with the GHR is how tough it is for some to perform. You need good mobility, plus strong hamstrings. This being said, there are a few things to remember when performing them properly.

  • Don’t break at the hip during concentric portion (upward motion)
    • A common mistake I see athletes make is bending at the hip to assist themselves in the concentric portion. This takes away a lot of the work you’re trying to put on the hamstrings.
  • Work to achieve full range of motion
    • If you have tight hamstrings, then GHRs can be a grind and a bit painful. Work to achieve a little more range of motion with each lift and set.
  • Drive your hips through the pad
    • This will ensure you’re not bending at the hip, but also activating the glutes during both the eccentric and concentric portion.

  • Keep an eye on lower back hyper extension
    • Another common mistake is extending the back a ton to help with the movement. This puts extra unneeded stress on the lower back.
  • Maintain neutral head position
    • The head weighs around 15lbs, arching or craning the neck to assist during the upward motion takes stress and work away from the lift.

Final Word

The glute ham raise is a great way to build the hamstrings and can be a useful staple in any workout program. It’s a tougher movement, but with enough patience and hard work it can be achieved. Your hamstrings will grow and your lifts/athletic performance will thank you.

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Jake holds a Master's in Sports Science and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as one of the full time writers and editors at BarBend. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand. As of right now, Jake has published over 1,100 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake's bread-and-butter. On top of his personal writing, Jake edits and plans content for 15 writers and strength coaches who come from every strength sport.Prior to BarBend, Jake worked for two years as a strength and conditioning coach for hockey and lacrosse players, and was a writer at the Vitamin Shoppe's corporate office. Jake regularly competes in powerlifting in the 181 lb weight class, and considers himself a weightlifting shoe sneaker head. On the side of writing full time, Jake works as a part-time strength coach and works with clients through his personal business Concrete Athletics in Hoboken and New York City.