Glute Ham Raise vs Back Extension

In this article we discuss the differences and training considerations between glute ham raises vs back extensions. Strength, power, and fitness athletes/coaches should become aware of the subtle yet distinct differences to best program accessory workouts and maximize performance.

The Glute Ham Raise

The glute ham raise is an accessory lift used by strength, power, fitness, and most athletes looking to increase hamstring and glute muscle development and/or muscular endurance. This movement can be a key influencer in posterior chain performance and can help aid in movements such as running, jumping, deadlifting, squatting, and more.

In the video below the glute ham raise exercise is demonstrated, which details proper setup and movement patterning to consider when performing this exercise.

The Back Extension

The back extension is a similar movement pattern to the glute ham raise, however does target slightly different muscle groups (which is discussed below). In an earlier article, we offered the back extension as a viable glute ham raise alternative only if there were other hamstring dominant movements paired within a training program primarily due to the lower back emphasis of this movement.

In the below video the back extension is demonstrated, which details the proper setup, range of motion, and proper movement patterns of this exercise.

Glute Ham Raise vs Back Extension

Below are four differences between glute ham raises vs back extensions. Note, that while these movements are very similar in that they both target aspects of the posterior chain and do have some carryover to one another, there are still some important differentiations that must be made in regards to programming and purpose.

Hamstrings Emphasis

While both movements do place loading upon the hamstrings, the glute ham raise increases the hamstring demands greater than back extensions due to the fulcrum of the movement. In the back raise, the movement occurs at the hip joint, whereas the main movement occurs at the unlocked knee joint in the glute ham raise. Since the hamstring crosses the knee joint, the glute ham raises places more loading on the hamstring versus the lower back.

Lower Back Emphasis

The back extension, as the name implies, targets the spinal erectors greater than the glute ham raise primary due to the fixed knee and the slight spinal flexion and extension that occur during the movement. This movement can be done with a more set back in which will challenge the static strength of the erectors (and glutes and hamstrings) or to increase spinal erector  contraction strength and endurance.

Equipment Used

Both movements are done with different apparatuses, however the back extension can sometimes be performed with a glute ham raise machine/apparatus, and vice versa. Both movements use bodyweight as the primary means of resistance, however the back extension can be loaded slightly heavier than the glute ham raise.

Complexity

Both movements can be regressed and progressed with the additional of loading, increased time duration within sets, and range of motion/changing the torque angles. For beginners, the back extension may be slightly easier to perform, however coaches and athletes must first learn how to properly hinge/move for the hip joint rather than at the lumbar spine. Integrating the glute ham raise alternatives from above will help to unlock some of the benefits of glute ham raises and fully progress to the more complex movement.

More Accessory Exercises for Strength and Power Athletes

Check out the articles and exercise guides below to upgrade your accessory training specific to strength and power training.

Featured Image: @kevinharkinpt on Instagram

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.

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