Glute ham raises are an exercise that can be used in most strength, power, and fitness programs to increase muscle hypertrophy and endurance of the glutes, hamstrings, and posterior chain muscles. Increased posterior chain strength and hypertrophy can improve pulling strength, back health, and overall explosiveness when trained in conjunction with many of the sport-specific movements seen in powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting programs.
In this article, we will offer coaches and athletes various glute ham raise alternatives that can be included into training programs, and discuss glute ham raise specific, such as:
- How to Do Glute Ham Raises?
- Benefits of Glute Ham Raises?
- How to Integrate Glute Ham Raises into Training Programs
- 6 Glute Ham Raise Alternatives
How to Do Glute Ham Raises?
Below is a video demonstration on how to properly perform the glute ham raise, which is done using a glute ham raise machine/apparatus, lat pulldown cable system, or simply with a partner. Note, many of the alternatives below are very similar the joint actions seen in this video, and therefore can be substituted with training programs if need be.
Benefits of Glute Ham Raises
The glute ham raise is a popular accessory movement to increase the hypertrophy and muscular endurance in the hamstrings, lower back, and glutes. Often done by power, strength, and fitness athletes, this movement can help to develop both concentric and eccentric muscle function of the hamstrings and maximize posterior chain performance. Below are three (3) benefits of glute ham raises coaches and athletes can expect when integrating glute ham raises within their training program.
Hamstring and Glute Hypertrophy and Strength
The glute ham raises targets the hamstrings and glutes, making this a great accessory exercise to add volume and load to if your goal is to increase muscle size, strength, and develop a stronger foundation of the posterior chain. This can be done by adding these into training programs a few times per week after main strength and power lifts.
Enhance Posterior Chain Development
A strong posterior chain can be linked to greater pulling, squatting, jumping, and athletic performance (1). The glute ham raise a great exercise to add into training programs to further develop a lifter’s abilities in strength and power sports, while also increasing hamstring health and injury resilience to heavier loads.
Improved Eccentric and Isometric Strength and Control
Improving the eccentric and isometric abilities of a muscle often increases the muscle’s abilities to resist higher amounts of tensile loading, improve muscle elasticity and reversal strength, allow for higher rates of force production, and improve the overall strength and health potentials of that muscle. Glute ham raises are extremely challenging on the eccentric and isometric segments of the movement, making it a good way to either address areas of weakness, improve muscle health and function after injury (consult with a medical professional prior to exercise), and/or improving overall potentials for more demanding movements.
Potential Decreases in Hamstring Injury
Research suggests that increased eccentric strength and coordination of a muscle can result in decreased injury rates during explosive and high force movements. One study found that injury rates of sprinters (who produce high amounts of force and muscle contraction velocities in the hamstrings, glutes, and posterior chain, similarly to strength and power athletes), were higher in those athletes who had decreased eccentric strength and control in their hamstrings. This suggest that movements like the glute ham raise, and the below variations, can help to increase injury resilience as well as overall strength and movement (2).
How to Integrate Glute Ham Raises into Training Programs
Integrating glute ham raises within a training program can be done very easily, often as either warm up segments for general training or more specific back and hamstring specific accessory work. Below we will discuss more in depth how to specially integrate glute ham raises within these segments of a training program.
Warm-Ups and Primer Movements
Glute ham raises can be done in a general warm-up segment or as a priming movement for Olympic weightlifting training, powerlifting, and general fitness. When done earlier in sessions, be sure to focus on movement, muscle contractions, and limit the overall amount of loading (unless you are looking for this type of stimulus). The goal here should be to perform 2-4 sets of 6-10 repetitions with light to moderate losing to increase muscle activation necessary for more explosive and forceful movements within the training session.
Accessory / Hypertrophy Blocks
Glute ham raises can be integrated within accessory segments with heavier loads and more training volume (sets and repetitions), which is best since this will not conflict with the strength work for that day. By adding load and volume to the glute ham raises, you can help to either (1) increase hamstring, glute, and lower back muscle hypertrophy and endurance and/or (2) specifically target an area of weakness for some lifters. To integrate this within you training program, try performing 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions, with load, after you main strength and power lifts of the day. It is important to note that you should refrain from doing higher volumes and loading during a training session that is followed by a training day (within the next 24 hours) that is more demanding on the lower back and hamstrings.
6 Glute Ham Raise Alternatives
Below are six (6) glute ham raise alternatives that coaches and athletes can use to increase hamstring strength and hypertrophy, regardless of exercise means.
Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls
The Swiss ball, also known as the physioball/stability ball, is a piece of equipment seen in most commercial gyms that can offer us a viable alternative for the glute ham raise. By performing this hamstring intensive motion on the Swiss ball, you challenge the muscles to add additional stability and anti-rotational forces. In addition, this can be done to help increase isometric and eccentric strength for beginner and intermediate athletes, or within a rehabilitation hamstring program.
Nordic Hamstring Curls
Similar to both the glute ham raise and the Swiss ball hamstring curl, the Nordic hamstring curl is an alternative geared to increase hamstring strength (both concentric and eccentric) while using one’s body weight and a full range of motion. Research done on the Nordic Hamstring Curl suggest that it is a potent eccentric strengthening exercise for the hamstrings, also linked to increased hamstring injury resistance rates (3). This movement is one of the most challenging alternatives, and can be more difficult for beginners and intermediate lifters to perform. Therefore, it is recommended that this program be used with coach supervision and/or following proper progression to limit hamstring strain and injury.
The reverse hyperextension can be used as an alternative for the glute ham raise, however does not target the hamstrings as effectively as the glute ham raise. Rather, this movement targets the glutes and spinal erectors, specifically due to the knees being extended and the fulcrum of the movement being the hip rather than the knee. That said, using this in combination with the Nordic, Swiss ball, or Romanian hamstring exercises (see above and below) could be a good plan of attack for coaches and athletes.
The back extension, while not exclusively targeting the hamstrings, can be a viable alternative to the glute ham raise in that it highlights the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, the primary muscle groups involved in the posterior chain. This movement, along with all of the other alternatives on the list can be used in a well designed program to develop muscular hypertrophy and endurance in the hamstrings and lower back.
The goodmorning, done with slightly bent knees (similar to the Romanian deadlift) can be a good alternative to the glute ham raise for hamstrings development. By unlocking the knees slightly, you allow for the hamstrings to engage and load more rather than placing more focus on the lower back and erectors (seen with stiff legs).
The Romanian deadlift, like the goodmorning, is a fundamental strength and hypertrophy exercise targeting the hamstrings. While this movement can be used as an alternative to the glute ham raise, it is often programmed more like a primary strength/hypertrophy movement rather than a secondary or tertiary accessory lift, and therefore loading and volume should be more closely monitored and balanced with deadlifts, heavy pulls, and squatting.
- Ridder, E. M., Oosterwijck, J. O., Vleeming, A., Vanderstraeten, G. G., & Danneels, L. A. (2013). Posterior muscle chain activity during various extension exercises: An observational study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 14(1). doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-204
- Jonhagen, S. (1994). Hamstring Injuries in Sprinters: The Role of Concentric and Eccentric Hamstring Muscle Strength and Flexibility. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 22(2), 262-266. doi.org/10.1177/036354659402200218.
- Arnason, A., Andersen, T. E., Holme, I., Engebretsen, L., & Bahr, R. (2007). Prevention of hamstring strains in elite soccer: An intervention study. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 18(1), 40-48. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2006.00634.x
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