Exercise of the Week: Glute-Ham Raises

Glute-Ham Raise

In today’s “Exercise of the Week”, we have one of my favorite hamstring/posterior chain exercises of all time – the glute-ham raise.

Strangely enough, I remember the first time I ever did these.  We were at Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio, and Dave Tate and Louie were taking us through a dynamic effort workout.  We had just finished box squatting, and Dave had us all try the glute-ham since we didn’t have one at that time at BSU.

Needless to say, it felt like my hamstrings were going to tear off the bone and EPIC muscle soreness ensued for days afterwards.  It was awesome.

I’m a huge fan of glute-hams for several reasons:

–  It trains the knee flexor component of our hamstrings.  Many great posterior chain exercises like RDL’s, good mornings, and pull-throughs focus more on the hip extension function.

–  They get us off the leg curl machine.

–  In my own experience, I always say a high correlation between my glute-ham performance and improvements in my squat and deadlift.  Take it for what it’s worth, but I feel they are a great strength builder.

To perform this exercise, it really helps to have a glute-ham bench (they can be purchased at www.EliteFTS.com).  If not, you can always try the manual version, although they’re even tougher.

Here are some exercise tips to help you out with your performance:

– Keep the stomach and glutes tight throughout.  One of the unique benefits of glute-hams versus leg curls is the high-degree of co-contraction you can maintain throughout your core.

And for an extra-special bonus, it makes them much harder 😉

–  The exercise can be performed either stopping at about parallel to the floor (as I show in this video), or where you fold all the way over to the bench.  In the second version, you’d have two different components to the exercise – a trunk extension (to get you to parallel) and then the “curling” portion of the movement.

–  DO NOT allow the hips to shoot back at the beginning.  Try and keep a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.  If you look like an “A” frame house, you’re doing it wrong.

The glute-ham is a fantastic exercise, and hopefully one you’ll add into your programming.  Enjoy!

Stay strong



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  1. Lyle McDonald says:
    "I think GHR should be done with spinal/hip flexion extension. Esp if part of the goal is to hit the glutes. They have no function if all you're doing is knee flexion outside of stabilization. If you want active training of the glutes, you need actual HIP extension. that means flexing at the hip. Not keeping everythign inline and just flexing at the knee."
    What do you think?

    • I think he underestimates the difficulty of stabilizing the hip in extension during active knee flexion. He also is ignoring the fact that the hamstring is a two joint muscle. By his logic you may as well skip glute ham raises altogether and do leg curls and hip extension. Actively contracting the glutes in order to stabilize the hips while performing the glute ham raise puts the hamstring on overdrive. There is also a very active lumbar stability component. Although many people do use an active hip extension and then the knee flexion at the top there is no absolute need to do this. You would think the sheer difficulty of the exercise would be enough to show one that this is not just a knee curl. Even with assistance (against bodyweight) it is much tougher than a regular knee curl exercise and much more useful.

  2. What’s the “manual version” of the exercise? My gym doesn’t have a GHR apparatus. I’ve thought about doing them on the lat pull-down but the seat for that isn’t wide enough. What options are there besides the actual GHR apparatus?

  3. Mike,
    Regarding GHR technique, you mentioned starting at close to parallel to the floor. Is there any difference between dropping just a bit below parallel (as in the video) and starting right at parallel or is the difference between the two completely insignifcant?
    With respect to the recent glute article on T-nation, there was little to no mention of GHR's, but wouldn't the glute activation from maintaining terminal hip extension during GHR's result in significant activation, since isometric contractions are supposed to be one of the best things for activation?
    And lastly, are you of the mind that leg curls are completely worthless for athletes and non-athletes alike or can they be used periodicially provided that things like GHR's and deadlifts are staples in your program?

  4. I do these on a lat pulldown machine facing away from the cable stack. Just hook your ankles under the pad with your knees on the bench and have fun!

  5. Like Mitch, I have to MacGyver a pulldown machine to do GH Raises at my gym.
    I also use jumpstretch bands to add or subtract resistance

  6. Hello Mike,
    I think JP brings up some very good points, and your reply to him is very helpful.
    If I may, I would like to throw another thought into the mix here:
    It seems to me that GHR are a closed-chain activity, while hamstring function with respect to decelerating knee extension (as discussed by JP) tends to happen in an open-chain environment (e.g sprinting).
    If that is indeed the case (assuming I am not totally misunderstanding things here), would it not be useful to also have some open-chain eccentric loading as well to round out a conditioning program.
    Any thoughts on this (by Mike or anyone) would be greatly appreciated…

  7. this one’s good.. i have been collecting some fitness books.. however, most of them are for upper and mid body sections… i do a lot f swimming and i often feel some pain in my calf… perhaps this exercise can help ease the tension out…

  8. I appreciate you getting into the nuts and bolts about why it’s still “proper” without the hip flexion extension, as I’m always trying to improve the homemade GHR apparatus I created for my gym. Right now it only accommodates a horizontal range of motion, but I’m going to alter it so it allows the ability to do the hip flexion extension, as well, just in case I want to work up to that. Do you mind if I share a link to my creation?


  9. Hi
    I worry that performing natural glute ham raises (not on a glute ham machine) put a lot of pressure on my knees. Could natural glute ham raises be detrimental to my long term knee health?

  10. Mike,
    I very much enjoy the Exercise of the Week section, obviously it brings out some good discussions. So if I may be so bold as to make a request for the KB Windmill as a future Exercise of the Week. Much appreciated. Pete

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