Strong glutes and hamstrings are without a doubt two of the most important muscle groups for athletic performance. And the glute ham raise is one of the most effective exercises for building a bulletproof backside.
Unfortunately, a GHR is often viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity. I can count on one hand the number of commercial gyms I’ve been to that have one. And that’s a damn shame because just about everyone could stand to bring up their glutes and hams. They’re huge for sprinting speed, squat and deadlift strength, and just about every athletic movement you can think of.
So if you’re like most of us and your gym doesn’t have a GHR, don’t give up just yet. There’s a bodyweight movement that requires minimal equipment that can work in a pinch.
Natural Glute Ham Raise
I present to you the Natural GHR. While it doesn’t give exactly the same training effect as its high-tech big brother, you can still smoke the glutes and hams without any fancy equipment.
All you need is some sort of immovable object with enough space to hook your heels underneath. As you can see in the video above, I hooked my heels under the front of a bench. With a pad under your knees (the patella ain’t a knee pad, ya know), brace your abs and glutes, then lower yourself toward the floor slowly. Keeping a neutral spine (e.g. don’t over-arch your lower back), straighten your legs until you can’t control yourself any more. Catch yourself in a pushup position, and push yourself back up just enough so you can do a “leg curl” back to the starting position.
The best part about this exercise is that it gives you a bodyweight hamstring exercise that requires minimal equipment. It also unloads the spine, which is essential for long-term training health. If you’re crushing the squats and deadlifts, you should avoid spinal loading for most of your assistance exercises.
You also get the benefit of increased neuromuscular activation that comes with a bodyweight movement. Just like a pull-up versus a lat pulldown, you’re going to get a much greater full body training effect when you move your body through space. A properly executed natural glute ham raise is a safer, more effective hamstring exercise than a leg curl any day.
The natural GHR doesn’t train both functions of the hamstrings (knee flexion and hip extension) at the same time like the traditional GHR does, so they’re not interchangeable exercises. If you’re gonna do natural GHRs, you’ll need another exercise to hit hip extension. Something like a one-leg hip thrust or dumbbell Romanian deadlift would do the trick.
Natural GHRs can also make you sore as hell. Because it’s largely an eccentric exercise (you spend a long time in the “lowering phase”), there’s greater muscle damage and in turn more post-exercise soreness.
Luckily, the cries for an alternative to big, expensive GHR machines have been heard. EliteFTS now offers a Home GHR, which is essentially a floor-based GHR without legs. It’s still over $400, but gives home gym owners a more economical and space-efficient option.
Even cheaper is the partner GHR. It only costs as much as what you have to pay to convince someone to hold your sweaty ankles and stare as your ass for a set of 10.
The above video from Jason Ferruggia’s Renegade Gym uses a special pad for doing partner GHRs, but you can do them without a pad and just a mat under the person’s knees.
So give the natural GHR a try the next time you train lower body. Here’s a simple way to incorporate it into a training program:
- 1A. Squats or Deadlifts – 5 sets x 3-5 reps
- 2A. Dumbbell Split Squats – 3 sets x 8 reps/side
- 3A. Natural Glute Ham Raises – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- 3B. Single Leg Hip Thrusts – 3 sets x 10 reps/side
- 4A. Ab Rollouts – 3 sets x 12-15 reps