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In many athletic settings one of the most common injuries is the hamstring pull.  There are several reasons for this. The forces produced by the acceleration and deceleration can strain or damage one of the three muscles that make up the hamstring, these are semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and the biceps femoris. The injury can have varying degrees of severity and often will keep an athlete sidelined for days, weeks or months.  If you are looking for a way to strengthen the hamstrings, you must look at including Glute-Ham Raises into your program.  You may be saying, “If we are targeting the hamstrings, we just squat, or have them do some leg curls.”  Yes, those movements can be effective, but I challenge you to give Glute-Ham Raises a try.  After your first time, you will agree that it hits the targeted area!  Being a closed-kinetic chain movement, however, the Glute-Ham Raise is far more than just a hamstring isolation exercise. It also works the glutes, lower back, even the calves.

Other benefits of the GHR include:

  • Any age can attempt to perform this movement. It is primarily a body weight movement which makes it ideal for any age, or level of experience.
  • Glute-Ham Raises are superior to traditional leg curls because they work more muscles and put greater emphasis on the eccentric component of knee flexion.
  • From an injury prevention standpoint, they’re great for preventing hamstring strains and ACL injuries, for both men and women.
  • For performance enhancement, strength coaches have long used the Glue-Ham Raise to improve sprinting speed and jumping capability. They have also proven to translate well to other lower body gym lifts.
  • It puts relatively little stress on the lower back since there are minimal shearing forces involved, makes it a viable option for people with back issues.

There are a few ways to perform this movement, depending if you have a Glute-Ham machine or if you will be doing them from the floor.  In the video we show the movement from the floor.  I like this version for its easy accessibility for large groups. 

Those unable to complete a proper Glute-Ham Raise should use an easier variation of the exercise to build up strength.  Here’s a good progression of exercises to follow in order to work up to full Glue-Ham Raise reps.

Band-Assistance

  • The band-assisted Glute-Ham Raise is great because it allows you to perform full range of motion reps and get the feel for the movement without having to support full bodyweight.
  • To set up, loop one end of the band around the ankle hook post and put the other end across the upper chest, right underneath the armpits. Perform the reps just as you would a normal Glute-Ham Raise. The bands offer accommodating resistance, meaning more help is provided at the bottom portion of the rep where you’re weakest and less help at the top where you’re strongest. Decrease the band tension as strength improves.

Eccentrics

  • Start in the same position as you would for a normal Glue-Ham Raise, with the torso perpendicular to the floor and the knees in a straight line with your neck. Maintain that body alignment by squeezing your glutes, hamstrings, and abs, and slowly lower yourself until you are parallel to the floor.
  • From there, simply put your hands on the knee pad or grab the handles and pull/push yourself back up. Shoot for 5-second eccentrics initially, extending them slowly over time. Be sure to keep the volume low or expect significant DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) the next day. Consider each eccentric rep to be its own set and do a total of 3-4 sets.

The Razor Curl

  • The Razor curl is an oddball, you do not keep a straight line from the knees to the neck.
  • To begin, stay tall, long and extend yourself until the whole body is parallel to the floor, just as in a standard Glue-Ham Raise. From there flex at the hip, so hip to torso is flexed at a 90-degree angle, with hips above the knees and your torso still parallel to the floor. Think of it as if trying to sit back on the feet. (think about pushing your butt back) and return to the starting position.
  • Flexing at the hips makes the exercise slightly easier than a regular Glue-Ham Raise and allows for a stronger contraction of the hamstrings.

Once you have reached the point where you have achieved the progressions, it is time to move the completing your first full Glute-Ham Raise.

The benefits are significant by adding the Glute-Ham Raise into your workouts.  You will know, (at least by the next day) that your hamstrings have been worked!  Although they take a bit of time to build up to completing a full rep.  It is worth the effort, and in the end your hamstrings will thank you.

References

Bruno, B. (2011). The glute-ham raise from a to z. T-Nation.

Oliver, G. D., & Dougherty, C. P., (2009). The razor curl: a functional approach to hamstring training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Pg. 401-405.