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 GHR 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.
- GHRs 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 GHR 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 GHR 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 GHR reps.
- The band-assisted GHR 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 GHR. 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.
- Start in the same position as you would for a normal GHR, 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 GHR. 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 GHR 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 GHR.
The benefits are significant by adding the GHR 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.
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.
The 2009 Strength and Conditioning Professional of the Year, Jeff is in his 16th year at Winona State University as Strength and Conditioning/ Director of Fitness. He is responsible for 10 Division II teams. Previously he was the head strength and conditioning coach for Olympic sports at Iowa State University, an assistant at the University of Memphis, and an assistant at the US Olympic training center in Colorado. Reinardy was part of two men’s basketball national championships in three appearances, numerous conference championships, and several individual national champions at both the Division I and II levels. He also holds club coach and sports performance certifications through USA Weightlifting, and is the former ADFPA American Squat record holder in the 148 weight class and four Minnesota state ADFPA championships.