The GHD Helps You Hammer Your Hamstrings and Grow Your Glutes

This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

If you’re a fan of leg day, you’re familiar with the leg curl machine. By requiring you to bring your heels towards your butt in a facedown position, the equipment allows you to isolate your hamstrings for highly targeted muscle development. That’s great if you’re a bodybuilder, and your primary goal is to build muscle—but if you’re not, there’s an even more effective device for hammering your hamstrings: the glute ham developer (GHD).

You’ve likely seen the GHD (also called a glute ham bench) tucked in a corner of your gym, and might have assumed that it’s some sort of juiced-up, horizontal Roman chair. But unlike the Roman chair, which puts you in a position to target your lower back with hyperextensions, the GHD is used to perform an exercise known as the glute ham raise (GHR), which zeroes in on your biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus (i.e., hamstrings) by training that muscle group’s two key functions: knee flexion and hip extension.

That gives the GHD a leg up on the leg curl machine, which focuses exclusively on knee flexion. Indeed, when researchers at the University of Memphis used a small trial to compare hamstring activation in the leg curl, the good morning, the glute ham raise, and the Romanian deadlift, the latter two moves were the clear winners.

Need another reason to swap the leg curl machine for the GHD? You’ll work more muscles. In addition to your hamstrings, you’ll feel the burn all along your posterior chain—especially in your glutes, erector spinae, and calves—as well as in your abs, which kick into gear to help your erector spinae stabilize your spine. It’s tough to imagine a more comprehensive exercise for building total-body muscle.

Some trainers, particularly in the CrossFit world, use the GHD as a station for an extreme version of the situp. That’s not exactly the best way to use the rig. There’s too much room for excessive spinal extension, and this overarching of your back isn’t safe for everyone.

Your move: If your gym has a GHD, make the glute ham raise a regular part of your weekly training program. Performing it once or twice a week will pay dividends both in and out of the weight room, as it can help to bolster your squat and deadlift, as well as helping you run faster and jump higher.

Don’t have access to a GHD? Take a page from Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill’s playbook by enlisting a partner to hold your feet so you can do the Nordic curl. The exercise is tough—if you really struggle, try starting from the top position and lowering down with as much control as you can.

If you do have access to a GHD and want to try the situp, don’t give it a try until you can own a hollow hold. Even after that, just to stay safe, make sure to maintain core tension and pelvic control as you lower, and to stop when your body is parallel.

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