A Basic 3 Stage Progression Using The Glute Ham Raise
The Glute Ham Raise is a piece of equipment that I believe is a ‘must-have’ to maximize development of the hamstrings, glutes and lower back!
Most commonly referred to as the GHR, this piece is often intimidating to many gym newcomers, but proves to be extremely beneficial to their overall progress in the gym. It is no surprise given our sedentary society coupled with extremely regressive postural habits (e.g., texting, computer work, driving, sitting, etc.) that lower backs tend to be a weak point for many individuals. Furthermore, those individuals that do go to the gym on a consistent basis tend to train the muscles that they can see or at the very least, use the exercises / machines that require less skill and attention to detail to safely execute. This leads to an excessive amount of leg presses, leg extensions, partial ROM goblet squats and machine hack squats that consequently produce a relative imbalance between the front leg muscles and the back leg muscles.
Seeing as the hamstrings and glutes not only contribute to improved lower back and knee health, they are also big players in primal movements such as lunging, squatting, jumping and running. Neglecting these areas and allowing further imbalances to fester will not only lead to potential increased risk of injury in the knees / lower back (or at the very least, a glaring weak point) but will weaken the posterior chain (back of the body) and prove a hindrance to maximizing your strength over time.
The Glute Ham Raise has been one of many tools that we have used at our facility to help clients improve strength in their lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Many of our clients who previously experienced chronic back pain / tightness now spend their days with little to no discomfort and clients across the board have seen inspiring increases in their strength levels overall.
Below I’ve included 3 simple videos that show the three stages of progression that we employ on the GHR.
In brief - we begin by teaching and practicing a simple back extension with bodyweight. Of primary focus is ensuring a full range of motion and a controlled pause when approximately parallel with the floor. At this point the client is cued to avoid allowing the toes to flare outwards and to squeeze the glutes to draw awareness to the posterior chain. Once the back extension can be done for sets of 15 to 20 with little challenge, the client is progressed to loading. The loading process can take months to max out. We often work in varying rep ranges and with varying loads over time.
Once a heavier loaded back extension can be done for sets of 15 to 20 with little challenge, the client is progressed to a swing-through variation. The swing-through variation is not always employed with clients if they are coming from a previous injury or if they don’t present adequate mobility to execute the drill safely (next week’s blog will cover a great alternative to the swing through!) If all is well, the swing-through allows the client to utilize momentum from the bottom end range of motion to swing through to a strict GHR hamstring curl variation. Anyone who has made the transition can attest to the increased recruitment of the hamstrings and glutes at this higher level of intensity. Over time, this movement also gets loaded until the client develops adequate strength to progress to the final and most impressive stage in terms of strength relative to the posterior chain.
The strict Glute Ham Raise is saved for those who are the strongest of the strong. A strict hamstring curl requires an incredible amount of strength through the lower back, glutes and hamstrings and looks much easier than it is. Once a client can execute sets of 12 to 20 reps with relative ease, this movement is also methodically loaded to maximize its return on strength progressions. The strict hamstring curl on the GHR is a feat to strive for in order to truly maximize your strength output and to ensure a lower risk of injury to the knees / lower back both in the gym when pushing your limits as well as in day to day life!
If you’ve seen this intimidating looking monstrosity at your gym and haven’t used it yet, I suggest you start. If you haven’t seen this beast at your gym, I suggest you go look for it. If you can’t find it, I suggest you go to a new gym… and yes - I am 100% serious about that last statement.