This Exercise is a MUST for Stronger Hamstrings
After writing last week’s blog quite a few individuals reached out to me expressing frustration with their own glute ham raise performance. The reality is that the glute ham raise is NOT an easy exercise. It looks more than simple but the incredible amount of hamstring, glute and lower back strength required to execute the movement with strict form is tremendous.
It’s not uncommon for someone to begin using the traditional back extension on the GHR machine only to realize that they adapt quite quickly after a few weeks. Once the movement becomes loaded, the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings and lower back) develop rapidly and the back extension no longer seems to pose a challenge.
At this point, trainees usually feel extremely confident so they immediately attempt a glute ham raise only to have a “Holy shit, my hamstrings are weak!” moment. It’s true! I remember the first training session when I realized how far behind my hamstrings were compared to the rest of my body.
The hamstrings are easily only one of the most neglected parts of the body in the gym. It’s bad enough that so few people enjoy training legs. Furthermore, when they do, they tend to focus on the front of the legs. This may be due to limited range of motion on the exercises they do, choosing those that are “easy” - relative to complexity such as the leg press / leg extension or simply because they like to look at their quads in the mirror in between sets.
It’s important to realize that once the back extension no longer poses a challenge, the carry-over to a strict glute ham raise is not direct as there is no flexion of the knee and consequently relative demand on the hamstrings. This is where you can employ a swing-through variation that allows you to incorporate momentum from the back extension to the “swing-through”. This challenges a portion of the glute ham raise and begins to develop adequate strength in the back of the legs. This is exactly how I built the strength (over time with applied patience) to perform the movement, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way and for a lot of people, it’s not the best either!
If you or the individual you’re working with is not the most limber, athletically inclined, or is prone to injury, the razor curl is by far the option I would employ to help him / her begin developing the strength required in their hamstrings and glutes.
The razor curl bridges the gap in intensity when aiming to achieve the strength required to execute a strict glute ham raise.
1. Once in position on the GHR, make certain that your knees are positioned safely and comfortably on the edge of the knee pad.
2. Start with your chest proud and your torso upright (as you would if you were attempting a glute ham raise) and then break at the hips, lowering your torso down until you are parallel with the floor. At this point, you should feel almost as if you are crouching over the knee pads.
3. Extend your torso out over the edge of the GHR, making certain that your torso remains parallel with the floor the entire time. Do not allow your back to overextend and don’t allow your chest to fall towards the ground – STAY LEVEL. This part of the exercise is considered complete when your body is fully extended to the point where you can draw a straight line from your heel to your head.
4. From this position, think of the cue “pull your bum to your heels”. By bending at the knees and pulling your bum back towards your heels, you will execute what looks and feels like a horizontal bodyweight hamstring curl.
Throughout the entire movement, your aim should be to maintain constant positioning of your torso. You should be moving in a straight line forward and back with very little deviation from parallel with the floor!
If you're looking to build a bulletproof backside, you should consider working this into your training program!