While the GHD machine is great, it’s always nice to have alternative exercises for every muscle group.
The glutes and hamstrings are no exception, so what can you do if you don’t have access to a GHD machine?
Luckily for you, there are a variety of other exercises that I’ve stumbled across which can help you develop strong glutes and hamstrings.
In this article I’m going to take a look at all the alternative exercises out there, so you can complete your leg day workout GHD machine or not.
After all, we all know that leg day can be a struggle at the best of times, so why not mix it up and keep it fresh and exciting by trying out some new exercises?
Why Glute Ham Raise?
Before we get into the glute ham raise alternatives, let me answer an important question.
Why should you bother with the glute ham raise?
Maybe you’re wondering why it’s worth finding alternative exercises for the glute ham raise in the first place, instead of doing different exercises and machines altogether.
Here’s the deal (from what I’ve been told).
Glute ham raises are one of the only exercises, if not the only one, which allows for full extension of the hamstring muscle in the leg through the entire range of motion.
While some exercises, like the straight leg deadlift, fully lengthen the hamstrings and others, like the lying leg curl, contract the hamstring, there aren’t any that combine the two actions in one exercise.
That’s essentially what makes the glute ham raise such an effective lower body exercise. For a longer explanation on this topic, check out this video by Barbell Logic which lists the benefits of the exercise.
But that’s not all…
- Strengthening of the posterior chain – glute ham raises are fantastic for working the posterior chain, and as a result, help improve your posture and ability to lift from the legs.
- Hypertrophy of the leg muscles – performing the glute ham raise increases the hypertrophy in your legs. By keeping the muscles under constant tension, you can expect them to get stronger and become more defined.
- Eccentric and Isometric strengthening in the legs – by working both the hamstrings and glutes, you are effectively strengthening your leg’s ability to lengthen and maintain an elongated state.
In other words, you will notice an improvement in the control you have in your legs if you regularly perform this exercise.
If you want to work the whole body and improve overall hypertrophy, try out these intense CrossFit workouts you can do in the comfort of your own home.
Glute Ham Raise Alternative Exercises
I’ve compiled a list of 6 solid exercises that can serve as effective replacements for the glute ham raise with a GHD machine.
Performing the glute ham raise at home is a fantastic way to maintain strength in your legs and enjoy the benefits we discussed earlier.
- Natural Glute Ham Raises
- Good Mornings
- Kettlebell Swings
- Romanian Deadlifts
- Cable Pull Throughs
- Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls
Natural Glute Ham Raises
An enjoyable bodyweight alternative to the stellar exercise, natural glute ham raises give you more or less the same benefits and save you the effort of finding or investing in a GHD machine. It’s essentially a glute ham raise without the GHD.
This exercise requires nothing but yourself, something stable to hook your ankles under, and a willingness to crush leg day.
As I mentioned earlier, glute ham raises are by far and away one of the most effective exercises for strengthening the glutes and hamstrings at the same time.
With that said, the closest you can get to doing a glute ham raise without a machine is with natural glute ham raises.
With no equipment required, this is an exercise you can pump out whenever you feel like giving your hamstrings and glutes a tough workout.
To perform the natural glute ham raises, first lay flat on your stomach on a mat and hook your heels under a bench or something else that isn’t likely to budge.
Then, pull yourself up to a kneeling position using the strength of your legs and core muscles. Make sure to engage your glutes as you do so, and keep the movement as slow and controlled as possible.
As you lower yourself back down, you are going to put your hands out in front of you and perform a quick push up to launch yourself back up.
Keep in mind that it might be worth having something soft like a pad under your knees if the floor or mat is too uncomfortable when you raise yourself up.
Good Mornings are a great example of an exercise you can perform with a barbell to strengthen your glutes and hamstrings.
While the barbell isn’t obligatory for this exercise, it’s recommended for the extra stress it places on the muscles, giving them a greater chance to grow stronger and benefit from hypertrophy.
You should give Good Mornings a go primarily because they make for a great glute ham raise alternative.
An exercise that resembles the squat and deadlift, good mornings target the glutes and hamstrings heavily.
The effort it takes to lower yourself with the barbell (maintaining good posture) and push yourself back up will require plenty of glute and hamstring strength.
As a result, as well as the overall leg strength benefits, you can expect to work the posterior chain well with this exercise.
To perform Good Mornings, first, position your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
Taking the barbell onto your shoulders from the rack, take a deep breath, then start to lower yourself forward engaging your core muscles and glutes as you do so.
To perform the exercise well, you should stop just short of going parallel with the floor, to maximize the impact on the leg muscles and the core.
The time the muscles will be under tension during this exercise really helps to encourage hypertrophy and build strong yet balanced legs.
Finally, to make the most of the exercise with regards to developing the hamstrings, bend your knees slightly as you go through the movement. This can help engage the muscles and place the emphasis of the exercise on the legs rather than the back.
Kettlebell swings are one of the most common exercises to make use of the versatile kettlebell.
An exercise that will help build strength for other exercises, kettlebell swings should become a go-to exercise for the hamstring and glutes for you if they aren’t already.
What makes kettlebell swings an effective glute ham raise alternative?
For a start, they are easy to perform and only require a single kettlebell.
But what makes them so good for the glutes and hamstrings is the explosiveness with which you can perform the exercise. Essentially limited by your power, kettlebell swings can be performed almost as if they were a plyometric exercise.
As such, you can generate fantastic engagement in the glutes especially as you squat down and work hard to keep yourself grounded as you swing the heavy kettlebell.
The heavier the kettlebell, the more you can activate both your hamstrings and glutes by placing them under tension, and so you allow them to hypertrophy.
The kettlebell swing is a simple exercise performed by holding the kettlebell with arms lengthened straight out in front of you.
From this position, swing the kettlebell back and under your legs, while squatting down, then bring it back up to the starting position.
The movement should be performed slowly to begin with, as flying kettlebells can cause a lot of damage.
A few things to remember:
Engage your glutes as you enter the squat, push down into your heels, and keep your core activated during the whole movement.
The Romanian deadlift is a variation on the standard deadlift that places more emphasis on the hamstrings.
It is performed with a barbell, though a heavyweight isn’t necessary, as good technique alone can do wonders for your hamstrings especially.
You should consider the Romanian deadlift as an alternative to the glute ham raise, primarily because you can easily implement it into your deadlift sets.
This deadlift variation is excellent for targeting the hamstrings and working them in a way that can improve both flexibility and strength.
Plus, since the barbell isn’t 100% necessary for this exercise, you can easily perform it at home with a replacement, or even just as a bodyweight exercise.
For the Romanian deadlift, unlike what you’re used to with deadlifts, you should start the move with the barbell in your hands.
Placing a slight bend in the knees, lower the weight towards the floor while maintaining a straight back.
When you can start to feel the hamstrings kick in, push forward with your hips and engage your hamstrings in order to push back up to a standing position.
Cable Pull Throughs
The cable pull-through is an exercise that requires the use of a pulley machine and a cable.
The exercise consists of pulling the weighted cable through your legs from a squat position.
Cable pull-throughs are really effective at building strength in the glute muscles, but also at working the hamstrings.
A perhaps overlooked exercise when it comes to leg day, you shouldn’t underestimate cable pull-throughs as a glute ham raise alternative.
Walk away from the machine holding the cable between your legs, or both cables if the machine has several.
Position your feet just wider than hip-width apart, and bend forward to the extent that you feel the hamstrings start to engage.
This tension in the hamstrings is important, and if you don’t find it straight away, you may need to take a few more steps forward.
Now raise your upper body with the cable in hand, but don’t lock out your hips at the top. This way, you will feel more of a strain on the hamstrings, and as a result, you will be able to push them harder.
To better target the glute muscles, keep your tailbone tucked in throughout the movement.
Lastly, keep the abdominal muscles activated while performing the exercise since this will also work towards developing the glute muscles and hamstrings.
Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls
The Swiss ball hamstring curl is a bodyweight exercise that is performed with the assistance of a Swiss ball.
The Swiss ball provides a raised surface for you to place your feet as you perform the hamstring curls.
Primarily targeting the glutes and hamstrings, this Swiss ball exercise shouldn’t be underestimated.
This is a great exercise to do when you’re at home and looking to do a relatively simple exercise that focuses on the glutes and hamstrings.
A good way to condition the muscles in between gym sessions, the swiss ball hamstring curls are a nice movement to perform with little equipment.
To perform the Swiss ball hamstring curl, lie flat with your back on your mat and place your feet on the ball with straight legs.
Lift yourself off the floor using your glute muscles and core, maintaining a straight line through your body, and with your arms outstretched to the sides begin to move the ball towards you by bending your legs.
Use your heels to help you get off the floor and make sure you keep the glutes engaged throughout.
Let’s Create a Sample Workout
It would be remiss of me to list these exercises out for you and not put them into a convenient sample workout that you can get stuck into, so here we go.
This will be a home workout which you can perform with a few pieces of gym equipment, or not, should you prefer to make it a wholly bodyweight workout.
Let’s start with the obvious, what equipment are you going to need to perform this home workout?
- Kettlebells (the heavier the better).
- Barbell (not essential, but it helps if you have one).
- Swiss Ball.
- Workout bench.
To keep this workout simple, and easy to perform at home, we’re going to exclude the cable pull-throughs, as they require the use of a pulley machine.
So how many sets should you be doing to realistically get the most out of these glute and hamstring exercises?
I would recommend 3-5, depending on the weights you are using and how hard you want to go on leg day.
Some of the exercises like the kettlebell swings, for example, are best when performed with a heavier weight, so in order to prevent fatigue and over-exertion, I think a lower number of sets is best.
- Kettlebell Swings – 4-6
- Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls – 10-12
- Romanian Deadlifts – 8-10
- Good Mornings – 8-10
- Natural Glute Ham Raises – 4-6
So my reasoning behind these reps is based on a few things. One, how heavy the weight you use is, and two how difficult the exercise is to perform.
Kettlebell swings are easy to do, but if you ramp up the weight to just beyond your comfort level, you’re going to have a hard time doing these. Especially once you get to the second or third set and your glutes and hamstrings are starting to tire out.
The Swiss ball hamstring curls are the easiest exercise to perform in this workout, that’s why you can probably squeeze in a few extra reps each set if you feel so inclined.
Romanian deadlifts are taxing, but at the same time, if you go for a lighter weight you should be able to do around 10. Like I said before, with this exercise the technique is more important than using a heavy barbell.
The same goes for Good Mornings. The lower the weight, the more reps you can do with perfect form.
Finally, natural glute ham raises are surprisingly difficult – at least for me – so I would suggest keeping a lower rep range so you can complete every set successfully.
I hope you came across some new exercises you can integrate into your workout routine, and no longer feel like the GHD machine is the only way to work your glutes and hamstrings.
These alternative exercises are all great for targeting the lower body, so don’t hesitate to give them a go next time the dreaded leg day rolls around.
Also, check out our article covering the best alternatives for the cable crossover, and the best alternatives for pull-ups at home, so you can target the upper body without the need for the cable crossover machine or a pull-up bar.
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