Ever seen someone at the gym with their legs secured in a machine, lying face down like Superman, lifting at the knees and seeming to defy gravity?
You're looking at a glute ham raise, also known as glute ham developer.
It's a fantastic exercise to fire up your entire posterior chain. The only problem is that you need a glute ham raise machine. It's a big, unwieldy machine whose sole purpose is to do this one movement.
Not exactly conducive to your home gym setup.
So, what exactly is a glute ham raise, and what makes the best ham raise alternative? Glad you asked.
What Is the Glute Ham Raise?
The GHR is a fantastic exercise to build strength in the posterior chain muscles. That means it hits everything from your lower back down to your glute muscles (more on this in a moment).
To do glute ham raises, secure your feet in the GHR machine and begin in an upright, kneeling position. Your body and lower legs form a 90º angle. Brace your core, keep a neutral spine, and descend your upper body until it's parallel to the floor.
Then tense your legs and squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to return to starting position.
It's rather advanced, so if you're a beginner to strength training, it's not a great idea to jump right into these.
Hence, our glute ham raise alternative article.
TL;DR: GHRs require a specific machine and build a strong posterior chain.
What Muscles Do Glute Ham Raises Work?
I've mentioned your posterior chain a few times, but what exact muscles does that include? GHRs work your:
- Erector spinae (muscles along your spine)
- Latissimus dorsi (large, mid- and upper-back muscles)
- Thoracolumbar fascia (lower back muscles)
- External and internal obliques
So basically, everything from your shoulder blades to your knees gets a solid workout with glute ham raises.
TL;DR: Your posterior chain gets stronger with GHRs.
Why Work My Glutes and Hamstrings?
If you follow any fitness influencers, you likely see them doing lower body exercises to get the coveted "bubble butt" and fill out their yoga pants.
While aesthetics are a fine goal, there are functional reasons to train your glutes and hamstrings.
Your glutes are made of three main muscles: the gluteus minimus, medius, and maximus.
The minimus muscles works with the medius to stabilize your pelvis as you walk or run.
The medius is also responsible for thigh rotation and moving your leg away from the middle of your body. In addition, the maximus helps you with hip extension and thigh movement.
Together, your glutes are a key part of your core muscles (which is more than just your abs, by the way). A strong core carries over to basically every single other area of your life: jumping, running, walking, standing, sitting, dancing, cleaning, gardening... you get the idea.
On the opposite side of your legs, you'll find your hamstrings. They help with knee flexion, hip extension, and the movements of walking, running, jumping, and climbing stairs.
Strengthening your hamstrings helps you avoid injury, whether you do explosive exercise like basketball or prefer heavy lifting.
TL;DR: Your glutes and hamstrings make up parts of your core, and having posterior chain strength carries over to better quality of life.
What Makes a Great Glute Ham Raise Alternative?
Effective glute ham raise alternatives will work all the same muscles as a glute ham raise. Okay, next section!
Just kidding. To make the cut, the exercises have to do at least one of the following:
- Build core strength: it's not just about your glutes and hamstrings — The exercise should work your entire core.
- Work your hips: healthy hips boost everything in your life, including your knee, spine, and lower back health.
- Build a strong posterior chain: doing isolation exercises to train one muscle at a time has its place, but most of the exercises in this list are compound movements, meaning they work multiple muscles at once, giving you more bang for your buck.
TL;DR: Glute ham raise alternatives are most effective when they fulfill multiple uses.
13 Best Glute Ham Raise Alternatives
Let’s dig into our go-to glute ham raise alternative exercises! No glute ham raise machine required.
1. Good Mornings
No glute ham raise alternative list is complete without good mornings. This exercise targets all the same muscles as glute ham raises, except without the need for a machine (though a power rack is a good idea).
- Stand with a barbell braced on your upper back (your delts, not on your traps). Hold the bar with palms facing forward and hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Your elbows should point slightly backward. Your feet are hip-width apart. This is your starting position.
- Take a deep breath and brace your core. Focus on maintaining the natural curve of your lower back. Hinge forward at the hips with a slight bend in your knees. Don't bend your knees so much that you squat! Focus mostly on pushing your hips back and keeping your shins as close to vertical as possible.
- Go only as low as you can without rounding your back. Then, reverse the motion and drive your hips forward while simultaneously driving your back up into the bar. Maintain a neutral spine.
Start with the bar loaded lighter than you think you can lift until you have the good mornings' movement pattern down and have strengthened your core. The movement is similar to Romanian deadlifts, so practice those to get a feel for it.
2. Kettlebell Swings
The humble-yet-mighty kettlebell swing is an incredible lower body movement that's one of my favorite compound exercises.
When done with proper posture and form, kettlebell swings can not only build your glutes and hamstrings but also make for a killer cardio workout routine.
- Place the kettlebell on the floor in front of you so when you bend forward, it's roughly in line with your eyes. Hinge at your hips to grip the horn loosely enough that you're not squeezing but not so loose that it's going to fly out of your hand. Keep a neutral spine with knees slightly bent.
- Take a deep breath in, and then exhale as you tighten your lats. "Hike" the kettlebell back between your legs, then use only your lower body joints to propel the bell upward.
- At the top of your kettlebell swing, the bell should "float" with your arms straight out in front of you, no higher than your shoulders.
- Allow the bell to fall back down, then repeat the hike motion between your legs.
Kettlebell swings are only an effective posterior chain exercise if you don't let momentum do the work. Make sure you maintain proper posture and focus on strong glutes to propel the bell.
3. Cable Pull Throughs
Cable pull throughs make a great glute ham raise alternative. They build hamstring strength and posterior chain power, plus are a stellar glute exercise. So if you have access to a gym, make this machine part of your routine.
- Choose your desired weight (start lighter than you think you can lift). Face away from it and hold the handle with your palms facing each other, between your legs, in a hip hinge movement.
- Take a few steps away from the machine to lift the weight a bit off the rack. Your feet are slightly wider than shoulder-width, with legs straight.
- Inhale, bend at the waist, and push your hips back toward the machine. Maintain good form with a neutral spine. Push your hips back until you feel a gentle stretch in your hamstrings.
- Pause briefly, then exhale as you reverse the movement to straighten your legs. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
No access to a cable machine? Attach a resistance band to something very sturdy, and you're off to the races.
4. Nordic Hamstring Curls
This one is for folks who are more experienced with other hamstring exercises. The Nordic hamstring curl is a very challenging exercise to build glute and hamstring hypertrophy. It's a seriously powerful bodyweight exercise.
- Something very sturdy to hook your ankles under (nordic strap, Smith machine, immovable weight rack, etc.)
- Hook your ankles underneath your sturdy equipment of choice. Have some kind of padding underneath your knees. Begin with your body forming a straight line from your head to your knees. You're going to maintain good form and this neutral spine throughout the movement. This is your starting position.
- Brace your core and lean forward. Remember, your spine stays neutral, so your entire body makes a straight line from the top of your head to your knees. Lean forward as far as you can without "breaking" and falling all the way to the ground.
- Tense your hamstrings to lift yourself back to starting position. (Don't hinge at your hips to get yourself back up.)
The Nordic hamstring curl is no joke. If you don't have the strength, set up with a resistance band attached to something very sturdy overhead and behind you. Either hold it overhead or wrap it around your chest until you build the body weight strength to do Nordics alone.
5. Glute Bridges
A glute bridge is a wonderful way to build up the strength to do a hip thrust (more on hip thrusts below). It's one of the best bodyweight exercises for beginners because it zeroes in on the glutes and hamstrings without much risk of back strain.
- None, but you can add weight with dumbbells or resistance bands
- Lay down on a mat or soft surface. With knees bent and feet hip-width apart, make sure you can barely brush your heels with your fingertips.
- Exhale and gently tuck your pelvis upward, so your lower back presses into the mat. Tense your core and lift your hips up toward the ceiling. Your knees should be over your ankles at the top.
- Squeeze your glutes at the top, keeping your core engaged and not arching your back. Slowly lower back to starting position.
Really squeeze those glutes at the top for maximum muscle activation.
6. Hip Thrusts
Hip thrusts are so versatile they should be in everyone's workout routine.
You can do them with bodyweight, dumbbells, resistance bands, or the traditional barbell hip thrust. (If you don't have access to any of these, check out our hip thrust alternatives list to learn what you can do instead).
But, no matter how you do them, they're a great exercise for building glute strength. It's the same movement as a glute bridge, but with your back elevated.
- Brace your upper back against something sturdy, like a weight bench. Keep your weight of choice right on your hip joints, with feet far enough away from you that at the top of the thrust, your knees are over your ankles.
- Take a deep breath in, then exhale and brace your core. Press down through your heels and tense your glutes to lift your hips up toward the ceiling. Keep your spine straight and neck in alignment. Your entire body should move as a unit.
- Inhale as you lower back down to starting position.
If the dumbbells or barbell hurt your hips, place something between the weight and your bones to cushion it.
7. Reverse Hypers
Also called "reverse hyperextension," this move is when your torso stays stable, and your legs do the work. You need another machine for this, but it's worth it as a glute ham raise replacement.
- Lay flat on the top of the reverse hyper machine. Hook your legs underneath the pegs. Hold onto the handles (if applicable). Your hips should be hanging off the pad.
- Exhale and relax your back. Lift your legs and squeeze your glutes at the top. You can use a little momentum in this move, but make sure you're pulling with those glutes at the top of each rep.
This is an excellent move to strengthen your lower back, so if you struggle with back pain, include this in your routine.
8. Stability Ball Leg Curls
A stability ball is another great piece of equipment to have in your home gym. They're useful for core work, cardio, and — you guessed it — as a tool for glute ham raise alternatives. For this particular alternative exercise, you're going to do a leg curl.
- Lay on your back on the ground with your heels resting on the ball. Drive your heels into the ball to lift your hips forward and up, like you're doing a glute bridge. Keep your entire body in a straight, tight line.
- Exhale and flex your hamstrings to bring the ball in toward your glutes. Only come far enough in that the ball shifts to the bottoms of your feet.
- Inhale and push the ball back to starting position.
If you're a beginner, you can rest your hips back down on the ground between reps to make it a bit easier.
9. Sumo Deadlift High Pull
Next in our list of glute ham raise alternative exercises is the sumo deadlift high pull. This move combines a traditional deadlift action with a shrug at the top.
- Begin in a sumo deadlift position, meaning feet wider than shoulder-width, holding the bar in an overhand grip, hands inside your legs.
- Deadlift the bar up, keeping a gentle curve in your lower back. At the top of your lift, shrug your shoulders and lift the bar up to your clavicle. Your elbows move high and outside.
- Lower the bar back to the ground and repeat.
This is a CrossFit move, so if you have friends who do that, ask them to watch your form.
10. Single-Leg Kettlebell Deadlift
Get ready to take your Romanian deadlift game up a notch. Doing single-leg moves challenges your balance and really makes your standing leg burn.
- Kettlebell (can also use a dumbbell)
- Get in a standing position with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the kettlebell in the hand of the leg you're working.
- Move the non-working leg behind you, balanced on toes. Set your body up to deadlift. Brace your core, keep your hips square, and shift the weight to the back of your standing foot.
- Brace your lats as you hinge at your hips until you feel a nice stretch in your hamstring. Maintain a slight bend to your working knee joint.
- Press into the heel of your working leg to bring yourself back to standing position.
If your balance is off, you can either hold your non-kettlebell hand out to the side, gently brace against a wall, or even do a "kickstand" deadlift where your non-working leg stays on the ground but lightly on your toes.
11. Back Extensions
This alternative to a glute ham raise is excellent for firing up your lower back along with your glutes and hamstrings.
- Step into the back extension machine with your hips resting against the pads and your feet locked into place.
- Cross your arms in front of your chest and inhale as you hinge at your hips to lean down. Exhale to lift yourself back up.
Imagine having a board straight against your back, meaning avoid hyperextending your back on the way up.
12. Leg Curls
Rounding out our list of alternative exercises is the traditional leg curl. This is similar to the stability ball version, except in a machine.
- Sit in the leg curl machine with your back and glutes pressed firmly into the seat. Lock your legs in place and flex your toes.
- Using your hamstrings, press the padded leg lever down. Squeeze at the bottom to fire up your hamstrings.
- Gently let the lever come back up.
If you don't have access to a machine, you can lie on your stomach on the ground, hold a dumbbell between your feet, and lift it.
Go And Work Your Glutes
As I promised, you won't need a GHD machine for this glute ham raise alternative list.
And, with a variety of equipment and movements, you're now equipped to build the glutes and hamstrings of your dreams.