The Best Hamstrings Exercise You’re Doing IncorrectlyJan 14, 2022
What if I told you the single most important exercise for building the hamstrings is one you’re most likely not doing? Or even if you are performing this exercise you may be performing it incorrectly as so many do.
The Glute Ham Raise (GHR) is one of the single most butchered exercises I see people performing, but it’s arguably one of the most beneficial for great hamstrings development. Oftentimes though the critical error is how people set up these pieces of equipment with regards to how close or far away they set the backplate.
Once the correct setting is established this usually provides a window of information in terms of how weak your hamstrings are – oftentimes people are unable to perform a true GHR without some form of compensation ie. excessive lumbar extension.
Don’t worry though there are a few scaling options to make this exercise more feasible and align better with your current strength levels.
You don’t need to be an expert in anatomy to know that the hamstrings are composed of high concentrations of fast-twitch muscle fibers or to know that the hamstrings are involved with hip extension, but this will make more sense when we get into GHR programming and give you more ‘why’ behind the movement.
Back in the early 2000s as a young coach, I remember reading a Poliquin article where he talked about NOT going higher than 8-10 reps on lying leg curls. This makes a lot more sense now than it did back then as this aligns better with the fast-twitch fiber composition of the hamstrings group.
In terms of what you need to know, think about it like this: the hamstrings respond very well to lower rep schemes and heavier loading which is why an exercise like an RDL works so well for hamstrings development with regards to loading capacity and trainability. The GHR is comparable although the level of motor control is higher (this is NOT an exercise for someone that hasn’t mastered the hip-hinge pattern via an RDL first.)
So, if you’ve mastered the hip-hinge and GHRs are not a regular part of your training these next few options will be where you should start.
Glute Ham Raise Set-up
#1 Box Assisted Glute Ham Raises
Using a plyo box of 30” situated in front of the GHR you’ll use the box to push off of to provide assistance during the concentric (raising) phase of the GHR. Perform 3-4 x 5-7 reps resting 90s between sets.
#2 Band Assisted Glute Ham Raises
Using a mini-band for assistance set the band up attached to the back plate. Perform set 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps resting 90s between sets. Use a band thickness that aligns with your current strength levels.
#3 Glute Ham Raise Cluster Sets
Once you’ve graduated from using band assistance you’ll be able to start attempting bodyweight sets of GHRs, but instead of going in headlong in terms of volume we’ll start out using cluster sets to ease your way into the exercise and to eliminate excessive DOMs. Perform 3 sets of 3.2.1 cluster sets. Rest 10s between each set ie. perform a set of 3 then rest 10s, perform a set of 2 then rest 10s, perform a set of 1 then rest 2:00.
#4 Glute Ham Raises – Straight sets
Performing straight sets is the most straightforward of the listed options. Perform 4-5 sets of 5-8 reps resting 90s – 2:00 between sets.
#5 Loaded Glute Ham Raises
Once you’ve mastered bodyweight GHRs and sets of 8 are relatively easy it’s time to add additional resistance – a 10-20# medball works well as does a weighted vest. Perform 4-5 sets of 5-7 reps resting 2:00 between sets.
Furthermore, every so often it’s okay to throw in some higher rep work ie. 3 sets of max reps will full recovery between sets. but higher sets composed of lower repetitions will be the most prudent way to get you to where you want to go.
Glute Ham Raise Programming
I've experimented with GHR programming quite a bit and what I've found works best for myself is one heavy day & one light day, but that's likely not a viable option for most people and a better option for someone that can perform AT LEAST 20 strict BW GHRs.
- Beginners: Use one of the scaling options (box or band-assisted) & perform 3 x 8-10 with 90s between sets, 1x per week.
- Intermediate: Bodyweight Glute Ham Raises: 3-4 x 8-10 with 90s rest between sets, 1x per week.
- Advanced: Loaded Glute Ham Raises: 4 x 6-8 with 90s rest 1x per week & 3 x 10-15 with 90s rest, 1x per week
Use this as a guide - nothing more, nothing less and customize it to the individual. Most people will be best served to perform GHRs 1x per week using the appropriate scaling option to match their needs - simple & effective!
Glute Ham Raises have a ton of value for building strong and jacked hamstrings, but make sure you’re properly building yourself up and starting with regressions if needed. Over time, performing GHRs with body weight should be relatively easy in but you’ll require additional loading in order to keep progressing with this exercise.
If you're interested in learning more about programming, check out my Playbook here.