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September 06, 2022 9 min read

You would be excused for thinking your favorite gym doesn’t have a GHD machine, because the glute-ham developer might be one of the most underutilized pieces of gym equipment.

Somewhere among the hip abductor or adductor machine, the leg press, leg curl, and other pieces of equipment might be that one machine that serves as a sweatshirt hanger, and water bottle stand.

Take a closer look, and you might think it resembles a medieval torture device. However, it might be just what you need to help you build posterior strength and improve your stability.

The glute hamstring developer, aka the GHD machine or glute-ham developer, offers some serious strength perks whether you do CrossFit, bodybuilding, or just working out for good health. It’s true, there’s a lot you can do with dumbbells and kettlebells, but the GHD machine offers an all-in-one workout.

THE MUSCLES WORKED BY THE GHD MACHINE

GHD Machine – Image from Shutterstock

Building and strengthening the posterior chain of muscles can keep your body healthy, muscularly balanced, and pain-free. It can also lower the risk of lower back, knee, and hip injuries. This endlessly versatile tool can be used for more than just GHD raises and sit-ups. In this article, we’ll show you that the glute-ham machine offers a whole lot more than just GHD raises and sit-ups.

Although the Glute Hamstring Developer is designed to work your posterior chain of muscles, it really offers a full-body workout.

Its core strengthening features work the  deep-set layers of muscles  of the pelvic floor and other midsection and lower body muscles, and even the stabilizing back muscles. While strong core muscles help you develop a six-pack and do better crunches, they play a significant role in your day-to-day walking, bending, twisting, and more.

What comprises the posterior chain of muscles?

Posterior Chain – Image from Shutterstock

 

The Posterior Chain refers to the structures at the back of the leg and spine.  In fact, these muscles stretch from the back of the head all the way down to the heels. The  primary muscles that comprise the Posterior Chain are the erector spinae muscles, latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximi, hamstrings, and calf muscles.

IMPORTANT PRECAUTION

Before doing any of the GHD exercises for the first time, ensure you have the required capacity for the range of movements. 

You need a certain amount of strength and mobility to avoid injuries when you use the GHD Machine.

Use the superwoman position to test your capacity. Lower your torso until it is parallel to the floor. Now, hold that position for at least 10 seconds without moving your body at all.

If you feel comfortable, confident, and strong in this position, you're ready to do it from the hamstring position.

Otherwise, you’d be safer spending more time doing glute bridges, deadlifts, and hip thrusts to strengthen your core and posterior chain before giving it another go.

Furthermore, when you do the hip extension exercise for the first time, lower your body only a few inches, and slowly increase the range of motion as you progress over several weeks.

As you grow stronger and become more comfortable working out on the GHD machine, you can work on folding up to 90 degrees. Only once you can maintain a neutral spine without any rounding of your lower back will you be safe.

7 BEST GHD MACHINE EXERCISES

The GHD machine's benefits vary slightly from one exercise to the next, and they are adjustable to accommodate different exercises and bodies. Let’s look at the best seven. Note that the movements of all these exercises are slow, and don’t forget to warm up!

1. Hip Extensions

The most beginner-friendly movement on the GHD machine is the hip extension. The glutes and the hamstrings are the primary muscle groups worked here, but the lower back and calf muscles will also benefit.

Maintaining a rigid spine while flexing your hips is the correct form for GHD hip extensions.

Here's how to do hip extensions on the GHD machine.

  • Starting position — Adjust the machine to allow the tops of your legs to rest on the support pad, leaving your hips unrestrained.
  • While maintaining straight legs, fully extend your hips and position your arms across your chest.
  • Ensure your head and torso are parallel to the ground.
  • Maintain your lumbar curve as you descend by flexing your hips.
  • Return your torso to the starting position while contracting your glutes and hamstrings.
  • Repeat

2. Back Extensions

Back extensions develop spinal erectors while also moving your vertebrae one by one as your back flexes. 

Doing back extensions on the GHD machine also helps develop your kinesthetic awareness.

Back Muscles – Image from Shutterstock

 

Kinesthesia or kinesthetic awareness is your awareness of muscular movements. It includes your sense of muscular ease or tension, movements, balance, and joint position.

This involves the vestibular system, one of the sensory systems that provide your brain with information about motion, balance, and your head and body’s location in relation to your surroundings, based on input from muscles, joints, and the vestibular system of the inner ear.

Here's how to do back extensions on the GHD machine.

  • Starting position — Adjust the machine to ensure the pad supports your hips.
  • Maintain straight legs, fully extended hips, a neutral spine, and crossed arms, and tuck your chin in to flex your spine.
  • Start the movement with your neck, followed by your upper back and then your lower back.
  • Repeat the motion in reverse when you return to the starting position — begin at your lower back and end at your neck.
  • Repeat

3. Hip and Back Extensions

Hip and back extensions help develop body awareness and exercise your back and hips.

Here's how to do hip and back extensions on the GHD machine.

  • Starting position — Position yourself on the machine to allow your hips to be free, with the support pad fixed beneath your legs.
  • Cross your arms over your chest while fully extending your hips and maintaining straight legs.
  • Start a standard back extension movement, beginning at the neck and progressing to the lower back.
  • Flex the spine and extend it to transition to a hip extension and a spine extension.
  • Return carefully to the starting position by bending your spine in the other direction, from your lower back to your upper back.
  • Repeat

4. Sorenson Hold

The Sorenson Hold is an isometric exercise using the GHD machine, which works like a plank for your back side. An isometric exercise is a form of resistance exercise in which muscles are used in opposition with other muscle groups, to increase strength.

Here's how to do the Sorenson hold on the GHD machine.

  • Starting position — Adjust the machine to allow your hips to rest on the support pads.
  • Stretch your legs completely, and place your hands across your chest or behind your head.
  • Maintain a parallel position with the floor by contracting your glutes and abs.
  • Remember to engage your core to prevent lower back hyperextension.
  • Hold the position for 5-10 seconds

5. Glute Ham Raises

Glute Muscles – Image from Shutterstock

 

Glute Ham Raises, or GHR, is one of the best, and most challenging hamstring exercises you can do to strengthen your hams. You will keep your hips fixed, forcing you to rely on your hamstrings to move your torso to the starting position. The GHD works knee flexion and hip extension, taking your hamstrings through their full range of motion while building strong upper legs and bulletproofing your lower body.

For those working without a glute ham machine, reverse hyperextension is one of the best alternatives to the glute ham raise because it puts the same set of muscles to work. Nordic hamstring curls are another alternative to the GHD machine — an effective and versatile bodyweight exercise that will strengthen your hamstrings and protect them from injury.

Here's how to do glute ham raises on the GHD machine.

  • Starting position — Adjust the GHD machine so that your knees are supported by the pad.
  • Start with a straight upper body and knees bent.
  • Ensure you maintain a neutral spine as you fall.
  • Continue the movement until your torso is parallel to the floor.
  • Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings as you return to the starting position.

 

Pro Tip: You can make this easier by moving your knees behind the support pad.

GHD Machine glute ham raises are similar to doing good morning exercises with barbells, they work the same muscles with a reversed range of motion.

6. Reverse Hypers

Reverse hypers help with the activation and strengthening of your glutes and flex your lower back.

Here's how to do glute ham raises on the GHD machine.

  • Starting position — Lie face-down on the footpad and adjust the GHD machine so that the pad supports your abdominals when you lie face-down on it.
  • Your hips must be free to flex and extend.
  • Squeeze your glutes while you utilize your arms to support the footplate.
  • Raise your feet until they are parallel to the floor, aligned with the rest of your body.
  • With your legs directed towards the floor and your hips contracted, return to the starting position.
  • Repeat.

7. GHD Sit-Ups

Doing sit-ups on the GHD machine is considered one of the more advanced movements. This workout will help strengthen your hip flexors, back, and core.

There are three versions of GHD sit-ups, ranging in difficulty, allowing you to progress from the easier version to the most challenging sit-up exercise.

Sit Up To Parallel

    Best for new users of the GHD machine.

    • Starting position — Sit on the support pads with slightly bent knees and position your glutes off the seat.
    • The key here is to keep a static trunk, with the movement stemming from a dynamic hip as you descend your torso.
    • Straighten and lock your knees when you reach a parallel position, using explosive power to bring your body back to the starting position. 
    • Ensure you maintain a static trunk throughout.

    Sit-Up Full Range

    This exercise is similar but more advanced than the parallel sit-up.

     

    GHD Machine sit-ups – Images from Shutterstock

     

    • The starting position is the same as for the regular sit-up, but your arms must be stretched above your head.
    • What makes this sit-up version more difficult is the fact that you go back past parallel until your torso is perpendicular to the floor.
    • Swing down with your outstretched arms above your head until your fingertips touch the floor.
    • Use explosive power to gently swing your arms and upper body back into the starting position.

     

    Sit Up Full Range With Medicine Ball

    If you want an extra level of difficulty, add a medicine ball to the GHD sit-up.

    Starting position — Move the GHD in front of a wall and follow the instructions for the full-range sit-up. 
    One exception – instead of stretching your arms above your head, hold a medicine ball at your chest, with your elbows out.
    As you descend your torso past parallel, stretch your arm out above your head until the ball touches the floor.
    Here’s the challenging part. Using explosive power, swing your upper body and ball back in the starting position and throw the ball at the wall.
    As you catch the ball begin to descend once again and repeat.

    A reminder of the benefits of GHD machines once more

    There's a reason why the top athletes are pulling the GHD machines out from under loads of sweatshirts and water bottles. This specialty piece of equipment can add some substantial strength to their posterior chain muscles, especially the glutes and hamstrings. They are even becoming sought-after pieces of home gym or garage gym equipment.

    STRENGTHEN POSTERIOR CHAIN

    The glute ham machines do precisely what their name says — engage muscles on the backside of your body from head to heels. That includes your glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors. Strengthening these muscles leads to enhanced overall power and helps prevent injuries while training.

    ISOLATE GLUTES & HAMSTRINGS

     

    Hamstrings – Image from Shutterstock

    The glute ham raise has been shown to be one of the best exercises that you can perform to isolate the glutes and hamstrings. By isolating them, you can gain muscle growth in a relatively short time. Few bodyweight exercises can match the glute ham raise when it comes to building muscle.

    IMPROVE POSTURE

    With stronger muscles in your back, your foundation is stronger, which improves your posture in your everyday life. Whether you are active or sitting at a desk for hours on end, the GHD machine can do wonders.

    WORK THE CORE

    Besides the primary function of glute ham developer machines, they can also work magic with your core muscles. Along with your glutes and hams, you can work your abs by doing GHD sit-ups.

    CONCLUSION

    Although the GHD machine offers a boatload of benefits, don’t overdo it.

    The hamstrings work in opposition to the quads, so it’s important to balance hamstring-targeted workouts with exercises that build strength in the quads.

    Work the GHD routine into your usual weightlifting and muscle-building regime, or reach out to a trainer to help you work out the best-balanced schedule for your unique needs.

    Moreover, never lose sight of the importance of good-quality, deep sleep to give your body time to recover after strength training or powerlifting. 

    When you achieve high-quality sleep, you receive comprehensive recovery benefits to both your body and mind. 

    Rested-AF  can help by working to promote increased anabolic processes such as muscle breakdown recovery and promoting higher rates of protein synthesis, in addition to improving daily cognitive functions such as mental acuity and information retention.