The Glute-Ham Raise
In the search for an improved posterior, we encounter the glute-ham raise. The movement is somewhat similar to the old fashioned leg curl, but, instead of laying flat on a bench, the glutes and hamstrings activate to raise the torso, hence the name.
This exercise is by no means a “new” thing; in fact, it has been utilized by Europeans for over a century, and immigrated to the Americas in the early 1970s, but has gained its most recent popularity boost over the last few years thanks to Crossfit gyms, and the physique and fitness competition community. The glute-ham raise is also a popular choice for strength and conditioning coaches that work with athletes since several studies have demonstrated the importance of actively training posterior leg muscles for improved athletic performance and injury prevention.
If you are woman simply looking to reduce the appearance of cellulite in the posterior, the glute-ham raise is one of many excellent exercise options. What I like about the exercise (hence why you will often see me and my personal training clients doing the exercise) is that it improves the posterior core, which may help to reduce the risk of back injury. One must remember that the core is much more than the six-pack abs, but also includes the obliques, back muscles and even the glutes. As with several free weight exercises, it may feel a bit awkward, at first.
In addition to playing a role in improving core strength comes the obvious benefits to the glutes and hamstrings. However, did you know that the placement of the knees on the glute-ham developer’s padding plays a big role in determining whether the exercise is more glute or hamstring intensive? For the folks that are more focused on improving their glutes, having the hip closer to the hip would involve more glute activation than if it was the knees that were closer to the top of the padding.
When doing the exercise, the keys are to keep the body in a straight line from the knees to the shoulders at all times, keep the glutes and core tight, and to focus on using the glutes and hamstrings as the primary movers. Common errors that I see at the gym is jerking oneself up to use momentum to propel the torso upward, and hyperextending the back. To prevent these errors, work on doing the exercise in a smooth (not necessarily “slow”), controlled motion, while maintaining a straight back. In fact, this is one exercise where a slight thoracic bend (a mini hunchback) is okay, especially if it helps to keep the lumbar from being hyperextended.
Muscle activation during various hamstring exercises. McAllister MJ1, Hammond KG, Schilling BK, Ferreria LC, Reed JP, Weiss LW. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, June 2014.
Addition of Glute-Ham-Gastroc Raise to a Resistance Training Program: Effect on Jump Propulsion and Landing. Chiu LZF1, Yaremko A, vonGaza GL. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, September 2017.
Gutting the Glute-Ham Raise. Bret Contreras, PhD. T-Nation, https://www.t-nation.com/training/gutting-the-glute-ham-raise