If you don’t have access to a glute ham raise machine, don’t panic! In this article, I’m going to be sharing with you what you can do instead.
The glute ham raise is a posterior chain strength and hypertrophy exercise. Your posterior chain refers to your lower back, glutes and hamstrings. The best alternatives to using this machine are the ones that will target these muscles, whilst allowing for the knees to be flexed, increasing hamstring tension.
How to Do Glute Ham Raises Without A Machine
Below you will find a range of substitutes to the glute ham raise machine that work just as well, if not better.
Included for each exercise are instructions on how to do it, as well as a demo video. It pays to take note of the correct technique for any exercise, but especially those that work your posterior chain. Incorrect technique can lead to detrimental lower back injuries.
1. Stability Ball Roll Unders
This is a great body weight exercise that places a lot of load on your hamstrings, but also works your hips and lower back.
- Lie on your back on the ground with your arms out wide and palms facing down (for stability).
- Place your feet and lower legs on top of a stability ball.
- Start by lifting your hips off the ground so your body is in a straight diagonal line from your feet to your head.
- Roll the stability ball underneath you by performing a hamstring curl movement. Do this whilst simultaneously pushing your hips upwards.
- Hold for a second whilst your hamstrings are fully contracted then roll the ball back out, so your body is in a straight line.
- Don’t put your hips back down on the ground until you have completed all your repetitions.
Suggested reps: 8 to 12
2. Cable Pull Throughs
I love this cable exercise for hitting your glutes and hamstrings! And if you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can do it with a resistance band too.
- Attach the rope handle to the lower setting of the cable machine.
- Stand with your back towards the machine and straddle the cable, holding one side of the rope in each hand.
- Your feet should be shoulder width apart and you should have (maintain) a slight bend in your knees.
- With a neutral spine, start by reaching back through your legs as far as possible, by hinging at the hips and allowing the cable to go back towards the machine.
- Without bending your arms, extend through the hips to bring yourself up into standing position in a swift and strong movement.
- Lock your hips and squeeze your glutes hard at the end of the movement before going into your next repetition.
Suggested reps: 12 to 15
3. Good Mornings
Good mornings are an excellent glute ham raise substitute as they target all the same muscles and almost replicate the movement, but in reverse! There are mixed reviews about this exercise, as it is easily done wrong. However, if done right – it’s a goodie.
- Have a barbell on your back, as you would for a low bar back squat – across the back of your shoulders.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your shoulder blades retracted.
- Place a small bend in your knees and lock this position for the entire exercise.
- Keeping a neutral spine, hinge forward at the hips until your torso is roughly parallel to the ground. (Note, this will depend on your mobility through the hips and hamstrings).
- Engage your glutes at the bottom of the movement and pull back up through your hamstrings to standing position.
Suggested reps: 8 to 10
4. Romanian Deadlifts
This version of the deadlift must be one of my all-time favorite posterior chain exercises!
- Have a barbell racked at about thigh height.
- Grip the bar with your hands about shoulder width apart and lift the barbell off the rack.
- Stand with your feet hip width apart and place a small bend in the knees.
- Lower the barbell down the front of your legs by simultaneously hinging at the hips and pushing them backwards. This should create a stretch sensation in your hamstrings.
- Once the barbell reaches your knees or just below, engage through the glutes and hamstrings and extend through the hips to reach standing position again.
Suggested reps: 8 to 15
Pro tip: Do this exercise as heavy as safely possible over fewer reps rather than lighter weight over more reps for ultimate hamstring strength gains.
5. Single Leg Stiff Leg Deadlift
This exercise is tough, as it requires a great deal of balance to perform. However, it is a great way of building equal strength, size and endurance through your left and right sides of your posterior chain.
This exercise also provides many varieties of progressions are you can add kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells and bands (not all at once though, please).
- Stand on one leg (if you’re using a weight of some sort, you would hold the weight in the hand of the same side as your working leg).
- Keeping a slight bend in that leg, hinge at the hips bringing your chest forward, whilst extending your non-working leg out behind you for balance.
- Once your torso is parallel to the ground, or near to, pull back up to the standing position.
- Do all repetitions on one side before starting on the other side.
Suggested reps: 12 to 15 on each leg.
Pro tip: Don’t let your resting leg touch the ground throughout your repetition range for extra tension on the working side!
6. Barbell GHR
I’m going to start by saying that if you don’t have something appropriate to pad your knees with then don’t do this exercise!
If you have something appropriate to pad your knees with, however, then definitely do this exercise! It’s as close to the machine glute ham raise as you will ever get… without a glute ham raise machine.
- Kneel on some padding (very important) and anchor your feet under a heavy barbell.
- Start with your body vertical then slowly lower yourself towards the ground, maintaining a neutral spine and straight body, catching yourself on the ground with your hands.
- Pull yourself back up to starting position using your hamstrings – a little push off the ground with your hands may be required.
Suggested reps: 8 to 12
Pro tip: Place a Bosu ball in front of you to “land on” and “push off”.
7. Kettlebell Swings
The old faithful. The kettlebell swing never goes astray in any workout – especially not in one in which the aim of the game is to get your hamstrings and glutes firing.
- Place a kettlebell on the floor in front of you.
- Stand with your feet just over shoulder width apart.
- With a neutral spine and soft bend in the knees, grab the kettlebell between both hands and pull it backwards, through your legs, to create momentum for the swing.
- With powerful hip extension, push back up into standing position, sending the kettlebell swinging up to around eye level.
- Let the kettlebell swing back between your legs, as you hinge through the hips, and repeat the movement for your desired amount of repetitions/swings.
Suggested reps: 15 to 20
Pro tip: The drive and power of the swing needs to come from your hips. You need to make sure you hinge at the hips as opposed to go into a squat by bending through the knees.
There are very many effective exercises for your posterior chain. The ones included in this article are a good place to start when looking for alternatives to the glute ham raise as they most closely replicate the movement and muscles used.
A great idea is to throw one or two of these exercises into your leg day for a great all-around leg workout. The glute ham raise machine isn’t the be all and end all of hamstring training, and you will find that a lot of gyms are not equipped with that machine. But you’re prepared either way, after reading this!
Let us know what you do as a glute ham raise substitute in the comments section below!