The glute ham raise is an auxiliary compound exercise that is generally performed with the aid of a machine for the purposes of training the entire lower body posterior chain, hence the name glute ham raise.
However, despite its relatively simple form and low impact, the glute ham raise may require substitution in a training program due to a variety of reasons either native to the glute ham raise itself, or for issues relating to the exerciser and their training goals.
Fortunately, a wide variety of glute ham raise alternatives exist - the majority of which are capable of fulfilling whatever requirements the exerciser’s training goals or health conditions may present, thereby allowing them to retain the same training stimulus with little additional effort.
Though the glute ham raise is relatively safe to perform and of a lower level of complexity, it may present several issues that can make performing it problematic or even dangerous for certain individuals.
The largest and most common among these complaints is the fact that the majority of glute ham raise machines are rather complicated for beginners, as the mechanics and form cues involved therein require at the least a rudimentary understanding of the exerciser’s own unique bodily kinetics.
If performed improperly, the glute ham raise may otherwise result in less effective posterior chain training as other muscle groups begin to take on the resistance load - defeating the entire purpose of the movement.
By extension of this, the glute ham raise machine may be rather difficult to acquire access to for some individuals, as it is not a common sight in most commercial gyms.
These two aforementioned reasons account for nearly all instances of the glute ham raise being substituted in a training program and, fortunately, are relatively easy to remedy with a suitable alternative exercise.
The most important factor one must look out for when selecting a potential glute ham raise alternative exercise is in its capacity to induce effective training stimulus to the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius, as well as to the various muscle groups of the hamstrings.
Generally, exercises that activate these muscle groups to a certain extent will often share many characteristics with the glute ham raise itself - such as in the case of form, mechanics, and relative intensity.
For individuals choosing to substitute the glute ham raise due to injuries affected by it, it is vital to choose a potential alternative with little to no risk of worsening said injuries - generally by choosing one that is of lower impact and utilizes less resistance.
The glute ham raise is generally performed as a secondary compound movement after more intense posterior chain activating exercises have already been completed, with such exercises like the deadlift, squat, leg press machine or hack squat usually taking precedence over the glute ham raise itself.
As such, when substituting the glute ham raise with an alternative movement of similar muscle group activation pattern and complexity, it is important for the exerciser to retain the same program structuring.
However, if the reason why the glute ham raise is being alternated out in the first place is due to the need for a more or less intense exercise instead, subsequent reprogramming of the workout routine may be required - either to keep the same training stimulus and therefore the same training results, or to prevent overtraining and injury via a reduction in total exertion.
Within the context of athletic training, bodybuilding, or general health improvement - the best possible alternative to the glute ham raise is an exercise known as the “good morning”, a free weight compound movement with a muscle group activation set identical to the glute ham raise, though with several key differences.
The largest of these is in the resistance loading of the exercise, wherein the free weight nature of the good morning forces the exerciser’s back and legs to stabilize and withstand the entire weight of the barbell, making it an extremely unsuitable exercise for the majority of physical rehabilitation patients or other individuals with physical injuries.
As an extension of this characteristic, the good morning exercise is also distinctly more intense than the glute ham raise, both due to the aforementioned free weight nature of the movement and the relative angle of resistance it imposes on the body, placing significantly more shear tension and pressure on the posterior chain and spinal column.
This will often require that subsequent intensity of other exercises targeting the same muscle groups be reduced in the workout so as to avoid overtraining and any risk of injuries.
Apart from these factors, the good morning is otherwise among one of the best possible posterior chain training exercises available in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and intensity(so long as it is performed in the proper manner).
If choosing to substitute the glute ham raise with the good morning, an advisable range of repetitions would be 5 to 8 per set, as a higher volume may fatigue the smaller stabilizer muscles of the lower back, placing the exerciser at risk.
One of the three primary muscle groups used in the glute ham raise exercise is that of the hamstrings - a group of three muscles located at the rear of the leg which are responsible for flexion of the knee and extension of the lower appendages.
As such, when searching for a potential alternative to the glute ham raise, choosing an exercise that utilizes these mechanics in its form will help reproduce much the same training stimulus as one would find in the glute ham raise - usually with the added benefit of also activating the glutes to an extent as well.
One of the few available hamstring isolation exercises is the hamstring curl machine, a closed kinetic chain movement that involves the exerciser lying prone over a machine’s bench while hooking their feet beneath a padded bar, of which they will curl towards their body with the use of their hamstrings as the sole source of force during the exercise.
This makes the hamstring curl machine an effective alternative exercise for individuals wishing to avoid activating other muscle groups normally involved the glute ham raise, or for exercisers seeking a more targeted approach to doing so - though this may require additional isolation exercises also be performed.
In terms of volume and resistance, the isolation type nature of the hamstring curl will require that the exerciser use significantly less resistance - alongside a higher number of repetitions per set so as to avoid injuring the hamstrings by overloading them.
A dynamic calisthenic exercise commonly performed as a part of lower impact athletic training programs or as a part of range of motion rehabilitory movement, the lateral lunge is performed by the exerciser simply making a swinging step to the side, bending the moving leg as they do so in order to induce muscular activation.
The lateral lunge makes an excellent alternative for exercisers seeking to retain the same muscle group activation set as the glute ham raise but with a significantly lower level of intensity, and a freer range of motion that allows them to perform the exercise more comfortably.
As a calisthenic exercise that utilizes much of the lower body to an intermediate level, the lateral lunge may also make a possible alternative for individuals whom find the resistance of the glute ham raise to be too intense, such as novice level exercisers or individuals of advanced age.
When choosing to substitute the glute ham raise for the lateral lunge, a direct one to one ratio of volume may be utilized, requiring no additional reprogramming of the workout routine save for instances wherein the lateral lunge does not induce training stimulus sufficiently enough for the exerciser’s training goals.
Performed with the aid of a reverse hyperextension machine or simply with a bench and the exerciser’s own core strength, the reverse hyperextension is a bodyweight compound movement that trains the glutes and hamstrings in a primarily eccentric capacity, making it an excellent adjunct exercise to the deadlift and squat.
Reverse hyperextensions are the most suitable hamstring focused alternative to the glute ham raise for powerlifters, athletes and general gymgoers seeking a movement that recreates the training stimulus and muscle group activation pattern of the glute ham raise with few of its drawbacks.
This is made possible by the free range of motion the reverse hyperextension presents - alongside the fact that it places significantly less stress on the lower portion of the back, allowing for a somewhat looser form to be utilized as well.
A pair of muscles that make up the buttocks, the glutes are one of the primary mover muscle groups utilized in the glute ham raise - responsible for both the eccentric and concentric portion of the repetition, especially during the middle of each phase.
As such, any alternative exercise to the glute ham raise must also train this particular muscle group to an extent, with the majority of glute muscle training exercises also involving other muscle groups normally involved in the glute ham raise.
One among these compound glute focused exercises is the barbell hip thrust, a mainstay of many glute and hamstring building workout sessions that surpasses the glute ham raise in terms of intensity and efficiency - both due to its free weight nature and the mechanics involved in the exercise.
As such, the barbell hip thrust is among one of the most suitable alternative exercises for individuals seeking to replace the glute ham raise with an exercise of more intense training stimulus, as well as one that recruits stabilizer muscle groups to a greater capacity - something lost during most machine based exercises.
The main drawback to the barbell hip thrust is in the equipment required to perform it, with a barbell, a set of weight plates, and an elevated yet comfortable platform such as a bench all being important so as to achieve the correct training stimulus type and angle of resistance.
Mechanically and visually similar to the barbell hip thrust but without the use of any sort of equipment at all, glute bridges are primarily a bodyweight exercise meant to target the glutes, lower back, hip adductors and hamstrings for the purposes of low impact training stimulus or physical rehabilitation.
As a glute ham raise alternative movement, the glute bridge is most suitable for physical rehabilitation patients seeking an increase or recovery of goniometric hip flexion range of motion - though this may not be applicable for patients with a history of or currently existing lower back conditions.
Beneath the purview of physical training, the glute bridge as an alternative to the glute ham raise is most suitable in the circumstance that the exerciser is seeking a distinctly less intense compound movement that retains the same mechanics and muscle group activation pattern.
In addition to this, the glute bridge may be used as an auxiliary exercise in a capacity quite similar to the glute ham raise - wherein the exerciser performs the auxiliary movement after the completion of more intense compound exercises that target much the same muscle groups, thereby inducing additional training stimulus.
The only difference between the two exercises within this context is in the lower level of resistance induced by the glute ham raise, of which may be solved with additional repetition volume or a higher intensity in the previously mentioned compound exercises.
1. De Ridder EM, Van Oosterwijck JO, Vleeming A, Vanderstraeten GG, Danneels LA. Posterior muscle chain activity during various extension exercises: an observational study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2013 Jul 9;14:204. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-14-204. PMID: 23834759; PMCID: PMC3716991.
2. Vigotsky AD, Harper EN, Ryan DR, Contreras B. Effects of load on good morning kinematics and EMG activity. PeerJ. 2015 Jan 6;3:e708. doi: 10.7717/peerj.708. PMID: 25653899; PMCID: PMC4304869.
3. Neto WK, Vieira TL, Gama EF. Barbell Hip Thrust, Muscular Activation and Performance: A Systematic Review. J Sports Sci Med. 2019 Jun 1;18(2):198-206. PMID: 31191088; PMCID: PMC6544005.
4. Neto WK, Soares EG, Vieira TL, Aguiar R, Chola TA, Sampaio VL, Gama EF. Gluteus Maximus Activation during Common Strength and Hypertrophy Exercises: A Systematic Review. J Sports Sci Med. 2020 Feb 24;19(1):195-203. PMID: 32132843; PMCID: PMC7039033.