The Beginner's Guide to Using the Glute-Ham Developer (GHD)

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Though it's called the glute-ham developer, you can use it to target your lower back muscles, too.
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The glute ham developer — better known as a GHD — may not look as big and impressive as barbell bench press set-ups or squat racks, but it's one of the best pieces of equipment for anyone looking to build lower-body strength and muscle mass.

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Here's what you need to know about the machine and how to use it safely to get those glute and hamstring gains.

Glute-Ham Developers for Your Home Gym

What Is the Glute-Ham Developer?

Like the name suggests, the glute-ham developer (GHD) is a great tool to train the glutes and hamstrings, plus the lower back, Matt Kite, CSCS, director of education for D1 Training, tells LIVESTRONG.com. It's a staple machine in many CrossFit gyms, and you may find it in your local gym, too.

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"The two most common uses of the GHD are for hip-extension and back-extension exercises," Kite says. Both exercises require lying face down on the machine with your feet hooked into the attachment at the end. For a hip extension, your quads will rest on the curved pad so that your hips hang slightly over the top; for a back extension, your pelvis rests on the curved pad.

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Are GHD Sit-Ups Safe?

You've probably seen or heard about a GHD sit-up, a CrossFit move. It's done by lying face up on the machine, hanging your body down all the way toward the floor, then doing a sit-up from this position.

Kite cautions against doing them: "This is an advanced movement that require a ton of stability, strength and experience," he says. "It puts a ton of strain on the neck, spine and mostly the hip flexors that, if untrained. can be badly injured.

"Most people do not naturally have the level of [back-of-the-body] and core strength needed to complete the movement properly and safely." If you're looking to work your core, there are many other lower-risk ab exercises that can get you just-as-good results —and likely better, Kite says.

Why Use the Glute Ham Developer?

Since there aren't any weight plates, cables or buttons involved, the GHD offers a pretty simple set-up for working your glutes and hamstrings. "I love this machine, because it's all body weight and gravity," Arielle Childs, founding coach at Rowgatta in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

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"The primary benefit of the GHD is that it allows our body to get into a position to isolate the areas of glute and hamstrings and lower back," Kite says. "This is particularly beneficial for novice lifters who don't quite have the proprioception or body control to target those areas."

The benefits of doing hip extension and back extension exercises on a GHD, according to Kite, include:

  • Allowing for more focused contraction of the muscles that control the pelvis, hip and lower back
  • Stabilizing the pelvis and lower back, which are essential for functional strength
  • Improving the ability to lift weight safely

These movements are good for just about anyone who needs to bend at the waist, Kite says. "These two exercises — done well on a foundational level — can help just about everyone." When used properly, the GHD helps you get stronger in both of these areas.

You can also do hamstring raises on the GHD, which involve kneeling at the front pad and using your hamstrings to lower your torso forward with control and bring it back up. And the GHD allows you to achieve a larger range of motion than doing similar movements without the machine, Childs says.

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How to Use the Glute Ham Developer

Adjust the Machine

Before you climb onto the GHD, make sure it's adjusted to fit you. "If the machine is set to the wrong height, injuries can occur or the wrong muscles could be used," Childs says. Ensure your feet feel secure and that your shins are always in contact with the pad. You want your feet and knees in line so that your shins are about parallel to the ground.

The correct distance between the foot pad and hip/back pad will depend on the exercise. For a hip extension, you want your hips to hang slightly over the edge of the pad. For a back extension, you want your entire pelvis to be firmly on top of the pad. For hamstring raises, you want your knees to be just behind the pad, or on the knee pad if the machine you're using has one.

Avoid Lower-Back Pain and Injury

Any time you perform an exercise with the GHD, you should feel it primarily in your glutes, hamstrings and core. You may feel some exercises a little in the lower back — the back extension is meant to gently build strength in this area — but none of the exercises should cause you any pain or discomfort.

If you feel pain or discomfort in the lower back, adjust your positioning or stop the exercise altogether. "This means you're likely over-reliant on your lower back muscles," Kite says. "They are probably compensating for your lack of strength, or learned strength, in your hamstrings and glutes."

He recommends focusing on strengthening your hamstrings and glutes with both isolation and eccentric exercises before trying the GHD again.

Start Slowly

If you've never used the GHD before, you may feel apprehensive about hanging part of your body out in the open. Childs recommends easing into the movements and starting with a shorter range of motion until you're more comfortable with the machine.

Last but not least, resist the urge to try really quick, ballistic movements you may see on YouTube. Kite says to focus on learning the movements at a slow pace and building strength before adding any sort of speed into the mix (if at all).

3 Glute-Ham Developer Exercises

Here are a few of Childs' favorite GHD exercises. Start with the body-weight version first. Then, once you are strong enough and familiar enough with the exercises, you can hold a weight plate at your chest as you do the moves. Pick a lighter weight to start and progress from there.

1. GHD Sorenson Hold

JW Player placeholder image
Type Strength
Activity CrossFit
Region Lower Body
  1. Lie face-down on the GHD so your hips hang slightly over the edge of the pad and hook your feet in with toes pointing toward the floor.
  2. Cross your arms in front of your chest or place your hands lightly behind your head.
  3. Squeeze your glutes and abs and allow your body to extend so it’s parallel to the ground. Your upper body should be hanging out in space.
  4. Hold this position for as long as you can with proper form and without pain.

2. GHD Hip Extension

JW Player placeholder image
Type Strength
Activity CrossFit
Region Lower Body
  1. Lie face-down on the GHD so your hips hang slightly over the edge of the pad and hook your feet in with toes pointing toward the floor.
  2. Cross your arms in front of your chest or place your hands lightly behind your head.
  3. Hinge at the hips to fold forward with control.
  4. Squeeze your glutes and engage your hamstrings to extend your hips and return to the start.

3. GHD Glute-Ham Raise

JW Player placeholder image
Type Strength
Activity CrossFit
Region Lower Body
  1. Kneel on the GHD pad and hook your feet in to the attachment with toes pointing toward the floor.
  2. Cross your arms in front of your chest or place your hands lightly behind your head.
  3. Hinge at the hips to lower your torso toward the floor with control until you’re at or near horizontal (parallel to the floor).
  4. Squeeze your glutes and engage your hamstrings to raise your torso back to starting position.

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