The glute ham raise comfortably sits on my program year round, as it is one of the most effective supplementary exercises in building the hamstrings and posterior chain.
As effective as the glute ham raise is, the necessary equipment can be difficult to find, and the exercise itself can prove to be challenging as well.
Even so, if the glute ham raise is too difficult or inaccessible to you, there are a large selection of alternatives that can be done in a variety of settings with all types of equipment.
The 12 Best Glute Ham Raise Alternatives Are:
- Reverse Hack Squat RDLs
- Toes Up Machine Leg Curl
- Toes Elevated Romanian Deadlifts
- Good Mornings
- Forward Feet Hip Thrusts
- Split Stance Dumbbell RDL
- Single Leg RDL
- Lying Banded Leg Curls
- Banded Good Mornings
- Stability Ball Leg Curls
- Nordic Curls
- Glute Bridge Walkouts
My goal for this article is to give you the versatility to select glute ham raise alternative exercises in any setting, tell you how to do them, and give you some tips to take additional steps towards mastery as well.
Furthermore, the selection I have provided includes barbell, machine, banded, and bodyweight variations to promote hamstring and posterior chain development.
What Makes A Good Glute Ham Raise Alternative?
A good glute ham raise alternative will accomplish one of the following:
- Uses similar muscles as the glute ham raise, and
- Develops the posterior chain similarly
Let’s dive into these details a bit more.
Muscles Used In The Glute Ham Raise:
The muscles used in the glute ham raise are:
- Hamstrings (Biceps femoris, Semimembranosus, and Semitendinosus)
- Glutes (Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Maximus, and Gluteus Minimus)
During glute ham raise, the knees are supported by a pad, this promotes the isolation of the knee movement to work the hamstrings alone to execute the movement.
Takeaway: A good glute ham raise alternative will target the hamstrings and glute muscles.
Posterior Chain Development
While the hamstrings are isolated during the glute ham raise, there is a significant demand from the muscles of the core and glutes to maintain total body stiffness and rigidity.
For this reason, the glute ham raise is an excellent exercise in building total body musculature and the development of the posterior chain.
A strong posterior chain is necessary for all athletes, especially powerlifters and olympic lifters who want to build their squat, deadlift, or power clean.
Takeaway: An effective glute ham raise substitute will target the hamstrings, while developing the entire posterior chain.
Glute Ham Raise Alternatives with Equipment
Reverse Hack Squat RDL
Doing RDLs on the hack squat is unconventional yet effective in targeting the hamstrings and posterior chain, making this a good glute ham raise substitute.
This variation of an RDL is different because the position of loading is atop and in front of the body. Because of this, we can move quite a bit of weight which can be beneficial for overloading the hamstrings and posterior chain.
How To Do It
- Standing with your feet hip-width apart, you will face the back pad.
- Build tension by driving your traps through the neck pad.
- Extend at the hips, to stand up with the loaded hack squat.
- Initiate by pushing the hips back into an RDL.
- Bring your hips forward to return to the starting position.
Play with the feet position to see which stance works best for targeting the hamstrings.
For some, a close stance might engage the hamstrings more effectively, while for others a wider stance proves to be more effective.
Feeling extra sore after deadlifts? Read my article, Hamstrings Sore After Deadlifts: Is This Good Or Bad?
Toes Up Leg Curl
While executing the leg curl, point your toes up, this will promote the targeting of the hamstrings to a greater degree, which makes this exercise variation a good glute ham raise substitute.
Attaining effective mind muscle connection with the hamstrings can be difficult at times, for this reason pointing the toes up and lightening the load can assist in the feel of the exercise.
How To Do It
- Adjust the back pad a bit more forward so that there is clearance between knees and the seat.
- Adjust the leg pad so that it sits right behind your ankle.
- Sit upright on the leg curl machine, while maintaining a neutral spine.
- Fasten the support just above your lower thighs so that you are locked into the machine.
- Grab the handles on top of the machine to ensure stability throughout.
- From here, simply drive your heels back until your knees are fully flexed.
- Point your toes back towards you during the entire repetition.
- To complete the repetition, guide the load back into knee extension.
Not only does pointing your toes up achieve greater hamstring activation, but externally rotating your feet and bringing your heels together can as well.
I would recommend experimenting with several different feet angles and stance widths to find an optimal position for you for hamstring activation.
You might be interested in another article I wrote Leg Extension vs. Leg Curls: Pros, Cons, Differences.
Glute Ham Raise Alternatives with Barbells
Toes Elevated Romanian Deadlifts
Toes up romanian deadlifts are modified for greater hamstring activation and overall are beneficial for targeting the posterior chain which make it a good barbell glute ham raise alternative.
Any time you elevate your toes for a leg curl or deadlift exercise, you are placing additional focus on the hamstrings.
Moreover, a paper by (McCallister et al, 2014) found that Romanian deadlifts, when compared to other hamstring exercises, displayed the highest hamstring EMG activation during the lowering phase.
How To Do It
- Elevate the front of each foot that is hip-width apart with 5 lbs plates.
- Grip width should be just outside of the thighs.
- Build tension in the upper back by closing the armpits and exaggerating the chest up cue.
- Initiate the movement, by sitting the hips back until the barbell is just below the knees.
- Return to the starting position by driving the hips forward.
Rather than focusing on loading up the RDL’s, focus on proper technique and higher repetitions to target the hamstrings.
Romanian deadlift program example:
- Week 1: 3 x 10 @50-60%
- Week 2: 4 x 10 @50-60%
- Week 3: 4 x 10 @55-65%
- Week 4: 4 x 8 @55-65%
Similar to RDLs, good mornings load up the posterior chain and hamstrings to a high degree which makes them a good glute ham raise substitute.
How To Do It
- Place the weight of the unracked bar into your traps, while building tension in your lats.
- Unrack the bar by standing up with it and walk the weight out with three precise steps.
- Initiate this exercise by sitting back with the hips until you feel the highest stretch on the hamstrings and glutes.
- Return to the starting position by driving the hips forward to complete the repetition.
Good mornings are fairly versatile in the way that multiple specialty bars such as the safety squat bar and the cambered bar can be used to effectively execute this exercise.
The cambered bar increases in difficulty at the bottom of a rep, while the safety squat bar requires you to build greater tension in your mid to upper back muscles to maintain stability.
Feet Forward Hip Thrusts
Feet forward hip thrusts place an emphasis on hamstring and glute activation which make it a good glute ham raise alternative.
How To Do It
- Lay under a loaded barbell with either a squat pad or an airex pad underneath it.
- Dig your traps on the side of the bench and maintain an upright chest to build tension.
- Have your feet further out then directly under your knees with your toes up and knees bent.
- Elevate the bar with your hips at 90 degrees to maintain the starting position.
- Drive your hips up into complete extension while squeezing your glutes and hamstrings.
- Return to the starting position by bending the hips back to 90 degrees.
Play with different stance widths and feet positions (toes up or down) to see which you prefer the most. The hip thrust allows for a wide variety of movement variation to achieve different lower body muscle activation.
Below I have provided a hip thrust superset example that can target the glutes, hamstrings, and quads for total lower body development.
Hip Thrust Superset Example:
- Frog Pumps x 10 (Glutes)
- Feet Forward Hip Thrust x 10 (Hamstring/Glutes)
- Feet In Hip Thrust x 10 (Quads/Glutes)
If you don’t feel your glutes while hip thrusting, read my article on 9 Tips To Feel Your Glutes More While Hip Thrusting.
Glute Ham Raise Alternatives with Dumbbells
DB Split Stance RDL
The split stance RDL allows for less spinal loading than a regular RDL while targeting the glutes and hamstrings and engaging the posterior chain, which makes the split stance RDL a good dumbbell glute ham raise substitute.
How To Do It
- Rest one foot about 6 – 12 inches behind you to maintain a staggered stance.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand, while placing the majority of body weight on the planted leg.
- Hinge like you would a regular RDL by pushing your hips back until the dumbbells are just below your knees.
- Maintain a vertical shin position and an open chest during the course of this exercise while placing greater emphasis on sitting back with the hips.
- Drive your hips forward to complete the repetition.
While you might have limited access to gym equipment, an equally effective variation of this exercise can be done with a mini band.
Single Leg RDL
The single leg RDL is commonly seen in the clinical and athletic setting for building balance and the hamstrings, this is why I’d recommend this as a good glute ham raise substitute.
How To Do It
- Hold a dumbbell in the opposite hand of the leg that will be planted on the ground.
- Maintain a slight bend in your knee as you push your hips back until the handle of the dumbbell is right below your knee.
- Allow the arm with the dumbbell to hang in front of you and brush up and down your thigh.
- The leg that isn’t planted should be slightly bent and off the ground behind you.
- Drive your hips forward to return to the starting position and complete the repetition.
A way to make the single leg RDL easier and allow for greater loading of the planted leg is to hold a pvc pipe in one hand to create stability. This will place a greater emphasis on loading the hamstrings and glutes rather than balance itself.
You can also make this exercise more dynamic by adding a hop with the planted leg and driving the opposite knee up.
Glute Ham Raise Alternatives with Bands
Banded Good Mornings
Banded good mornings are a good glute ham raise alternative by only requiring a band to target the hamstrings and posterior chain.
How To Do It
- Step over one side of the band while placing the other side over your traps.
- Maintain tension in your back by squeezing your shoulder blades together and keeping your chest up.
- Sit back with your hips until you feel the highest point of tension in your glutes and hamstrings.
- Push your hips forward to return to the starting position.
Banded good mornings are non taxing, so a good option would be to do lots of sets of burnouts with high repetitions.
Glute Ham Raise Alternatives At-Home, Bodyweight, or Without Equipment
Stability Ball Leg Curls
Stability ball leg curls target the hamstrings and require minimal equipment which make it a good at home and hotel glute ham raise alternative.
How To Do It
- Lay on the floor with your feet hip width apart and a stability ball under your heels.
- Extend at the hips so that your body weight is being supported by the ball.
- Curl your heels back until your knees are at 90 degrees.
- Straighten out your legs to return to the starting position of the exercise.
A strong way to really target the glutes and hamstrings during this exercise is to superset the following variations of the stability ball leg curls:
- Stability Ball Glute Bridge x 10
- Stability Ball Leg Curl (Without Hip Extension) x 10
- Stability Ball Leg Curl (With Hip Extension) x 10
Related Article: Do Leg Curls Help Deadlifts? Yes, Here’s How
Nordic curls are the most similar alternative to the glute ham raise with greater focus on hamstring development rather than the posterior chain.
I wrote another article going into greater detail on the Glute Ham Raise vs Nordic Curl: Differences, Pros, Cons.
How To Do It
- To make this exercise more comfortable, rest both your knees on an airex pad or foam pad.
- Have a partner hold down both your heels firmly as a secure anchor point.
- If you don’t have a partner you can utilize leg locks on a lat pulldown machine or a barbell from a power rack set to a comfortable height above your heels.
- Have an upright posture with your torso perpendicular to the ground and your knees bent at 90 degrees.
- While maintaining proper posture, allow your knees to extend to lower yourself to the ground.
- Gently push yourself away from the ground, while pulling through heels to return to the starting position.
Use a stability ball to guide yourself through the different phases of the nordic curl and focus on proper technique and execution.
You can also make this exercise simpler by controlling the lowering phase and completely pushing off the ground to return to the starting position.
Glute Bridge Walkouts
Glute bridge walkouts are a good at home glute ham raise alternative by increasing the demand on the hamstrings to maintain stability by bringing the knee further and further into extension.
How To Do It
- Lay on your back with your hips resting on the floor, toes pointing up, and your knees bent at 90 degrees.
- Extend at the hips and squeeze the glute muscles.
- Take three steps out with each foot until your legs are completely extended.
- To properly execute this exercise maintain proper alignment of the hip and knee joints as you walk out into the end position.
- Walk your feet back into the starting position to complete the repetition.
With each step dig your heels through the floor to produce maximal hamstring activation. Additional loading can be produced by adding a dumbbell onto your hips or pausing in different stages of the movement.
Related Article: Back Extension vs Glute Ham Raise: Differences, Pros, Cons
Heel Slider Leg Curls
Leg curls with furniture sliders can be done anywhere and allow for one to create fluid flexion of the knee to target the hamstrings, making it a good at-home or on the road glute ham raise alternative.
How To Do It
- Place both of your heels on furniture sliders while laying face up on the ground.
- Bridge up by extending at the hips to engage your glute muscles.
- With your knees fully extended and your toes pointing up, slide your heels back until your knees are bent 90 degrees.
- Straighten out both your legs to return to the starting position and complete the rep.
Alternate between each leg to get greater total hamstring activation. By stressing one leg at a time you will be placing additional tension and overload on the hamstring muscles.
You can even superset alternating leg curls into finishing off with bilateral leg curls to really pump the legs.
Here is how you could superset these:
- Alternating Heel Slider Curls: 3 x 5E
- Bilateral Heel Slider Curls: 3 x 5
Check out our other articles that discuss alternatives to popular lower body exercises:
- 7 Best Leg Exercises That Don’t Use Ankles
- 9 Best Barbell Hip Thrust Alternatives
- 9 Best Leg Press Alternatives
- 9 Best Hack squat Alternatives
- 8 Best Pistol Squat Alternatives
- 9 Best Cossack Squat Alternatives
- 9 Best Belt Squat Alternatives
- 10 Best Front Squat Alternatives
- 10 Best Deadlift Alternatives
- 9 Best Romanian Deadlift Alternatives
- 10 Best Hyperextension Alternatives
The glute ham raise is a unique and effective exercise that targets the hamstrings and posterior chain. However, necessary equipment for the glute ham raise is expensive and somewhat uncommon, and moreover the exercise itself is somewhat difficult to do.
To conclude, there are a wide variety of banded, machine, barbell, and bodyweight exercises that you can implement into your routine to achieve similar results that you would have from doing the glute ham raise alone.
About The Author
Javad Bakhshinejad was born and raised in the Washington Area. Currently, he is a student at Seattle University where he’s been pursuing an MS in Kinesiology, and has been a Strength Coach in the athletic department. He was a competitive bodybuilder for 8 years where he later transitioned to competitive powerlifting for 4 years. Currently, He has his own personal coaching business, where he works with powerlifters and bodybuilders.