While bodyweight exercises have long been a staple of routines for the upper body, they are much less common for the lower body.
This is largely due to requiring specific equipment in order to perform them and is an incredible shame, given how beneficial they can be.
One of the best options for performing lower body bodyweight exercises is a machine called a GHD.
While gradually gaining popularity and starting to show up in more gyms, many people still won’t have seen one or have any idea what a GHD is for or how to use it.
With that in mind, today we are going to look at the GHD a little closer.
By showing you the sort of exercises you can complete on it and the benefits that it can offer, it will hopefully help everyone to understand how to make the most of GHD exercises in their daily routine.
What Are GHD Exercises?
A GHD is a piece of fitness equipment that is popular in CrossFit and its name is an abbreviation for Glute Ham Developer.
A GHD is a static frame which allows the user to secure themselves in it, so that they can perform a wide range of different bodyweight exercises.
While there are certain exercises specifically designed for the GHD that can’t be performed without it, there are also a large number of variations of both weighted and bodyweight exercises that can also be completed on the frame.
All of these are considered GHD exercises.
Benefits Of GHD Exercises
GHD exercises are a fantastic choice for people who want to focus on their lower body and core.
They are also an ideal option for people training from home.
With the GHD frame not being particularly large and relying on bodyweight to create resistance, people who have limited space or funds to purchase multiple pieces of large or heavy equipment will still be able to create a challenging workout for the lower portion of their body.
GHD exercises are even a good option for people with certain mobility issues or who are rehabilitating injuries.
The lack of any weights allows you to strengthen the joints and muscles, without putting them under any unnecessary strain.
Are There Any Drawbacks Or Risks To Using A GHD?
When used as instructed, GHD exercises are deemed to be incredibly safe, as they don’t require the use of any weights and the frame doesn’t have any moving parts.
That said, there are still things you need to take into consideration, to make sure you are completely safe, as there is with any exercise.
The primary risk with a GHD is using it when it is unstable or in an unsuitable area.
Before you begin using your GHD, make sure it is on a flat, strong, stable surface. This will prevent it from tipping over while in use, which could lead to a nasty injury.
It is also important to make sure you know your own limitations and don’t push yourself too hard.
Just because you don’t have to use weights doesn’t mean there isn’t still a risk of overstraining.
If you push the muscles too hard or past their comfortable range of motion, there is still a good chance that you will injure yourself.
What Muscles Does The GHD Work?
The primary muscles that the GHD focuses on working are, as the name suggests, the gluteals and hamstrings.
It is among the best exercise machines for glutes on the market, while offering a similar level of impact for the hamstrings.
However, depending on the exercise you perform, the GHD will also work the abs, calves, lower back, quadriceps, and hip flexors to differing degrees.
The effect it will have on each of these muscles will depend on the exact exercise in question.
The Best GHD Exercises
The GHD can be used to perform a variety of different body weight exercises, as well as some with weights making it an incredibly versatile piece of equipment.
However, the following are a list of what we feel are the overall best GHD exercises, which will provide maximum results from all of your hard work.
Glute Ham Raise
The Glute Ham Raise is the primary exercise the GHD was designed for and is an incredibly difficult yet effective maneuverer.
It works both the gluteals and the hamstrings and is considered by many to rival the deadlift as the most effective option for training these muscles.
Begin by adjusting the machine, so that when your feet are flat against the foot plate, with toes pointing towards the ground, your thighs are on the pads, with your knees right at the very bottom of either pad.
Once set up correctly, secure yourself in the GHD and take the starting position, which will see your body completely straight and parallel with the floor. For maximum stability, fold your arms across your chest or place your hands beside your head.
Contract your glutes and hamstrings as hard as you can and use these muscles to raise your upper body, bending at the knees.
Keep going until your upper body is completely vertical and there is a 90 degree angle in the back of each knee.
As soon as you reach the top, immediately lower yourself back down to maintain tension in the muscles at all times.
Repeat as many times as necessary. If required, additional weight can be held with the arms to make the exercise more challenging.
GHD Back Extension
The GHD Back Extension features an almost identical setup to the Glute Ham Raise.
However, with this exercise, you need to ensure your waist is overhanging the front edge of the pad before you begin.
While still working the glutes and hamstrings to a certain degree, this exercise primarily focuses on training the lower back.
From a horizontal position, bend at the waist and lower your upper body towards the floor, until there is a 90 degree bend in your waist. This is your starting position.
Keeping your hips and lower body still, engage the muscles in your lower back and use them to raise you back to a horizontal position.
Making sure to keep your back straight throughout the movement, hold the contraction at the top for a predetermined amount of time, before lowering back down and repeating.
Fold your arms across your chest for maximum stability. Weight plates can also be held here, for those seeking to make the exercise more challenging.
GHD Hip Extension
The GHD Hip Extension is one of the original exercises the GHD was designed for.
It targets the glutes as the primary muscle, while also incorporates the calves, hamstrings, and lower back as well.
The setup and execution of the exercise are both almost identical to those seen in the GHD Back Extension.
The only difference between the two is that, rather than lowering the upper body close to the floor, you will only lower yourself a short distance before contracting and raising back up.
This is what allows you to switch the majority of the strain from the lower back to the glutes.
It also makes it a great option for beginners still getting to grips with the GHD, as well as those who prioritise training the portion of their body below the waist.
Single Leg GHD Hip Extension
A Single Leg GHD Hip Extension is almost identical to the traditional GHD Hip Extension.
The movement performed is exactly the same, only this time you will have just a single leg mounted in the foot pad at a time.
This allows you to focus on each leg individually, which will help to alleviate any strength imbalances.
Make sure you remember to complete the same number of sets and reps for both legs.
The Sorenson Hold features the same setup and works the same muscles as the GHD hip extension, however there is one important difference.
Instead of performing traditional repetitions, you will perform a single repetition and hold it at the peak of the contraction for an extended period of time.
Throughout the exercise, you need to keep your core engaged, while ensuring your spinal alignment remains neutral, without any arching of your back.
You can position your hands wherever feels most comfortable, while also adding small amounts of weight to increase the challenge if required.
The aim of the Sorenson Hold is to build up isometric strength. This strength is important for the endurance of a muscle and helps to enhance its maximum level of contraction.
Improving this will lead to direct improvements in the traditional version of the exercise as well.
GHD Sit Up
A GHD Sit Up is virtually identical to the traditional Roman Chair Sit Up exercise.
An incredibly effective exercise for training the abs, it also works parts of the lower body as well to a lesser extent, particularly the hip flexors.
Place your feet on the foot plate with your toes pointing towards the ceiling and position yourself so your hamstrings are on the pads, with your buttocks hanging over the far end, allowing you to bend slightly past horizontal towards the floor.
Engage your entire core and perform a crunch by contracting your abs as hard as you can.
When you reach the top of the move, maintain the tension and hold the position for as long as possible, or for a predetermined amount of time.
The angle of the position will allow you to maintain a static contraction throughout the movement.
Additional weight can be added to make the exercise more challenging if required.
GHD Crunches feature almost an identical setup and execution to GHD Sit Ups, as well as working the same muscles.
The only difference between the two exercises is that, rather than performing a single static repetition, you will perform multiple repetitions of crunches while in the GHD.
The use of the GHD adds a greater a challenge when compared to traditional crunches, due to the greater effect of gravity and your bodyweight in this position.
Additional weight can again be added if necessary.
GHD Oblique Crunches
GHD Oblique Crunches are designed to target your obliques, the muscles that run down the sides of the main abdominals.
They use a similar setup to regular GHD Crunches, however, there are a few differences.
Most notably, you will be positioned on your side, as opposed to your back. You will also have to cross your legs to secure both feet, while your toes will be pointing to the side, instead of at the ceiling.
Your waist should still be in the same location in relation to the pad though.
Either fold your arms across your chest or place your hands by your head.
Engage your core and, bending only across the side of your abdomen, lower your upper body as close to the floor as you can.
Now, contracting the obliques on the other side as hard as you can, crunch yourself back up as far as possible. Hold the tension for a few seconds before returning to the starting position.
Complete the desired number of reps, before turning over and completing the same number again on the other side.
As always, additional weight can be added to make the exercise more challenging if required.
As we bring our analysis of the GHD to a close, you will now hopefully be much clearer on everything from the benefits it offers to the exercises it can be used for.
That means you should have a much better understanding of how to make the most of GHD exercises in your daily routine.
A fantastic piece of equipment, the GHD can be used to improve results whether you are involved in CrossFit or bodybuilding, train in a gym or at home, perform compound or isolation exercises, or work out alone or in a group.
The only question left to answer is, what is stopping you from giving it a try for yourself today and seeing how it could benefit your own progress moving forwards.