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4 Best Glute Ham Raise Alternatives Without a GHD (Dumbbells and Kettlebells)

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I love the glute ham raise. In terms of muscle engagement across a range of movement, there’s few exercises that can match it. The exercise engages the hamstrings, glutes, lower back and the calf. There’s also deeper activation of the trunk and spinal erectors.

The only problem is that in order to perform the glute ham raise in the way it is supposed to be done, you need the specialist bench, and not all home gym users will have the space or budget for one.

Rather than miss out on the benefits of the exercise, I’ll show you a series of glute ham raise alternative exercises you can do using standard home gym equipment. You’ll get a lot of the benefits without the need to buy and store the specialist item.

GDH machine- glute ham raise alternative

Although I own a glute ham raise at my gym, I still use these glute ham raise alternative exercises with my personal training clients because there’s benefit in a multitude of stimuli when it comes to resistance training. 

The exercises are fun and functional, plus they’ll mimic all of the benefits of the GHR without you having to buy one.

The glute ham raise – benefits of the exercise

The glute ham raise is one of the more effective ways for us to train the posterior chain. We know that when posterior chain muscle activation has been studied, ‘all muscle groups were activated at a higher degree during trunk extension compared to leg extension’. 

This suggests that exercises such as the glute ham raise (where the legs are fixed and the torso is allowed to move) activate the posterior chain more effectively than exercises such where the torso is fixed and the legs are allowed to move, such as prone hamstring curls.

A strong posterior chain gives us two distinct benefits…

  1. It makes us stronger and less susceptible to injury
  2. It makes us more athletic – strong hamstrings make us faster, more powerful and more explosive

Beyond the higher activation forces generated during the glute ham raise, it’s also an excellent exercise for people who have suffered from lower back problems. The straight-back nature of the movement means that if you’ve had lower back problems, it’s still a pretty safe exercise to perform.

Mimicking the Glute Ham Raise without a GHR machine

In these articles, I like to stick as close as I can to the original movement, or at the very least mimic the movement patterns accurately. In the case of the glute ham raise, we need to focus on the following elements…

  • Torso stability – we need to keep the upper body as rigid as possible throughout the movement. This rules out exercises such as olympic lifts
  • Emphasize eccentric contraction – select exercises where we can allow the hamstrings to work hard eccentrically.
  • Pick compound movements – isolation exercises such as a seated hamstring curl are out
  • Single point of movement – in the glute ham raise the body is flexed only at the knee. We’ll use exercises with a single point of flexion where possible

By using the GHR as my movement template, I’ve already ruled out the standard hamstring curls, whether that’s with a machine, a swiss ball or a TRX. They’re just too isolationary and don’t mimic the movement pattern well enough.

There are plenty of other options available to us though…

Glute Ham Raise Alternatives

In order to replicate the effectiveness of the exercise we have to ensure we tick a lot of the same boxes, whether that be in movement or contraction style. We can do that with these glute ham raise alternatives…

1. Stiff legged deadlifts

The stiff legged deadlift is a great glute ham raise alternative because it shares a lot of commonalities. There’s a rigid torso, a single point of movement and an emphasised eccentric contraction. It’s also a solid compound lift.

The other great point with the stiff legged deadlift is that it’s really easy to do in a home gym – all you need is a barbell and plates. Technique-wise, it’s pretty simple to anyone who knows how to deadlift and the results are excellent.

Equipment needed for stiff legged deadlifts:

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

How to do stiff legged deadlifts:

  1. Hold the barbell with the grip of your choice
  2. Deadlift the bar into your starting position, which is where you’re holding the barbell with straight arms
  3. Keeping your back and legs straight, tilt your hips back as your torso starts to point towards the floor
  4. Keep pushing your hips back, with your legs straight as you lower the bar towards the floor
  5. As you feel your hamstrings stretch fully, push the hips forward and lift the bar back to the starting position
  6. At the top of the movement squeeze the glutes together
  7. Repeat as many times as required

Stiff legged deadlifts muscles worked:

Note: Check out our article on hack squat alternatives if you want some more lower body exercises.

2. Nordic hamstring curls

The Nordic hamstring curl is a great exercise because it’s effective, easy to set up in a home gym and there is little technique to learn. It’s a very challenging exercise because it forces the hamstrings to control the descent of the torso, which is a key element of the GHR.

Nordics are a go-to for many people because they contain little risk but huge rewards. They improve knee stability and hamstring strength better than most exercises, as proven by the research.

Equipment needed for Nordic hamstring curls:

  • Foot anchor point – usually a barbell with plates
  • Knee pad or mat to protect the knees

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

How to do a Nordic hamstring curl:

  1. Anchor your feet so you can lead forward with control
  2. From a kneeling position, lower your torso towards the floor, using your hamstrings to control the speed of descent
  3. When your torso reaches the floor push yourself back to the starting position
  4. Repeat as many times as required.

Nordic hamstring curl muscles worked:

  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Lower back

Want to focus on your hamstrings even more? Check out our article on hamstring exercises. If you want to strengthen your calves, we’ve got you covered there as well – consider checking out our calf exercises or our seated calf raise alternatives.

3. Kettlebell Swings

The kettlebell swing is the ultimate hip hinge exercise, meaning it is also excellent for training the posterior chain. I like it in this context because it allows emphasis on the eccentric contraction of the hamstrings, plus it requires a rigid torso – the movement comes from the hips (and a tiny amount of knee flexion).

The fact that the kettlebell swing is so technically different from many other exercises means it’s a good idea to have a level of coaching ahead of you attempting it. Whilst it’s not a dangerous exercise as such, it’s one that has potential to injure if done incorrectly. 

Equipment needed for kettlebell swings:

How to do kettlebell swings:

  1. Hold the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip
  2. Keeping your back straight, tilt your hips back and drive them forward using your glutes – this puts momentum into the kettlebell
  3. At the top of the swing, squeeze your glutes together hard
  4. Keep your legs mostly straight throughout the whole exercise – the only joints to move a lot are the hip and shoulders
  5. Keeping your back and legs straight throughout, build momentum with each swing until you’re reaching chest height with the kettlebell
  6. Repeat as many times as required

Kettlebell swings muscles worked:

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Lower back
  • Core

Note: if you don’t have kettlebells in your gym, check out our kettlebell swing alternatives and find a substitute exercise that you can do instead. For more ideas on how to target your shoulder muscles, check out our upright row alternatives.

4. Single leg kettlebell deadlift

This is one of the most deceptive exercises there is – it doesn’t look as if it’s much of a challenge, or even that it should be very effective, but I can assure you it’s both. It can be performed using either a kettlebell or dumbbell, but I suggest the kettlebell because the handle and grip is better suited. It requires excellent balance and single limb stability under load.

The crossover pattern here makes for an effective exercise. What I mean by that is the opposite sides of the upper and lower body work together here, activating the sling patterns that are fundamental to good movement. It’s also a very similar movement in terms of mechanics to the GHR.

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Equipment needed for single leg kettlebell deadlifts:

How to do single leg kettlebell deadlifts:

  1. Hold the kettlebell at your side with one hand, your back straight and both feet on the floor
  2. Keeping your back straight, tilt forward at the torso, taking the opposite leg straight back as you do
  3. You will be standing on one leg, so move slowly and keep your balance and the kettlebell moves towards the floor
  4. When the kettlebell touches the floor and your torso is parallel to it, return to start position with a straight back and controlled movement
  5. Repeat as many times as required for the set, then switch sides

Single leg kettlebell deadlifts muscles worked:

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Lower back
  • Core

If you’re looking for more exercises for your hamstrings then check out our leg curl alternatives.

Aiming to focus on your glutes? Check out our glute exercises trademark technique program.

Glute Ham Raise alternatives – the Bottom Line

As I said at the top of the article, I love the glute ham raise. I think it’s a fantastic exercise and one that has few rivals in terms of functionality and muscle engagement.

I love it so much that with the team, I created a ‘best GHD machine‘ in-depth buying guide for anyone out there interested to learn all there is to know about these machines.

Despite that, you don’t need to buy a specialist GHR machine in order to benefit from the exercise. Everything you have seen in this article can be done with simple equipment you’ll have access to in almost all home gyms.

I’ve stuck to exercises that mimic the GHR, or at least elements as closely as possible to ensure maximum carryover.

The glute ham raise alternatives I’ve shown you here will still develop extremely strong and functional glutes, hamstrings and lower back. They’ll leave you with a strong posterior chain, the benefits of which are numerous, but center around improved athleticism and injury resistance.

Put these into your programme and you won’t even need a glute ham raise machine.

If you want more lower back – check out our deadlift alternatives article.

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Steve Hoyles is a certified personal trainer and gym owner. Since graduating with his Sports Science degree in 2004 he's worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. His writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries as he inspires to help as many people as possible live a healthy lifestyle.

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