Your Ultimate Guide to Using the GHD Machine

The machine that'll pump your glutes and hamstrings and chisel your core.

ghd-machine
Photo: Technogym/kundoy/Getty Images

Strut into the strength room of any gym and you'll encounter a number of machines that are pretty self-explanatory: the leg press, hip adductor or abductor machine, and the leg curl, to name a few.

The Glute Hamstring Developer (aka the GHD) is not one of those machines. (The Technogym GHD above is an example of one you might see in your gym.) A lot of people don't know how to use it and are too intimidated to give it a try, says Libby Landry CF-L3 CrossFit coach at CrossFit Invictus and member of CrossFit Headquarters Seminar Staff. "I see GHD machines being used as a hanger for sweatshirts or a shelf for water bottles more than I see them actually being used," she says. And that's a damn shame because it offers up some serious strength perks.

What Is a GHD Machine and What Are Its Benefits?

If you're wondering what a GHD machine is, it's exactly as its full name implies: a piece of equipment that can be used to strengthen (or develop) your glutes and hamstrings.Of course, those aren't the only muscles it works. If the machine was dubbed for all of them — the core, quads, calves, hip flexors, etc. — its name would be too long for a cute little abbreviation like GHD.

The machine's benefits vary slightly from exercise to exercise. "In general, the GHD machine is a great way to strengthen the posterior chain and core," says physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., and founder of Movement Vault, a digital movement education platform. That's pretty mega considering most peoplecould benefit from working both muscle groups a little more.

As a refresher: The posterior chain (PC) refers to all the muscles along the backside of the body — most notably the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and lower and upper back muscles. "The PC contains what should be the biggest, most powerful, and strongest muscles in the whole body," explains Wickham. However, many people are weak here due to a sit-all-day lifestyle and anterior-dominant workout routines (read: lots of forward motion like running and push-ups), he says. (

The result of a weak posterior chain? In addition to your booty shorts being a little loose, lack of strength in the posterior chain increases the risk of injury, especially in the lower back, hips, and knees, according to Wickham. "Doing posterior chain exercises is essential for keeping your body healthy, muscularly balanced, and pain-free," he says.

The core-strengthening perks of the GHD machine are equally noteworthy. "The core includes more than just those six-pack ab muscles you see on a lot of CrossFitters," says Wickham. "The core is all the deep layers of muscles in the midsection, the pelvic floor muscles, and stabilizing muscles in your back," he explains.

Anyone who's able to stand upright, as opposed to flopping over like a limp noodle, has their core muscles to thank. "If your midsection isn't strong and stable, you increase your risk of injuring yourself doing moves every single day like twisting, bending down, or walking," says Wickham. (That's right, the benefits of a strong core go way beyond aesthetics.)

One more benefit: "The GHD is also a great tool for increasing your kinesthetic awareness," AKA body awareness," says Landry. That translates to all your other athletic and daily endeavors.

How to Use the GHD Machine Safely

With all of the above benefits in mind, if you're wondering how to add the GHD into your workout routine, Landry and Wickham recommend starting with the four exercises below. If you choose to sprinkle any othese movements into your workout routine, the key is to start slowly. "It's like hot sauce," Landry says. "Just enough adds some spice to your life — too much and you'll regret it for a couple of days."

If you're still feeling intimidated by the GHD, the good news is, "you absolutely don't need to be an elite athlete to use the machine," says Landry. Yes, the GHD unlike any other machine at the gym, but don't let yourself miss out on its posterior chain and core strengthening benefits, the coach notes.

Like most equipment in the gym, "it's perfectly safe as long as you know how to use it correctly," adds Wickham. That said, it's always good to take some safety precautions. For instance, if you're new to working out, the GHD is not for you, says Wickham. Wait until you've built some foundational strength and have become a proficient mover, he adds. Also, the first few times you use the machine, make sure there's a trainer nearby to give you some pointers.

With that in mind, try these four common GHD machine exercises from Landry and Wickham the next time you're in the gym.

4 GHD Machine Exercises to Try

How it works: Do each exercise for a total of 5 reps before moving on to the next movement. Aim to repeat the circuit 3 times. Focus on your form and remember that these exercises aren't about speed, but rather slow and controlled movement.

What you'll need: A GHD machine

GHD Glute-Ham Raise

If you think the OG hamstring exercise (the deadlift, duh) is hard, wait until you try the glute-ham raise. "This exercise is all hamstrings and glutes, and then a little bit of calf," says Wickham. Fun!

If you're new to the move, either have a spotter there to return you back to start or, "use your hands to push yourself back into the starting position, making it an eccentric exercise only," Wickham says.

A. Mount the machine and start by kneeling tall with feet locked in and core engaged. Press feet against the foot pad and adjust the machine so that knees hit the middle of the support pad.

B. Keeping spine neutral, lower upper body toward the floor. Do not hinge at the hips. Continue lowering until torso is parallel to the floor.

C. Engage hamstrings and glutes to pull torso back up to start.

GHD Hip Extension

This posterior-chain strength exercise is the most beginner-friendly movement you can do on the machine, according to Wickham. "The primary muscle group it works is the glutes, but it also works the hamstrings, calves, and lower back," he says.

But before performing this exercise, make sure you have what Landry calls "capacity for the movement" — meaning the prerequisite amount of strength and mobility needed to prevent injury. To do that, try holding the superwoman position on the machine: Lower your torso so it's parallel to the floor and hold your body completely still. If you feel strong, confident, and comfortable in this position — and can hold it for at least 10 seconds — you're ready to do it from a hamstring position. If not, hop off the GHD machine and spend some time strengthening your posterior chain and core through movements like the glute bridge, hip thrusts, and deadlifts.

Wickham also notes that the first time you do a hip extension, only lower a few inches. "You can slowly increase this range of motion over weeks or months as you get comfortable and strong in this position until you can fold to 90 degrees," he says. Just be careful; you never want to lower to the point that you lose a neutral spine and start to round your lower back.

A. Start by adjusting the foot pad so that hips are completely free of the main pad when legs are locked in.

B. Climb into the apparatus and ensure that feet are pressed into the foot pad, toes are pointed down, and the support pad bisects the quads. The hips should be able to move freely throughout the range of motion of the movement.

C. From a superwoman position, lower torso toward the floor. Maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement by keeping chest proud and core tight. Squeeze glutes to come back up.

GHD Back Extension

At fanny (er, face) value, the back and hip extensions look the same. But they're actually quite different. "In the hip extension, you're moving the hip dynamically while holding a static trunk," explains Landry. "In this slightly more advanced movement, you're working your trunk while keeping your hip static." Machine set-up is the most important difference between the two exercises.

If you've done basically any exercise ever, you might be wondering, "Why the heck am I deliberately rounding my back when literally every other exercise requires that I keep a 'flat back' or 'neutral spine?'" It's a valid question! "It takes a ton of body awareness to be able to control your spine bit by bit as the back extension requires," explains Landry. "This movement helps you become more aware of what a non-neutral back feels like, so you know how to correct it." (

But that also means it's easy to get hurt during back extensions if you're not doing them properly. "No matter how many times you've done the move, stop if it doesn't feel right," Wickham says. "Adjust the foot pad and try again. If it still doesn't feel good, stop completely and get a trainer to weigh in." Aye, aye coach.

A. Adjust the foot pad to be further from the main pad. Mount the machine facedown and make sure hip bones are resting on the main pad.

B. Tuck chin and lower upper body one vertebrae at a time. Round and lower shoulders first and then the upper back, followed by the lower back.

C. Squeeze glutes and slowly roll the spine back up, starting with the lower back and moving inch by inch back to the chin. The slower the movement, the better. Focus on quality over speed.

GHD Sit-Up

Also known as the Roman Chair Sit-Up, the GHD sit-up is an explosive abdominal exercise. It may look like really fast sit-ups, but there are some key differences between the two moves, according to Wickham. "GHD sit-ups put more load on the hip flexors," he says, and they work your abdominal muscles through a greater range of motion than the classic ab movement. Ultimately, that translates to boosted gains.

Wickham warns against trying this move if you have super tight hip flexors. "When you lower past parallel, it's going to stretch your hip flexors," he explains. If you don't have adequate mobility in your hips, your lower back has to compensate, which can lead to lower back pain. If you have tight hips, your best bet is to do GHD sit-ups only lowering to parallel (and to start doing more kneeling couch stretches to stretch out those hips).

A. Set up the apparatus so that heels are pressed against the foot pads, toes are pointing up, and glutes are on the downslope of the pad. Bend knees and sit up tall.

B. Keeping core tight, extend backward until back is parallel to the floor.

C. Flex quads by straightening legs, reach hands forward, and sit back up.

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