GHD Exercises in CrossFit

ghd sit up tutorial

This machine has always been a part of the gym, sometimes used as a hanger for T-shirts once the warm up is over and other times used by the “competitors” to perform those impressive sit ups.

What is GHD in CrossFit?

GHD stands for Glute Ham Developer and it was invented to perform glute and hamstring exercises, especially the glute-ham raise, that helps develop strength in the posterior chain while helping the development of stability of the spine and pelvis.

ghd machine rogue
Rogue’s GHD Machine

Crossfit made this device known for performing sit ups that allowed the athlete to extend the spine and get a full range of motion and stretch of the rectus abdominis, which in my personal opinion, is arguably beneficial in this case.

Let’s give a close look of what happens while performing a GHD sit up.

GHD sit up

First of all the athlete should be properly placed on the GHD keeping the glutes out of the pad and the knees slightly bent.

The movement starts by leaning back until you reach an extended position of the back being careful of not hyperextending it, the movement will finish once you go from touching a target on the floor and then back up to the ankle’s support.

This exercise is meant to strengthen the abdominals and if done properly will leave you with a soreness that shows the high activation of the abs, this activation is not a concentric contraction but an eccentric followed by an isometric contraction, that’s why it leaves you with such soreness afterwards.

The high shear forces cause for the rectus abdominis to develop a lot of strength to maintain the torso upright while going up avoiding the extension of the spine.

The problem comes when performing high reps in high speed which can cause the loss of control of the movement and potentially hurting your back. Always keep in mind not to hyperextend your back, keep the belly in activating the transversus and avoid the whip movement.

There are other exercises done on the GHD that will benefit your fitness and are underestimated.

Glute ham raises

This is the exercise primarily meant to be performed on this device.

For this exercise you have to place the pad under your knees and kneel on it.

The exercise starts by lowering the body while keeping a neutral spine and hips and letting the knees extend in a controlled way. As you lower yourself the hamstrings start working in a eccentric contraction controlling the descent of the body. Stop once you reach a point that will make the recovery back challenging. As you bring your body back to a kneeled position your hamstrings will start working concentrically.

GHD Glute Ham rises with medball

Make sure that you don’t flex your hips or hyperextend your back while returning to the starting position. Shorten the range of motion or scale it down using an elastic band to make it easier.

Hip extension

To perform the GHD hip extension you’ll be facing down, knees extended, the pad on the upper part of your thighs leaving the hip free in order to allow it’s flexion and extension while maintaining the spine stable and not moving.

Try to reach the maximum flexion of the hip without bending your back and extend the hip until you draw a parallel line with the floor or slightly higher.

GHD hip extension
Image courtesy of

Your glutes and hamstrings will do all the work to lift your torso and the erector spinae muscles and rectus abdominis will work to keep the neutral spine throughout the movement.

Your arms can vary their position making it easier or harder, for example having them crossed on the chest would be easy and holding a plate or a barbell will make it harder.

Sorenson hold

This exercise requires holding the body with knees and hips extended, neutral spine and engaged core. The target muscles are the same as the hip extension but they’ll be performing an isometric contraction.

The benefits of developing isometric strength on your back are shown when you perform an olympic lift, you want to maintain the spine straight while lifting heavy weights.

That’s why you can see many weightlifters using the GHD in their training sessions.

GHD Sorenson Hold

There are many exercises that we can use in our training, choose wisely and always consider the balance of pros and cons according to your personal goals.

GHD Exercises video

Alternatively you can watch our head coach John Singleton‘s video tutorial.