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March 20, 2019

Lets Not Leave the GHD Out in the Cold!

I have seen this piece of equipment in nearly every gym I’ve worked out in.  Usually it is located in some dark, damp corner on the workout floor, or, it is being used to prop open a door.  I never knew the name of it until coming into CrossFit.  The Glute-Hamstring Developer (GHD) is a contraption I finally sought out after the CrossFit Open workout 17.1 left me hunched over for a week with back pain.  For those that don’t remember, that workout toted one hundred fifty single arm snatches and seventy five burpee box jump overs, all done within a twenty minute time cap.  Just short of a year after my first attempt at 17.1, I did it again with confidence that my diligent adherence to a weekly GHD routine would have shaved a minute or two off my time.  Boy was I amazed to find that I did WOD 17.1 three minutes faster.  I was sold on the effectiveness of the GHD. 

Lets look at the weaknesses I was targeting by using the GHD.  Coming into CrossFit, my hip flexors—the rectus femorus and the iliopsoas—were overly tight as were my quads, which prior to Olympic lifting, I never saw the need to stretch out.  This combination caused a forward tilt in my hips, exacerbated by my neglect of strength training targeting the posterior chain: my hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors.  This imbalance is common in individuals with desk jobs that spend long hours of the day seated.  Because my hips tilted forward, my body compensated for the consequent immobility by hyperextension in my spine when put into positions such as the bottom of the parallel squat—this can be seen by the improper movement pattern known as the “butt wink,” which I will address in more detail in a separate blog.  Hyperextension of the spine places undue load on this region of the body and is responsible for much of the back pain some of us CrossFitters suffer from.  As with any habitual movement pattern, when we become tired, our body reverts to what it is comfortable with.  To reverse these bad habits, I had to train new movement patterns, and strengthen my weaknesses.

The GHD is the perfect piece of equipment to train full hip extension without putting external load on your body.  Repetition of the back and hip extension develops functional movement patterns, and strengthens the posterior chain.  Doing sit-ups on the GHD strengthens the abdominal muscles, hip flexors, and quads, and it can aid in elasticity of tight hip flexors.  Underdeveloped abdominals can lead to the same forward tilt of the hips, which in turn brings us back to hyperextension of the spine.  In all, the GHD is a piece of equipment that targets many key areas responsible for athletic performance, and therefore is far too important to be neglected.  Generation of power from hip to extremity comes into play with all of the Olympic lifts, gymnastics, and functional movement patterns.  The hips are the foundation upon which we build the rest of our athletic performance.

Here is a simple GHD routine that can be added to your fitness program.  These movements can be done as a warm up for class, or as a post WOD exercise.  Start at two sets of ten of back extensions and sit-ups.  Do not add weight until you are able to build to three sets of twenty-five in each direction.  If you are unfamiliar with the correct set up of the GHD, or the proper technique, please grab a trainer and have them demonstrate for you.  If you’re experiencing plateau’s in your Olympic lifts, or any other movements, and think hip strength or mobility could be the issue, feel free to pull anyone of our trainers aside to discuss one on one sessions.

Written by Coach David Carlson

For more in depth information on the role of the hips in athletic performance and the benefits of the Glute-Hamstring Developer, please refer to the CrossFit Journal articles The Hip and Athletic Performance written by Zachory Long, and Next Level Coaching: The Glut-Ham Developer by Oliver Wilson.