The History and Use of the Glute-Ham Developer…and Where CrossFit Goes From Here

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The History and Use of the Glute-Ham Developer

Where did the GHD come from? Why do we find these machines in CrossFit boxes world wide?

The Glute-Ham Developer (GHD) has an important role in CrossFit training, so it behooves CrossFit athletes to understand both the history and proper use of the GHD. At first glance, the GHD looks incongruous in a CrossFit box–primarily because it appears to be a piece of equipment or a machine. After all, the CrossFit philosophy eschews machines and limiting human movement to that of a machine, right?

To this interesting observation, I provide the simple response “It’s not a machine. Machines make your life easy.” (H/T to Carl for this bit of wit and wisdom, though he was referring to a C2 rower at the time)

The GHD became popular in the United States only in the late 1970s and early 1908s after an American student of Soviet training methods observed Soviet strength and power athletes incorporating the device into their training regimes.

I encourage all CFBA athletes to read this excellent article about the history of the Glute-Ham Developer (GHD). The article describes both the history and proper use of the GHD. The article is comprehensive and so my repeating the contents will not be helpful.

Of note, the article mentions the style of Soviet era GHD “machines.” These were not the fancy Rogue or Sorinex GHD machines commonly observed at CrossFit boxes today. Rather, Soviet athletes secured their feet in stall bars and rested their quads (or hamstrings, depending on the exercise) on a pommel horse (read a free CrossFit Journal article on the history and use of stall bars here). That’s old school, folks. And no, pommel horses lack an “anatomically correct” channel for male athletes.  Yeouch!

It is this combination of gymnastic apparatus that evolved into the sleek machines you see today.

Construction of a Soviet Style/Garage Glute-Ham Developer

Interestingly, I devised a similar device for my own garage CrossFit box. Originally, I had purchased a “fancy” Sorinex GHD for my garage, but the device took up way too much space for its own good. As such, CFBA inherited that machine and I devised a more garage-box friendly solution (where functionality, space, and economy of purpose are at a premium).

First, I installed a set of stall bars to secure my feet, and then purchased a Muscle Driver USA GHD pad. This pad, when not in use, stores right on top of my 20-24-30 plyo box and so takes up next to zero space. And no, this MDUSA GHD pad *has no* anatomically correct channel. Alas.

To prepare my Soviet era GHD for use, I simply place my plyo box in front of my stall bars. Then I place the Muscle Drive Glute Ham pad on top of the plyo box. The combined height of the pad on top of the box allows for complete range of motion.

The final step is to secure a squat pad to the stall bars to spare wear and tear to my shins and achilles tendons. Note: a squat pad is a device used by globo-gym denizens to protect their dainty thoracic spine from the ravages of a strength bar.

CrossFit athletes do not need a squat pad since a) they do not have dainty bodies, and b) they know to create a load plate by contracting their scapula and resting the bar on top of the resulting mass of muscle and bone. I strictly use my squat pad for to complete my GHD “machine,” so never fear. I’ve not gone dainty on my faithful readers.  I’ll grant you that Soviet era athletes probably did not use any kind of pad to protect their achilles tendon during GHD movements and would consider my shin/achilles precautions dainty.

Here is a photo of the individual components of my garage GHD stored and out of the way….

And a photo of the individual components ready for use (including dainty shin/achilles pad)….

Here is an example of a “fancy” modern GHD machine…

Common Current CrossFit GHD Programming and Where CrossFit Goes From Here

Many of you have experienced the enjoyment of the GHD first hand at CFBA, in the form of GHD sit-ups, GHD hip-extensions, and GHD sit-up/wall ball throws. Greg Glassman wrote a superb, and witty article for the CrossFit journal that I encourage all to read (this article requires a subscription to the CrossFit Journal). The article makes a great argument for why CrossFit programming incorporates the GHD. Greg’s article had it’s intended result and to this day CrossFit boxes world wide incorporate the GHD into their programming.

Despite Greg’s excellent starting point, CrossFit programming can potentially make better use of the GHD (at least IMHO). The GHD hip extension (so common in CrossFit) is only the first half of what is known as the Glute-Ham raise. The Glute-Ham raise is a) a GHD hip extension, followed by a b) GHD leg curl (though performed together, as one continuous movement). The totality of this movement more completely trains the back extensors and hamstrings as an integrated unit.

Note: the Glute-Ham leg curl and Glute-Ham raise require significant athletic skill and should be undertaken under the supervision of a qualified CrossFit coach. In other words, do not try this at home, kids.

While I see the GHD hip-extension as a valid and essential movement, I also see it as a starting point preparing athletes for the more advanced and valuable Glute-Ham Raise.

Conclusions

Remembering where we came from, where we are, and where we need to head are important. This sense of our place in history provides us both a sense of humility and purpose, as well as a better starting point for professional discussion. To this end, study up on the history and use of the GHD and consider my modest enhancements in your training regime.

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  1. [...] mentioned stall bars in a previous post and want to elaborate on their use in this post. I will also remind readers to brush up on the [...]

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