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I'm in the process of transitioning to a new powerlifting routine that prescribes either hamstring curls or glute-ham-raises as an accessory exercise. Those make perfect sense and would address some deficits I do have. But the routine assumes I'm working out in the gym, while I actually work out at home 99% of the time. I don't have access to a hamstring curl machine and please believe me when I say that GHR (and natural GHR variant) are not an option, even though I got really creative with my furniture.

So I'm looking for a replacement excersise that I can do with the constraints I'm facing at home.

My equipment:

  • A bench with variable incline angle
  • A squat rack
  • Dumbbells, a barbell and more weight to put on than I can deadlift
  • Stuff you can expect to find in a regular first-world flat. Tables, chairs, broomsticks, beer crates, fresh vegetables,...

Constraints for the replacement excercise:

  • The prescription calls for 3 sets, 12 reps @RPE 8. I guess that rules out many bodyweight-only excercises already.
  • Must be easy and safe to overload with more weight (e.g. what this guy is doing looks really sketchy.)
  • Should put as little stress as possible on my lower back. So, romanian deadlifts (or other DL variations) are not really an option.
  • I'd rather compromise glute activation for a good hamstring workout than vice versa.

So the only exercise I found so far that seems to fit the bill is the barbell hip thrust. After a few workouts, I can say that it's an okay replacement, but I'd happily swap it for something more hamstring-focused.

Can you think of other, maybe better alternatives?

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The barbell hip thrust is legitimately an amazing exercise for the glutes. I highly recommend you look into that, and try to get accustomed to it.

As for hamstrings, one of my favorite exercises is the Romanian Deadlift, but since you disqualified it, another good option is the Physio Ball Leg Curl. A good demonstration can be seen here. It allows for some variation as you can also do it with a single leg. It requires a lot more activation of the glute/hamstring area, but it's a nice way to progress.

Form-wise, you do sort of a hip thrust to begin with, then do the curl, release the curl, and optionally, disengage the bridge. But always have the bridge intact during the curl itself.

If you don't already have a physio ball, it should be pretty easy to get a hold of, and as far as home equipment goes, it's in the lower range with regards to price. An added benefit is that it's great for various types of mobility work and stretches. It's a pretty good tool for a lot of supplementary exercises. I'd go so far as to say that anyone who works out at home should have one, but that's just my opinion.

Those big rubber bands are another tool that can be very versatile here. Hook the band up to the bottom of a table leg, put your leg in it, and do a simple standing leg curl for the hamstring. You can also elevate the entire leg behind you for glute activation. It's one of the exercises that are really popular among girls that try to build a big booty, but there's actual merit to this one.

Rubber bands, I'd say, are another staple of any home gym. Cheap and very versatile. I had my employer buy some for the the office. I like to do some pull-aparts just to counteract the otherwise kyphotic posture of a software developer's lifestyle.

There are probably a bunch of other exercises that don't come to mind just now. I hope to see some other answers on this as well.

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  • Just a small point to an otherwise good answer, I wouldn't have thought that Romanian deadlifts were a suitable substitute for hamstring curls as they work the extension movement of the hamstrings rather than the curl movement? I'm aware there should be some crossover, but I always thought that they should be trained separately to keep a good balance of strength between the two movements. – Dark Hippo Feb 28 at 9:35
  • @DarkHippo - That's a good point actually. The sources I can find indicate that all three heads of the hamstring are crucially involved in this movement, but they all seem to list the biceps femoris first. Famously, the muscle that is most involved in knee flexion (or leg curl). From a physics point of view, the movement has a resemblance to leg curl, except the weight is loaded above the muscle rather than below, like it would be on a traditional leg curl machine. If you don't engage the leg curl, your upper body would simply tilt forward beyond recovery. – Alec Feb 28 at 9:51
  • But that said, it is possibly a very static exercise for the hamstrings. Ideally, you won't be bending the legs very far (as is the point of the RDL). – Alec Feb 28 at 9:52
  • Thanks for the answer! Both physio ball and bands seem like a reasonable addition to my home gym. But I'd like to wait a bit more before accepting your answer in hopes that someone eventually comes up with a cool, obscure hamstring excercise that doesn't require additional equipment. Though I honestly suspect that if there was one, there'd be a reason why it is obscure. – UnbescholtenerBuerger Feb 28 at 11:07
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I've performed natural glute ham raises as a substitute. They're like GHRs but with a fall/push-up at the end. When I first did them I had a partner holding my ankles but after that, I also had to get creative.

I placed the barbell on the inside of the lowest power rack height setting. This places the barbell somewhere > 6" off the ground and then I loaded the bar so it wouldn't move. Then I placed my heels underneath it and grabbed a random rubber pad for my knees. It actually worked quite well.

This is a good video demonstrating what I mean. He has the bar on the outside of the rack but still on the hooks. In looking for a visual I also found this example with an exercise ball as an easier alternative, and it progresses into using an ab wheel. Exrx.net also shows it but they've called it a self-assisted inverse leg curl (on floor).

Given your restrictions, I think this could work depending on how low your squat rack goes. If not, you can load the barbell and place it on blocks while still using the rack as the lateral brace. You can't load the self-assisted/natural version but once you can complete an unassisted rep you can look at completing it while holding a dumbbell.

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  • Oh man, you just reminded me of an exercise I've completely forgotten. I should really get back to doing the floor GHRs again. +1 from me. – Alec Feb 28 at 9:37
  • Thanks for the answer. I mistakenly assumed that GHR and natural GHR are the same exercise and was actually referring to the natural variant in my question - I just can't seem to find a spot in my place where I can safely fixate my ankles to perform the exercise. And after a tipped drawer and an almost-broken radiator, I'm really hesitant to try further :/ – UnbescholtenerBuerger Feb 28 at 10:53
  • @UnbescholtenerBuerger, have you tried it with the barbell and squat rack? That's how I made it work at my gym but it can be finicky. Either way, that's totally fair, I'll see if I can think of something else! – C. Lange Feb 28 at 15:27

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