While overlooked by many athletes, this is one of the most important steps in maximizing your efficiency on the GHD.
Most commonly I see athletes setup with the food plate too close to the butt pad. This pushes the athlete’s hips forward and they are forced to keep active tension through the hips and abs when “sitting” on the GHD.
The goal is to be able to fully relax the abs and hip flexors at the top of each rep for a moment, and the only way to do this is by taking a more aggressive setting on the GHD by moving the foot plate further away from the pads.
While this will put more pressure on the lower back in the bottom portion of the movement and will take some time getting used to, it’s a method that most of the elite athletes in the Sport of CrossFit have adopted.
The edge of your butt checks should sit at the edge of the pad. Moving the foot plate further away will likely result in too much low back pressure and failure to reach the floor, and closer will result in the abs and hips fatiguing too quickly.
As you play with new settings, don’t give up on them too quickly. Allow several sessions of practice at a given setting before deciding it’s not for you. It’s common that changes to technique, even in the right direction, temporarily result in a small step back in fitness before a big leap forward.
Mobility – Strength – Skill
To maximize your potential, capacity and efficiency for GHD Sit-Ups you must master the movements specific mobility, strength and skill demands: the three-headed monster every athlete must conquer. Let’s take on the monster one “head” at a time.
Low Back / Hip Flexors: In order to adopt the optimal GHD setting, you must be able to hyperextend through the low back, which also demands a lot of the hip flexors and abs, as they will be working in a fully stretched (lengthened) range of motion.
Shoulder Flexion: While often overlooked, GHDs require a lot of overhead mobility. An athlete with poor overhead mobility will have to “make up” that extra range of motion from the low back.
However, the opposite is also true: an athlete with great overhead mobility doesn’t need to gain as much range of motion from the low back & hips.
Either way, the ability to reach back and touch the floor / pad with ease is crucial and the better an athlete’s overhead mobility is, the more options they can play with.
Here is a shoulder flexion screen to see how your overhead range of motion stacks up.
While completing GHD Sit-Ups has a lower barrier to entry in terms of strength, relative to other movements like Ring Muscle-Ups, there are some specific attributes that are necessary for an athlete to reach a high level in executing many reps at full speed.
GHD Sit-Ups are often prescribed in big sets under high fatigue so having a strong, volume tolerant core is essential to move through reps quickly. And moving through reps with speed is crucial for success in the GHD Sit-Up, as discussed in the “Speed of Contractions” section below.
While GHDs are by no means a high-skill movement, there still are some key components that many people miss. Even some of the better moving athletes in our facility have neglected one of the crucial points below, and when fixed, their performance skyrockets.
When doing GHD Sit-Ups, the arm should stay straight. If this seems terribly inefficient upon first consideration, you probably have the wrong arm action in the movement.
The arm should not lay back and fling forward linearly, in an up and down motion. This will increase the momentum of your upper body during the lowering portion of the movement and make it more challenging to create an abrupt change of direction.
This is the equivalent of jumping up when coming off a box jump…you’re increasing the eccentric load (i.e. catching phase) of the movement and making each more taxing.
The solution for the GHD Sit-Up is keeping the arms straight and -as you come out of the hole- throwing them horizontally out and around. This keeps them below the height of the footpad throughout the movement and minimizes the tension required.
The best way I’ve been able to explain the arm action is as a “snowangel.”
The most efficient breath pattern for GHD Sit-Ups is performing a breath ratio of 1:1.
That is, one breath per sit-up.
Inhale as you lower.
Exhale as you raise.
It’s similar to a lightly weighted squat where you would inhale before the change of direction, hold for a brief moment, and then exhale as you stand.
This brief breath hold is a natural part of the breath pattern, and here it is only elongated every so slightly because of the tension required for a quick change of direction.
GHD Sit-Ups are more taxing from a muscular endurance standpoint than a metabolic one, so most elite athletes will only ever execute the movement with that 1:1 breath ratio.
However, for the bulk of us with non-elite fitness, it’s important to understand other options for breathing if you become very fatigued.
So, if the movement dramatically slows due to muscular fatigue or you feel like you’re suffocating with only one breath per rep, you can take a second full breath at the top (untensioned) portion of each sit-up.
With all movements, the goal should be to keep a steady / fixed gaze throughout. This helps your brain perceive the movement as easier and minimizes issues with the vestibular system.
It’s easy to self-induce vertigo with GHDs if you don’t optimize your vision.
In most movements in CrossFit you are able to keep a single focal point throughout a movement, even complex ones with lots of head motion (e.g. Bar-Facing Burpee, Ring Muscle-Up).
However, this is impossible in the GHD Sit-Up, so you need to adopt a two-point gaze. The first point should be at the foot pad or the wall in front of you at the top of the movement, and the second should be at the ceiling with your belly button still in view.
This will minimize issues with blood pressure & dizziness.
(4) Speed of Contractions
The most taxing position to be in during the GHD Sit-Up is with the body in a straight line because the pull of gravity is directly perpendicular to the midline of the body.
Therefore, you must minimize the time you spend at this position. This means when you move through reps, you need to perform them at a high contraction speed.
Similar to Rope Climbs, slow reps are expensive reps.
You want to get work done quickly, even if that means taking more breaks in a chunk of work.
If you find yourself fatiguing through your abs and hip flexors, you need to do all you can to minimize this fatigue. That goes for pacing the workout you are currently in the midst of, but also applies to your long-term training goals.
Build local tissue endurance to an excellent level so break down happens less, and then combine this with a smart break strategy in your workouts.