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  • Writer's pictureCoach Matt Pippin

How To Do Reverse Hyperextensions Without Causing Lower Back Pain



Reverse hyperextensions (reverse hypers) are a fan favorite in the gym but if I had to guess, they’re always causing an angry lower back for days afterward. Am I right?  


Don’t worry I’m going to show you how to adjust that reverse hyperextension so you can keep making gains while avoiding low back pain.


WHAT IS A REVERSE HYPEREXTENSION?

The reverse hyperextension exercise was created by the great Louis Simmons of Westside Barbell, a true pioneer in the strength world. It is an exercise designed to isolate the muscles of the lower back and glutes, where you lay face down, typically on a reverse hyper machine or glute ham developer machine (GHD), and lift your legs up to the ceiling.  


Where as the more common hyperextension exercise has the user move the torso as the lever arm, the main difference with reverse hyperextensions are that they utilize the lower body instead of the upper body.


This distinction is what allows the hamstrings to be removed as the dominant mover, so you can maximize growth and development in the lower back and gluteal muscles, more specifically the erector spinae muscles.


What is a reverse hyperextension

THE BENEFITS OF REVERSE HYPEREXTENSIONS

Important benefits of performing reverse hyperextensions include:

  • The body is put in a position to develop lower back strength in a safe and isolated manner

  • Train hip and spinal extension in an open chain format

  • Safely decompress the vertebrae of the lumbar spine (lower back)

  • Great way to continue to train the glutes with limited hip mobility


Develop Lower Back Strength in a Safe and Isolated Manner

One of the biggest limiting factors when wanting to move big weights in the deadlift or squat is a weak lower back. Having a strong lower back is a great way to prevent the risk of injury since you’re only as strong as the weakest link, so start training the lower back head on if you ever want to move big weight and improve athletic performance.


Train Hip and Spinal Extension in na Open Chain Format

Where as other traditional posterior chain movements (movements that train the back side of the body) like a good morning, Romanian deadlift, and traditional hyperextension exercises are performed in a closed chain format (meaning the feet stay in contact with the floor), reverse hyperextensions are trained in an open chain position because the feet are now moving through space.


This difference allows the lifter to open up and train new neural pathways of hip and spinal extension. New pathways means new sensations, which means more gains in the weight room.  


Safely Decompress the Vertebrae of the Lumbar Spine

Because of the unique position of this exercise, it can provide a little traction in the lower back since the weight of your lower body will create space between your lower back vertebras. The concept is that with all of the spinal loading involved in squats, deadlifts, overhead press, or just gravity, you want to “decompress” the spine as much as possible. That's where the reverse hyperextension comes in. 


Continue to Train the Glutes with Limited Hip Mobility

Most of the best exercises for developing strength in the lower body require a tremendous amount of hip mobility and range of motion, like the squat, leg press, deadlift and lunge.  However, the reverse hyperextension requires little to no hip mobility so you can build strength the lower body while working on your hip mobility.  


MAIN MUSCLE GROUPS INVOLVED IN REVERSE HYPEREXTENSIONS

The main muscles that reverse hyperextensions incorporate, are the action of hip and lower back extension, thus targeting the gluteus maximus (the largest muscle of the glutes) and the spinal erectors (small muscles that run along the sides of the lower back). The hamstrings (another muscle group involved in hip extension) and core stabilizers are also involved but to a much smaller extent since your feet are not in contact with the ground.  


What muscles are working during reverse hyperextensions

WHERE SHOULD YOU BE SORE AFTER DOING REVERSE HYPEREXTENSIONS?

After performing reverse hypers, you should feel the muscles of the glutes being the most sore.  Lower back soreness from being worked (as opposed to feeling pain), may be experienced as well. 


ARE REVERSE HYPERS BAD FOR YOUR LOWER BACK?

Reverse hyperextensions are not inherently bad for your lower back, unless of course, you’re using poor technique or you already have a lower back issue such as a herniated or bulging disc in the lower back. Healthy asymptomatic lower backs should have no problem handling an appropriate training protocol using reverse hyperextensions.  


WHAT NOT TO DO IF YOU HAVE LOWER BACK PAIN FROM REVERSE HYPERS

If you’re experiencing lower back pain from performing reverse hyperextensions, stop performing them immediately and go get assessed by a licensed practitioner. Performing these movements while experiencing pain and/or discomfort will NOT make your lower back feel better, contrary to what you may see on the internet.  


WHY REVERSE HYPEREXTENSIONS CAUSE LOWER BACK PAIN

Reverse hyperextensions can cause lower back problems usually because of two reasons:  

  1. 1f the vertebrae of the lower back can’t move independently of one another, as you swing your legs up going into lumbar extension, only 1-2 vertebrates are now doing the work as opposed to having the load evenly distributed throughout all 5 of them of the lumbar area.  This excessive force on the 1-2 moving may be too much for them to handle, resulting in pain or discomfort.  

  2. When the lower back is already stuck in excessive lumbar extension (imagine someone overly sticking their chest and butt out), trying to move into even MORE extension especially under load like the reverse hyperextension, may result in a spasm of the lower back muscles or something even worse.  


How to do a reverse hyperextension

HOW TO DO REVERSE HYPEREXTENSIONS WITHOUT CAUSING LOWER BACK PAIN

Consider yourself lucky if you have access to the reverse hyperextension machine. But before you start loading the movement by attaching weight to the machine, we first need to break this exercise down into two parts:

  • Lumbar extension (think sticking the butt out)

  • Hip extension while never losing lumbar extension (the lower back doesn’t change throughout the leg swing)


Once you’ve set the stage by mastering lumbar extension, you can now safely train this pattern without screwing up your lower back.  


Steps for Performing Reverse Hyperextensions:


Part 1 (Lower Back Only):

  • Set up on a hyperextension machine or another elevated surface that allows your legs to hang freely.

  • Lie face down with your hips at the edge of the bench and your legs hanging straight down.

  • Slowly extend the lower back only, by driving your tailbone up towards the ceiling feeling all the little muscles of the lower back contracting, but not pinching.

  • The legs should remain pointed down towards the floor the entire time.

  • Slowly lower the tailbone back down to the starting position.


Part 2 (Lower Back and Glutes):

  • Same exact setup as before.

  • Extend the lower back like the first exercise, and now maintain that position as you raise your legs up the ceiling.  

  • Pause when your thighs are parallel to the ground but don’t go into more lumbar extension.  

  • Slowly lower the legs back to the floor maintaining lumbar extension.  

  • Once the legs are back down, slowly come out of the extension of the lower back. 


Tips for Maximizing Proper Muscle Activation and Form:

  1. For part 1 of the exercise, divorce the lower back from anything else wanting to move. The goal is to teach the body how to extend the lumbar spine without help from other body parts. Skipping this step will almost ensure that your lower back will do the majority of the work in the movement instead of relying on the much larger glute muscles.  

  2. When moving, I can’t stress enough how important it is to move slowly. Moving slowly allows you to build the mind-muscle connection to the small muscles of the lower back which for most people have never been trained in isolation.  

  3. The hardest part of the movement is learning how to breath when your abs are being compressed by the pad. Over time, this will become easier, but in the mean time, take a break after a few reps to catch your breath, and then get back to it.  


Progression and Reverse Hyperextension Variations:

There are few ways you can progress once you’ve mastered this movement pattern. Once you can do 3 sets of 20 repetitions slow and controlled, it’s now time to increase the difficulty with these variations:

  • Move only one leg at a time without letting the pelvis rotate side to side. 

  • If applicable, add weight to the swinging lever of the reverse hyperextension machine.  

  • If you don’t have a traditional reverse hyperextension machine, you can add ankle weights or attach resistance bands to increase the tension.  


Equipment Needed:

While a reverse hyperextension machine is most ideal, you can still do this movement and reap all the benefits without it. The exercise can be performed by using a traditional bench, table or countertop, or a stability ball while holding onto something solid. As long as you can place the lower back in the proper position, you are good to go.  


ALTERNATIVES TO REVERSE HYPEREXTENSIONS

If you don’t have access to any of the variations listed above, here are some options for an alternative exercise that works the same muscles. However, these are closed chain (feet staying in contact with the floor), so the neurological training effect won’t quite be the same. 

  • Glute bridges

  • Romanian deadlifts

  • Supermans

  • Good mornings

  • Cable pull-throughs 

  • Hip thrusts


HOW TO RELIEVE LOWER BACK PAIN

The first step in relieving lower back pain is to get assessed by a licensed practitioner. If you don’t know what’s actually going on down there, how do you know where to start?


If your lower back pain is mild, then the next steps would be to increase your hip mobility and to teach your lower back how to move each vertebrae individually. A great place to start is by performing the hip and spine CAR that are included 3 must-have mobility moves that you can get for free in the link below. They will make a huge difference in improving the low back issues you’ve got going on and are the first exercises I teach every person I work with.

relieve_low_back_pain_from_reverse_hyperextensions

CONCLUSION

Reverse hyperextensions are a great exercise for any workout routine, offering numerous benefits not only for the lower body but also for the lower back. By adjusting your technique as I’ve shown above you can safely train these areas effectively instead of just aggravating your lower back, and start to make your lower back a strength instead of just a weak link in the chain.  


 

ABOUT COACH MATT PIPPIN

Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field and has coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. He's incredibly passionate about bringing simple and effective online mobility training programs to everyone who wants to take control of their self care and make lasting change. CLICK HERE to learn more.

Certifications:

  • NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

  • Level 3: Fascial Stretch Specialist

  • Level 1: Institute of Motion Health Coach

  • Certified FRC Mobility Specialist (FRCms)

  • Level 1 Kinstretch Instructor

  • Weck Method Qualified


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