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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
February 06, 2022
There are many exercises that are great for training your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings as a unit, which really they are. These muscles of your posterior chain form the foundation of the lower body and core and allow you to run, jump, hinge, and squat like a champ. And while barbell exercises like squat and deadlift variations are the best overall strength builders, they work a lot of other muscles as well and sometimes it's important to isolate those three muscles of the posterior chain for hypertrophy, strength, and injury prevention purposes...and not many exercises do it better than reverse hyperextensions. This is an exercise that is simple, effective, and easily progressed and regressed.
Here we will go into:
Without further ado, let’s dive into building a posterior of steal with reverse hyperextensions...
Reverse hyperextensions are performed lying face down with your upper body on a platform and your leg down behind you so your body forms about a 90 degree angle at the hips. You then lift your leg up while keeping your upper body fixed until your legs are aligned with your upper body (or even up a little higher, which makes it a HYPERextension).
This movement can be done several ways. The easiest set up is if you have a reverse hyperextension machine, as it is made specifically for this exercise and it can be loaded with plates for progression.
However, it can also be done on a stability ball, a weight bench or even a soft plyobox. With these alternative reverse hyper options, you can use your bodyweight alone or place a dumbbell between your feet/legs for added resistance.
With all of these options, the targeted muscles of the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back are extended beyond their normal limits for a more forceful muscle contraction. These are great for building strength and muscle in the posterior while improving lower back strength and stability. The reverse hyper places a greater stretch on the hips and hamstrings because of the large range of motion which gives you bigger muscle and strength-building potential.
The reverse hyper is also great for rehab or prehab of the lower back. It provides traction and decompression of the lumbar spine. For this purpose, the movement is typically done without any added load. But, we recommend consulting your physician or physical therapist if you have any concerns.
You can also use the reverse hyperextension machine with just your bodyweight by not placing your legs onto the lever. Everything else is the same.
If using a Glute Ham Developer (GHD) machine, the set up is pretty much the same, but there is no lever for your legs. When starting out, your bodyweight will be plenty. But, as you progress, you can place a dumbbell between your lower legs for resistance or even tie a resistance band to the base of the GHD and then to your lower legs.
The three main muscles trained by the reverse hyperextension are the hamstrings, glutes, and erector spinae, which all play a role in the reverse hyperextension movement.
As for your lumbar spine, it will move through a normal range of motion, yet one that is maximized. The stretch and decompression of the spine happens as you lower your legs down with your upper body fixed to the platform.
Just to give you a better understanding of the anatomy of the muscles worked when doing reverse hypers...
The hamstrings are often referred to as one muscle, but they are actually made up of three muscles on the posterior of the thigh:
They all originate on the posterior of the lower pelvis, and they all insert medially and laterally just below the knee on the tibia and fibula, The only exception to this is the biceps femoris short head which originates on the lower femur.
The glutes are a group of three muscles posterior to the pelvis:
The glute maximus originates on the posterior of the sacrum and coccyx located on the lower lumbar spine, the gluteal surface of the ilium, and then inserts high on the posterior of the femur. The primary functions are hip extension and hyper-extension.
The gluteus medius originates on the gluteal surface of the ilium (on the pelvis) and inserts on the anterior aspect of the greater trochanter of the femur. The gluteus med is deep to the gluteus maximus and assists the gluteus maximus in hip extension and hyperextension.
The gluteus minimus originates on the gluteal surface of the ilium the anterior greater trochanter of the femur and assists the gluteus maximus in hip extension/hyperextension too.
The three muscles that run in a column from your lower back to your neck are known as the erector spinae. And those three muscles are the:
These three erector spinae muscles are located posterior and laterally to the spinal column and run from the lower back and all the way to the neck. They assist in keeping the lower back stable when performing the hip hyperextension movement.
Let’s face it, most lifters want glutes that pop, and the reverse hyperextension plays role in getting that posterior of steal. But there are another important benefits that come with training the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back with the hip hyperextension movement. And they are...
1. Reduction in Low Back Pain:
Improving glute strength and hip mobility by performing reverse hyperextension will help improve lower back strength and core stability. Improving both means the lower back doesn’t need to pick up any shortfalls because of limited hip mobility which may lead to low back pain sometime in the future.
2. Lower Back Strength:
The lower back muscle plays a vital role in keeping the spine neutral and giving you integrity under load. They resist spinal flexion which can happen with squat and deadlift variations. When your lower back is doing its job, the bigger muscles can do there’s. Reverse hyperextension adds strength to this muscle group so you can protect the lower back under heavy loads.
3. Helps Prevent Lower Back Injuries:
When you’re performing reverse hyperextension the spinal erectors and glutes play an important role in keeping the spine in proper alignment and this reduces lower body compensations and reduces the risk for lower back injuries.
4. Spinal Decompression & Traction:
The reverse hyperextension machine is said to decompress the spine through spinal traction. Essentially, you will be extending your spine as you lower your legs down which causes a stretch. This can be used as a therapy for issues of the spine. That said, we recommend consulting your physical therapist or physician before trying any new exercise if you have a spine issue or injury.
5. Better Posture:
Strong spinal erectors and hips both play a vital role in keeping up good posture and keeping a neutral spine during heavily loaded exercises like squat and deadlift variations.
6. Better Knee Stability and Ankle Mobility:
Training the glutes and hamstrings improves glute and hamstring strength along with hip mobility. This will help improve knee stability and ankle mobility because the knee and ankle will not be required to pick up any shortfalls in hip mobility by improving it with reverse hyperextension.
7. Adds Muscle:
Exercises with a large ROM like the reverse hyperextension that gives you a stretch during the eccentric phase before the concentric phase is great for building muscle. When reverse hyperextensions are performed with a full ROM it gives you greater muscle building potential for the glutes and hamstrings
The set and reps schemes used with the reverse hyperextension are depended on your goals Here are four set and rep schemes suggestions dependent on your goal.
Here are some programming examples using the recommendations above.
1) Performance Superset
1A: Reverse Hyperextension x 10-15 reps
1B: Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch x 30-60 seconds each side
Perform 3-4 supersets resting little between exercises and 60-90 seconds between supersets. This is best done after your big strength movement for the day.
2) Muscle Superset
1A: Weighted Reverse Hyperextension 12-15 reps
1B: Split Squat Variation 8-15 reps
Perform 3-5 supersets resting little between exercises and 2-3 minutes between supersets. This is best done after your big strength movement for the day.
3) Strength Superset
1A: Weighted Reverse Hyperextension 6 reps
1B: Passive Leg Lowering 10 reps per side
Perform 3-5 supersets resting little between exercises and 3 minutes between supersets. This is best done after your big strength movement for the day.
4) Muscular Endurance Superset
1A: Bodyweight Reverse Hyperextension 20 reps
1B: Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch 30 seconds on each side
Perform 2-3 supersets resting little between exercises and between supersets. This is best done after your big strength movement for the day.
You may not always have access to a reverse hyperextension machine but training the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings as a unit is still important. Here are three reverse hyperextension variations and alternatives to beef up your posterior.
The stability ball reverse hyperextension is a legitimate variation if your gym doesn’t a reverse hyperextension machine and is a great variation to hone your form. This variation trains the same muscles but with an added bonus. The unstable ball helps focus your technique and the increased range of motion plus time under tension gives you muscle-building and core stability benefits too.
How to Do The Stability Ball Reverse Hyperextension
Best rep range: 8-12
This can also be done without the weight bench and just have the stability ball on the floor. However, the range of motion will be limited, so you won't get the same decompression benefits.
The bench reverse hyperextension is similar to the stability ball variation but obviously without the stability ball. It does reduce the range of motion, but it is easier allowing you to do more reps while training the same muscles. Securing a dumbbell between your feet here will increase the challenge.
How to Do The Bench Reverse Hyperextension:
Best rep range: 12+
Place a dumbbell between your lower extremities for added resistance if needed.
To increase range of motion (and difficulty), set the bench to an incline position as such:
Back extensions on the hyperextension machine can be performed to 45-90 degrees (this is based on how far you lower your upper body). This movement is the exact opposite of the reverse hyper as your torso is moving and not your legs. This means the emphasis is on your erector spinae/lower back. However, your glutes and hamstrings will be activated as well, especially the glutes (just make sure you squeeze at the top!).
How to Do The Back Extension:
Best rep range: 8-15
You have the option to do with bodyweight or added weight by simply holding a plate or dumbbell to your chest.
The glute hamstring raise is a step up from the back hyperextension machine because there is more reliance here on your eccentric hamstring strength. But GHR is a great exercise for developing muscle and strength in your hamstrings, lower back, and glutes. Like reverse hypers the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes are working together as a unit.
How to Do The Glute Hamstring Raise:
Best rep range: 6-8
You have the option to do with bodyweight or added weight by simply holding a plate or dumbbell to your chest. Definitely start out with just your bodyweight as this is a difficult exercise as is.
Related: Best Glute Ham Raise Alternatives
Hip thrusts are the go-to variation for increasing glute strength and size no matter the variation you perform. This is a great exercise for increasing hip extension strength, increasing the size of your glutes, and for reinforcing good hip flexion and extension mechanics for more complex and heavily loaded movements. But unlike the reverse hyperextension, the hip thrust does limit hamstring and lower back involvement because of your knees being bent at a 90-degree angle.
How to Do The Barbell Hip Thrust:
Best rep range: 6-12
The good-morning is an exercise that targets the lower back, hamstrings, and glute much like the reverse hyperextension. But because of the barbell on your back, this exercise needs more shoulder mobility and upper back strength than the reverse hyperextension. This is a great choice for lifters looking to increase back and hip strength to improve the squats and deadlifts. The main difference between the reverse hyperextension and the barbell good morning the good morning places slightly more emphasis on the lower back, spinal erectors and a little less on the hamstrings (albeit it is a great hamstring exercise if done properly as it gives your hamstrings a great stretching contraction).
How to Do The Barbell Good Morning:
Best rep range 6-12
We highly recommend adding reverse hyperextensions to your routine if your gym has the machine (or a GHD machine where you can mimic the same movement). You will see serious benefits in lower back strength and overall just lumbar spine comfort. The other alternatives are also great for developing muscle and strength in the posterior chain, so feel free to mix things up.
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