Reverse hyperextension exercises require you to lie face down with your legs hanging and then raise your legs until they’re parallel with the floor and bringing them back down in a controlled manner. It’s meant to strengthen the posterior chain as well as the glutes. It’s used frequently in training to help with lower back pain as well as other lower body issues.
While some think that hyperextension exercises do more harm than good, there are still trainers and athletes that credit these movements with their lower body strength. If you’re looking for a way to improve your back health and strength while also conditioning the rest of your lower body, reverse hyperextensions are worth a shot.
Muscles Engaged in Reverse Hypers
When done properly, weighted hyperextensions can target and train specific muscle groups without straining others. Specifically, the hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors are worked with this exercise.
- Glutes – This muscle group will work to lengthen the hips and to move your legs up to or past parallel. Weighted reverse hypers work the glutes in an ideal way without straining your lower back.
- Hamstrings – During a reverse hyper extension, the hamstrings help your hip extend while bearing the load of the weight. They will also be worked as you focus on resisting knee hyperextension under the load.
- Spinal Erectors – As you perform a reverse hyper, your lumbar spine (spinal erectors) helps keep you stable. This stability works the erectors as they have to remain engaged in order to keep you in the proper position during the exercise. If your lower back is moving too much during reverse hypers you’re doing them wrong and won’t just minimize the effects of the exercise but you’ll also risk straining or injuring your lower back.
The Benefits of the Reverse Hyperextension
If you’re unsure of what hyperextensions can do for you consider the physical benefits of the exercises. These advantages come from any variation of the exercise as it’s the overall movement that strengthens your muscles.
Stronger Hamstrings & Glutes
This type of exercise serves as a dynamic strength developer of the posterior chain which directly affects your glutes while also building hamstring flexibility. Both of these muscles are targeted at the same time, something that can’t be achieved with other movements. More so, it targets them while limiting the stress on other parts of your body like your back and your grip.
Other movements that strengthen hamstring muscles as Romanian deadlifts and hip raises will tax those other parts of your body creating possible discomfort and strain. In the concentric phase, by isolating the glutes and hamstrings, weighted reverse hyperextensions allow you to build up flexibility, power and strength in them without creating soreness elsewhere. This is why they are sometimes called glute hyperextensions or the glute ham hyper.
Improved Hip Extension
Hip flexor flexibility is important for fitness enthusiasts, powerlifting professionals and athletes as proper hip hinging is necessary for most exercises including squats, cleans, running, and jumping. If you aren’t flexible enough, these common and important movements are a lot harder to do. Reverse hip extensions help increase your hip extension so you can perform to your highest ability. They also reduce lower back tightness and can help with anterior hip pain.
Injury Prevention for Lower Back
Lower back pain generally stems from a weak or injured posterior chain and glutes. By strengthening these areas by doing reverse hyper extensions you can help reduce your risk of lower back pain or injuries. In fact, athletes can improve their recovery times and endurance with this stretching, resulting in reduced soreness.
This type of exercise will also take the strain off your lower back since there is no stress put on it during any kind of reverse hyperextension. Without a load on the spine, you can safely strengthen your lower body without strain or injury to your back.
Many sufferers of back pain from a previous injury turn to reverse hypers for relief as part of physical therapy to improve their spinal health. If you have had a back injury in the past, you are probably aware that the pressure needs to be relieved and circulation needs to be restored so that the areas can be rehabilitated.
In the eccentric phases, the rehab exercise stretches the lower back and the spine is depressurized. This spinal decompression (due to lack of vertical compression) creates an internal pumping mechanism which fills the lower back muscles with blood and the spinal column with spinal fluid. Many athletes also use these machines to improve hip extension when rehabbing from a knee, ankle or foot injury. Many sufferers from herniated discs, back spasms and back surgery have seen improvement from this exercise.
Advice for Beginners
While hyperextensions are great for strengthening your body, if you’re a beginner there are some things worth noting. First, you should always consult a doctor before adding this exercise to your routine. This is especially important if you have previous injuries as this may do more harm to the area.
If you get the OK to start reverse back extensions, be sure to always warm up and stretch before doing them. You need to prepare your muscles properly so you’re not just entering into the actual movement from stagnancy. This can shock your body and cause strains or more serious injuries.
As a beginner, you may find it difficult to perform any variation of the reverse hyper. To help you get used to it, most trainers suggest you start by lying on the floor and start with floor hyperextensions before moving on to use the bench. Here, you lie on your stomach and lift your upper body off of the floor without using your arms. Instead, you’ll use your posterior chain to raise and lower your body. It’s best to do 15 to 20 reps before moving on to do reverse hyperextension on a bench.
You can also raise your legs (using only your body weight) along with your upper body by engaging your glutes and hamstrings. Raise and lower your body in a controlled way 15 to 20 times here; you may choose to pause briefly at the top of the movement.
No matter what type of hyper you do, be sure that you do it slowly and not with explosive momentum. If you’re finding the exercise difficult, you can bend your knees slightly until you get more strength and control.
How to Do the Reverse Hyperextension
In order to properly perform a reverse hyper, follow this simple step-by-step guide.
- Lie flat on your stomach either on the floor, a bench, or on a reverse hyperextension machine. Unless on the floor, position your hips at the end of the bench or pads of the reverse hyper machine so they are free to move without the lower back extending too much. If the machine has straps, your legs should be inside the strap.
- Hold your legs straight and contract your core to keep your lower lumbar from extending too much. Keep your chest forward on the pad or bench and let your hamstrings lengthen as you lower your legs.
- Lift your legs by engaging your glutes and hamstrings making sure not to jerk your upper body. If you do extend your upper torso too much you can strain your lower back instead of strengthening it. Then lower your legs back down to the hyperextended lower back position.
- As you go, allow momentum to help you along in a pendulum motion but make sure you remain in control of the up and down motion of your legs.
- When you complete your final set and repetition, lower the weight to the starting position in a controlled manner so no strain is put on your lower back at any time.
If you don’t have access to a freestanding hyper machine (or reverse leg extension machine), you can do a stability ball hyperextension. Here, lie on your stomach on your stability ball, grab a hold of something or place your hands on the floor and lift your legs up and down. You’ll have to engage your core muscles more here since the ball isn’t stable but it’s a decent alternative if you have no other options. It is normal to feel an intense pump in your lower back. Similarly, a GHD machine can be used instead of a reverse hyper machine but you may want to add resistance bands to your legs for a more effective workout.
How to Add the Reverse Hyperextension to your Routine
Reverse hyper machines are a piece of equipment that consists of a bench and a swing arm mechanism where Olympic barbell weight plates can be loaded to add resistance. Unfortunately, in many commercial gyms, it’s unlikely that you’ll find machines specifically for reverse hyperextension exercises. However, many CrossFit gyms do have them. If you do find one or have in your home gym, there are different ways to load these machines with weight in order to get specific results.
Here are a few examples to help you get a better idea of how to use these machines:
If you’re looking for more strength and not necessarily hypertrophy it’s best to use moderate to heavy weights with moderate repetitions. Do not use your maximal load or close to your maximal load here. Trainers recommend three to four sets with eight to 10 reps; rest as needed here.
This should be done with a light to moderate load since the goal here is mobility and not increased strength. Here, perform three to four sets with eight to 10 repetitions in each set with the light to moderate load. Use a controlled speed and focus on lifting and lowering the weight.
Hyperextensions aren’t typically used for muscle endurance but they can be helpful in your overall training by improving your glute and hamstring health. Here, it’s best to use light to moderate weight and perform two to four sets with 15 to 20 reps. Rest only for 30 to 45 seconds between sets.
If your goal is to grow your muscles, you need higher reps with a moderate load. Here, trainers recommend doing two to three sets with 12 to 15 reps. Your rest periods should be anywhere from 45 to 90 seconds.
Reverse Hyperextension Variations
While there is the basic movement of a hyperextension, there are also variations that can be done. Here are some examples of reverse hypers that you can try.
- Banded Hypers: using resistance bands instead of machines and/or weights, this can help improve muscle engagement and mobility.
- Reverse Hyper Isometric Holds: holding a position at the top of the movement to increase muscle activity to better engage and strengthen the muscles.
- Tempo Hypers: controlled repetitions under a light load following a cadence used to increase the ability to activate specific muscles.
- Single Leg Reverse Hyper: similar to a normal movement but using a single leg.
If you’re ready to better work your hamstrings and glutes while also protecting your lower back from strain and potential injuries, reverse hyperextensions are for you. Be sure to talk to a trainer or coach to make sure that you’re doing the right number of sets and reps under the proper load in order to achieve your desired results.
Remember, if you’re under regular medical care or are recovering from a physical injury, always talk to your doctor first before starting a new exercise routine as reverse hypers can be too intense for some.