In the world of health and fitness, there are very few things that are as important as lower back strength.
However, for many people, lower back training often comes as an afterthought, as the muscles involved aren’t “mirror muscles”.
Unfortunately, if the muscles in your lower back don’t have a suitable level of strength, you will struggle to exert maximum power in other exercises, develop problems with your posture, and even put yourself at significant risk of suffering a severe injury. As a result, machines, such as the reverse hyperextension frame, have been developed specifically to target this area directly.
But what if your gym doesn’t invest in one of these specific pieces of equipment though?
Well, in the following article, we will show you a number of the best alternatives to the reverse hyperextension. This will ensure you are able to sufficiently work the muscles in your lower back, no matter what equipment you have access to.
What Is A Reverse Hyperextension?
A reverse hyperextension is an exercise requiring a specifically designed piece of equipment to work the muscles throughout your lower back, buttocks, and the posterior region of your upper legs.
A user will lay facing the floor with their upper body supported on a horizontal pad. There will be handles out in front of you to support yourself with and it will also have pads attached to weights which you will secure your feet between.
At the beginning of the exercise, the soles of your feet should be pointed at the floor, with a 90 degree bend at your hips and waist. Hold yourself in place by using the handles and then proceed to raise your legs out behind you, by contracting the muscles in your lower back.
At the end of the movement, your body should be completely straight, while your legs need to remain straight throughout each repetition. Be sure to hold the tension for a few seconds before returning to the starting position and repeating.
What Muscles Does The Reverse Hyperextension Work?
The reverse hyperextension works all of the muscles in the lower back and many in the buttocks and upper legs, particularly in the posterior portion.
The back muscles engaged include the erector spinae, serratus posterior inferior, internal and external abdominal obliques, and the lower portion of the latissimus dorsi.
The primary leg muscles worked are the hamstrings, while three of the four heads of the quadriceps are used to keep your legs straight, these being the vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis, and vastus medialis.
There is also a huge emphasis on the gluteal muscles in the buttocks.
The Importance Of A Strong Lower Back
The lower back is one of the most important parts of the body, as it is responsible for supporting everything above it and controlling the movement of everything below it.
As the forces of everything you lift pass through your core, a strong lower back is vital to the overall strength of your body.
No matter how strong your limbs may be, you won’t be able to exert their full force if the lower back isn’t capable of supporting the pressure.
Similarly, the strength of the lower back muscles is also the primary factor that will determine your posture.
If the muscles in the area aren’t strong enough, you will have a tendency to bend, hunch, or stoop forward.
This can cause the weakening of the muscles in the shoulders and upper back, leading to injuries, pain, the deformation of bones and joints, and even a permanent loss of height.
Speaking of injuries, a weak lower back also makes the region significantly more susceptible to getting damaged. This is particularly problematic as the muscles of the back play a vital role in protecting the spine.
Not having enough strength in the lower back muscles will put unnecessary strain on the spine and can potentially lead to serious and even life changing injuries.
Finally, a strong and healthy lower back is vital for your flexibility. If the muscles in the area are underdeveloped, it can reduce mobility in your core, making twisting, bending, and stretching movements much more difficult to achieve.
All of this means that lower back strength is vital to ensure optimal health and fitness and a high quality of life and wellbeing.
The Best Reverse Hyperextension Alternatives
As great as the reverse hyperextension is, we will now look at the 10 best reverse hyperextension alternatives.
This will ensure everyone has the ability to sufficiently strengthen their lower back, regardless of where they are training or what equipment they have access to.
Hyperextensions are the single best exercise for isolating and working the lower back and are the movement that reverse hyperextensions are derived from.
You begin by securing your ankles into a frame with the front of your thighs resting on pads. Depending on the frame, you can be either completely parallel with the floor or leaning forward at a 45 degree angle. Either way, your entire body should be straight.
Slowly bend at the waist and lower your upper body forwards, until it is completely vertical, with your head pointing at the floor.
From here, focus on contracting the muscles in the lower back and glutes to pull yourself back up, until you reach a point just slightly past parallel with the ground.
Hold the position for a few seconds and really squeeze the muscles, then slowly lower yourself back down and repeat as many times as necessary.
You can either fold your arms across your chest or place your hands beside your head for added stability. Additional weight can also be held across your chest, if you want to make the exercise more challenging.
The deadlift is one of the most popular and important exercises.
It works almost all of the muscles throughout the body but pays particular attention to those in the lower back and upper legs. It is one of the best options for adding both strength and power. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your toes under the bar, keeping both feet firmly planted on the floor at all points of contact for the duration of the exercise.
Lower your buttocks towards the ground by bending at the knees, keeping your head up, shoulders back, and back straight. Go just lower than where your hamstrings are parallel with the ground.
Grip the bar just outside your knees, with an overhand grip, and make sure your back remains straight throughout the movement.
Squeeze your glutes and drive your hips up and forward. Keep your arms fully extended and your body moving in one flowing, synchronised motion for the duration of the exercise. At the top of the movement, make sure to lean back slightly, squeeze your traps, and contract your abs. Hold this for a few seconds before returning to the starting position and repeating for the desired number of reps.
Romanian Or Stiff Leg Deadlifts
Romanian and stiff leg deadlifts are both variations of the traditional deadlift that move the majority of the emphasis away from the legs and onto the lower back.
The difference between the two is that Romanian deadlifts allow you to have a slight bend in the knees, while stiff leg deadlifts require your legs to be completely straight. Begin with the same setup as you would for a regular deadlift, although prepare the bar with significantly lower weight.
However, instead of lowering your buttocks to the floor, you will this time bend forward at the waist to grip the bar. Keeping everything straight, contract the muscles in the lower back and pull the weight until you reach a standing position.
Just like before, lean back slightly at the top, squeeze your traps, contract your abs, and hold the position for a few seconds before returning to the starting position and repeating the necessary number of times. Romanian deadlifts are a perfect choice for completely isolating the lower back, while stiff leg deadlifts hit the glutes and hamstrings much harder.
This makes using a combination of the two a great, option for developing a well-rounded routine and physique.
Good mornings are somewhat of a combination of hyperextensions and Romanian deadlifts, and they are a great option for isolating the muscles in the lower back.
Stand with your legs and back straight, feet shoulder width apart, and a barbell on your shoulders, in a position similar to the one you would take to perform a squat. Try and hold the bar as low down as possible, shifting as much of it onto the traps as you can.
Put a slight bend in your knees and proceed to bend forward at the waist until your upper body is parallel with the floor, keeping your back straight throughout the movement.
Stand back up in exactly the same slow and controlled manner.
Use relatively light weights and make sure the bar doesn’t roll forward onto your neck.
This can be done with completely stiff legs, in order to shift the emphasis onto the hamstrings, for anyone who wants to focus on training those, while resistance bands can also be used instead of a barbell as well.
Glute Ham Raises (GHRs)
Glute Ham Raises are very similar to reverse hyperextensions.
They again place the emphasis on the posterior muscles of the upper legs and require a specific frame to be completed.
Set the machine so that your thighs are on the pad or pads, with your knees at the very bottom of it/them.
Your feet should be flat against the foot plate, with toes pointing towards the ground, and your body must be completely straight and parallel with the floor.
Keep your arms across your chest or beside your head for maximum stability.
Contract your glutes and hamstrings as hard as you can and use these muscles to raise your upper body, bending at the knees, until it is completely vertical.
Continue until there is a 90 degree angle in the back of your knees and then immediately lower yourself back to the starting position, in order to maintain tension in the muscles at all times.
Repeat as many times as necessary. If required, additional weight can be held with the arms to make the exercise more challenging.
You can also perform a variation of the exercise known as the glue ham raise hyperextension. This will see you perform glute ham raises as directed above.
However, once you reach the end of each repetition, instead of repeating it you will perform a hyperextension before continuing.
Glute kickbacks are a great option for strengthening both the glutes and the hamstrings.
You begin by fastening one of your ankles to a cable machine in its lowest position, with you facing it.
Stand far enough back from the machine that you can bend forward at the waist until your body is parallel with the floor and grip the sides of the machine with your hands for support.
You will then proceed to kick the attached leg out behind you. This can be done either with the leg completely straight throughout the movement or by starting with it slightly bent and extending the knee as you progress through the movement.
The straighter you keep your leg, the more of the emphasis will be transferred off of the hamstrings and onto your glutes.
Either way, the movement is complete when your leg is straight out behind you, in line with your upper body.
Hold this position for a few seconds, before slowly returning to the starting position, using the same method as on the way up.
Complete the desired number of reps, then switch legs and perform the same number again.
Hip thrusts primarily target your glutes, with secondary attention paid to the lower back and hamstrings.
Your starting position will be seated on the floor with your back up against a weight bench.
It is best performed with a barbell across your waist, although a weight plate can also be used if necessary.
You may also want to use some kind of cushioning between you and the weight, such as a squat pad, to make the exercise more comfortable.
Plant your feet flat on the floor and lean back, so that your shoulders are resting across the bench.
Your buttocks should be just slightly off the floor and supporting the weight.
Squeeze your glutes and drive your hips towards the ceiling, until your upper legs and torso are both parallel with the ground.
Maintain the contraction for a few seconds before lowering yourself until your buttocks are just off of the ground again.
Glute bridges are a similar movement to hip thrusts and again place the main emphasis on the glutes.
You begin by laying flat on the floor and planting your feet on the ground. Squeeze your glutes and drive your hips upwards, supporting your weight on your feet and shoulders.
At the top of the movement, your upper legs and torso will be at roughly a 45 degree angle, which you will maintain for a pre-determined length of time. Once you have completed the desired length, slowly lower yourself back to the ground and complete the necessary number of repetitions.
Kettlebell swings are an explosive exercise that work almost all of the muscles in your body.
You begin by standing with your legs just slightly wider than shoulder width apart, holding a kettlebell in front of you with both hands. Slowly lower yourself into a squatted position, so that the weight hangs between your legs.
Now contract your glutes and shoulders and explode upwards, thrusting your hips forwards and upwards, so you end up in a completely vertical position, with the weight held directly out in front of you.
As soon as you reach the top, immediately lower the weight back down, keeping your arms and back straight the entire time, and return to the starting position. Without pausing, repeat the movement until you have completed the desired number of reps.
Lower Back Machines
Lower back machines are resistance machines specifically designed to isolate the muscles in the lower back and allow you to work them with a great amount of force.
You begin in a seated position, with your torso lowered as close to your thighs as possible. You then set the desired weight and lower the pad until it sits snugly across the back of your shoulders.
Keep your feet planted to provide support and squeeze your traps and shoulder blades to pull your shoulders back. Contract the muscles in the lower back and push yourself up against the resistance of the pad.
Try to go until your upper body is just past vertical and hold the position for a second before returning to the starting position and completing the desired number of reps.
Other Options For Strengthening The Lower Back
Aside from developing the muscles in the lower back, a good level of flexibility and mobility is a key factor in determining the strength of the region.
This makes completing a regular stretching routine a great option for improving lower back health. Everything from simple stretches, like a superman or back extension, to more complex yoga and pilates routines can work wonders for the region.
These will not only keep the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints supple and mobile, but will also help to strengthen the muscles themselves. They will even help to increase the effect of the exercises you perform to build up the muscles.
By increasing flexibility, you will be able to complete exercises through a longer range of motion, allowing you to develop the fibres in the entire length of a muscle. Another great option for improving the heath and performance of the lower back is to use a tool like a foam roller or get a deep tissue massage.
This will help to break down any knots in the muscle, improving its flexibility and increasing blood flow, making it stronger, as well as more mobile and flexible. It will even help relieve any soreness, which is often a major contributing factor in people skipping their normal workout or stretching routine.
How To Reduce The Risk Of Lower Back Injury
While improving the strength of the muscles in the lower back itself is vital to the health of the region, this alone won’t be enough to prevent you from getting injured.
You will also need to take positive steps to improve your posture and avoid actions that may risk causing it damage. Poor posture will put an incredible amount of strain on the lower back, making it much more vulnerable and susceptible to injury.
In order to avoid this, be sure to adequately train the muscles in the upper back and rear shoulders as well. Strong upper back and posterior shoulder muscles will help to pull everything into alignment and ensure your body is in the correct position.
This will avoid overworking the lower back and help to prevent injury. You also want to avoid movements that make the region vulnerable. Be sure to use correct from and careful, controlled movements while lifting weights.
Meanwhile, in everyday life, be sure to assist it where possible, such as by bending you knees when lifting and not overstretching.
The lower back is one of the most important areas in the human body, whether we are looking at working out or our general health and wellbeing.
Making sure we keep it strong and flexible is vital for anyone hoping to achieve optimal levels of comfort and physical performance.
While the reverse hyperextension is undoubtedly a great way to strengthen the region, it is by no means the only option.
This article will hopefully have given you plenty of choices to help keep your lower back strong, flexible, and healthy, no matter what equipment you have access to.
So, you should now have everything you need to go out and take your training to the next level and improve your level of fitness and overall quality of life, in the safest way possible.
Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine from Alexandria university and is a practicing plastic surgeon. He’s our expert on all things nutrition, medicine, rehabilitation, and flexibility. Dr.Ahmed has been a medical content writer for more than 11 years and his work reached top publications such as the HuffingtonPost