When it comes to posterior chain development, the collective name for your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, most people do things like Romanian deadlifts, 45-degree back extensions, or regular deadlifts. As good as these exercises are, they are all quite similar. They all involve keeping your feet still and moving your upper body.
There is nothing wrong with this but, for maximal muscle size and strength, not to mention making your workouts more interesting, more variety can be very beneficial.
One of the best alternatives to these exercises is reverse hyperextensions, also known as reverse hypers. This exercise comes from the world of powerlifting but is now widely accepted as excellent general strength, conditioning, and bodybuilding exercise.
How to Do the Reverse Hyperextension
To do reverse hypers, you’ll need a reverse hyperextension machine. Don’t worry if your gym hasn’t got one of these – there are alternatives later in this article.
- Lie face down on the reverse hyper machine. While your upper body and stomach should be on the bench, your hips should not. This will allow them to move freely.
- Let your legs hang straight down toward the floor. Hold the handles to keep your upper body in position. Brace your abs to keep your spine stable and supported.
- Lift your legs by contracting your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Keep them straight. Raise them until they are roughly parallel to the floor. Keep the movement smooth and controlled. Do not kick your legs up; otherwise, momentum will take work away from the target muscles. You could also hurt your lower back.
- Lower your legs and repeat.
Most reverse hyper machines allow you to increase the load on the target muscles. Some have lever arms and ankle pads to which you can add weight plates. Others are connected to weight stacks or have ankle cuffs and cables. It all depends on the design of the machine you are using. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Muscles Worked During Reverse Hyperextensions
We’ve already briefly mentioned the muscles used during reverse hypers. However, it’s worth delving a little deeper into the anatomy of this exercise so that you have a better understanding of why this exercise is so beneficial.
The main muscles used during reverse hypers are:
Erector Spinae– also known as your spinal erectors, these muscles run up either side of your back. Their primary job is the extension of your spine but, in reverse hypers, their main role is keeping your lower back fixed and stable as you lift your legs. Erector Spinae activation is much lower than in exercises like Romanian deadlifts and regular hyperextensions.
Gluteus maximus– called your glutes for short, this is the largest muscle in the human body. Located on the back of your hip and pelvis, your glutes are responsible for hip extension. Stronger glutes can help you run faster and jump higher.
Hamstrings– located on the back of your thigh, your hamstrings have two functions. They are responsible for knee flexion, a function best trained by doing leg curls. They also work alongside your glutes in hip extension.
The Benefits of Reverse Hypers
There are several important reasons that reverse hypers deserve a place in your workouts.
Less low back strain– when you do exercises like Romanian deadlifts, 45-degree back extensions, and regular deadlifts, your lower back is completely unsupported. This can put a lot of strain on your spine. While this isn’t always a problem, if you have a sore, tired, or injured lower back, you may not want to do these exercises.
Reverse hypers work your posterior chain without a whole lot of movement or strain on your lower back. Performed correctly, your lower back should remain stationary, which means there is less wear and tear, and a lower chance of injury (1).
Whether you have back pain or just want to avoid it, the reverse hyper means you can train your posterior chain much more safely.
More powerful hip extension– the main movement in reverse hypers is hip extension. Hip extension is a fundamental movement pattern. Running, jumping, and kicking all feature hip extension. If you are an athlete in any sport, increasing hip extension power will be very beneficial. Stronger hip extension will also improve your squat and deadlift performance.
Injury prevention– most posterior chain exercises feature a pronounced hip hinge. A hip hinge involves bending forward at the hips but without rounding your lower back. A rounded lower back is weak and very prone to injury. People round their lower backs during training for several reasons, including poor core strength, tight hamstrings, using too much weight, and simply not knowing any better.
Lying face down on a hyperextension bench makes it almost impossible to round your lower back. This makes reverse hypers much safer and ideal for injury prevention (2).
How to Program Reverse Hypers
To get the most from reverse hypers, make sure your weight and reps match your training goals. Use the following guidelines to address the type of fitness you want to develop with this exercise.
- For power and strength: 4-6 sets of 3-5 reps using heavyweights. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.
- For hypertrophy (muscle size): 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps using moderate to heavyweights. Rest 60-90 seconds between sets.
- For muscular endurance: 2-4 sets of 13-20 reps using light to moderate weights. Rest 30-60 seconds between sets.
How to do reverse hypers when you don’t have a reverse hyperextension machine
The reverse hyper is an awesome exercise, but not all gyms have a reverse hyperextension machine. That doesn’t mean you can’t do this exercise; there are several options you can use even if you don’t have the correct machine.
Reverse Hypers on a Glute-ham Developer (GHD)
GHDs are benches on which you can do a sort of back extension/leg curl combination. You can also turn over and do an ultra-tough sit-up variation. You can also use a GHD for reverse hypers. GHD benches are popular in CrossFit boxes and functional gyms.
How to do it:
- Stand at the head end of the GHD with your hips up against the pad. Lean forward and grab the handles next to the leg restraints, or the sides of the footplate/leg restraints themselves.
- Keeping your legs straight, use your posterior chain muscles to lift them up until they are parallel to the floor. Lower them back down and repeat.
- Make this exercise harder by wearing ankle weights or attaching a resistance band to the GHD and putting your feet inside the loop. Alternatively, grip and hold a medicine ball between your ankles.
Reverse Hypers Using a Gym Bench
No GHD at your gym? No problem! You can also do a version of reverse hypers using a regular gym bench.
How to do it:
- Lie face down on a gym bench, so your upper body is on the bench, and your legs are straight, feet resting on the floor. While your chest and abdomen should be on the bench, your hips and pelvis should be just off the end.
- Keeping your legs straight, lift your legs up until they are parallel to the floor and then lower them back down. Do not overextend your lower back.
- Increase the range of motion and, therefore, the difficulty of the exercise by raising your bench up on blocks or steps. Make sure the bench is stable and won’t topple during use.
Reverse Hypers Using a Stability Ball
If you exercise at home, you may be thinking that reverse hypers are not for you. The good news is that if you have a stability ball, you can do a version of this exercise even if you don’t train at a gym.
How to do it:
- Lie face down on a stability ball. The larger the ball, the more effective the exercise will be. Place your hands on the floor or, alternatively, grab hold of an immovable object. The ball should be under your abdomen and hips.
- Keeping your upper body stationary, lift your legs up off the floor until they form a straight line with your body.
- Lower your feet back to the floor and repeat.
You can also place and hold a stability ball on an exercise bench to do reverse hypers. This provides a larger range of motion and will also help develop your balance.
Even if you don’t have a reverse hyperextension machine at your gym, you can still do this great glute, hamstring, and lower back exercise. It’s easy on your lower back but still a very effective exercise. Whether you are training for fitness, increased strength, bigger muscles, or improved sports performance, reverse hyperextensions can help you reach your goals faster and more safely.
1 & 2. Lawrence, Michael A.; Chin, Andrew; Swanson, Brian T. (2019-08). “Biomechanical Comparison of the Reverse Hyperextension Machine and the Hyperextension Exercise”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 33 (8): 2053–2056. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003146. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 30946266. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30946266