Reverse Hyperextension – Form, Muscles Worked, and How-To Guide

In this article we will discuss the reverse hyperextension exercise, which can be done on a reverse hyperextension machine, bench, or in a glute ham developer (GHD). The reverse hypertension is a useful accessory exercise to increase hamstring and glute hypertrophy and function necessary for most power, strength, and fitness athletes.

In this article we will discuss:

  • Reverse Hyperextension Form and Technique
  • Benefits of the Reverse Hyperextension
  • Muscles Worked by Reverse Hyperextensions
  • Reverse Hyperextensions Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations
  • Reverse Hyperextensions Variations and Alternatives
  • and more…

How to Do the Reverse Hyperextension

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to properly set up and perform the reverse hyperextension.

Step 1: Assume a prone position either in a hyperextension machine or on the glute ham raise developer.

The hips should be at the end of the pads, allowing the lifter’s hips to flex freely without the lower back extending and flexing excessively.

Step 2: The legs should be held straight and the core contracted to minimize excessive lumbar extension.

Be sure to keep the chest forwards on the pad, allowing the hamstrings to lengthen as the legs drop towards the floor.

Step 3: Lift the legs using the hamstrings and gluteal muscles, with minimal jerking of the upper torso.

Jerking of the upper torso in the movement will result in excessive strain being placed on the lower back.

Step 4: With the legs moving in a controlled, yet fluid manner, allow the momentum to aid in some of the movement.

While you can also do this movement in a strict manner, increasing the fluidity and using some momentum in the movement can increase time under tension and growth.

Step 5: When done, be sure to slowly lower the load to the starting position.

This will limit any loss of control as a lifter terminates each set, decreasing the amount of stress being placed on the lower back.

Muscles Worked

The reverse hyperextension can be done on a machine, bench, or even backwards on the GHD apparatus. The key is to allow for full hip flexion and extension while the torso and lower back (lumbar spine) stays neutral. In doing so, you allow the below muscles to be targeted and trained.

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are active during this movement and help to extend the hip under load. In addition, the lifter must forcefully resisted knee extension (rather, knee hyperextension) under load, furthering the isometric strength of the hamstrings.

Gluteals

The glutes (glutes) are highly active in this movement and work to extend the hips to bring the legs and loads upwards (away from the floor). This exercise is ideal for increasing glute strength and activation.

Spinal Erectors 

The spinal erectors (lumbar spine) work isometrically to keep the lifter in a stable position during this movement. If a lifter has an extra mobile lower back, meaning it goes into flexion and extension every repetition, they may be feeling pain in the lower back (which is not correct). The need to work to stabilize the pelvis and use the glutes to lift and stabilize the loads.

Reverse Hyperextension Exercise Demo

The reverse hyperextension can be done on a reverse hyperextension machine, bench, or GHD set up. The below exercise demonstrations will walk you through everything you need to know on setting this movement up and executing it for maximal effectiveness.

In the below video Louie Simmons discusses how to set up and properly perform the reverse hyperextension on the reverse hyperextension machine.

In the below video, the reverse hyper extension is set up and performed on a flat bench. As you can see, range of motion and loading of this movement is difficult. You can place one end of the bench on a step to increase the incline so that your hips are higher in the air. This will allow you to go into more hip flexion and therefore increase the range of motion of the bench variation.

In the below video, the reverse hyperextension is performed on a GHD machine. Additional loading can be added by simply placing resistance bands around the feet of the lifter and the base of the GHD. Additionally, the lifter can hold a wall ball or dumbbell between the legs for additional resistance, however loading this with significant loads (see programming notes below) is a limitation.

3 Benefits of the Reverse Hyperextension

Below are three (3) benefits of performing reverse hyperextensions (any of the above variations). Note, that the reverse hyperextension machine may offer the best chance for maximizing all three of the benefits as it allows for maximum comfort during this movement and can easily be done with additional loading (see programming notes below).

Stronger Glutes and Hamstrings

Building stronger glutes and hamstrings can be done with a variety of exercises, yet few target them at the same time while also allowing you to limit the amount of loading placed elsewhere (lower back, grip, upper back, etc). Unlike good-mornings, Romanian deadlifts (RDLs), and even hip raises, the reverse hyperextension (machine, bench, or done on a GHD) can help you isolate the glutes and hamstrings in a very direct way while simultaneously removing all other limiting factors (lower back soreness, grip issues, or simply not wanting to overload the body with additional pulling volume).

Better Hip Extension

Reverse hyperextensions are a great way to develop proper hip hinging mechanics (hip extension)  necessary for exercises like deadlifts, running, squatting, jumping, and other athletic movements.  In the event a lifter cannot properly perform a hip hinge with a neutral spine, the reverse hyperextension can be used to assist them in developing the proper patterning and muscle hypertrophy so that they can transition into open-chained movements such as good-mornings, RDLs, and squats.

Injury Prevention for Lower Back

Lower back injuries are common in situations where proper hip hinging mechanics are necessary.  Exercises like deadlifts, cleans, snatches, squats and running all require an athlete to properly extend their hips while maintaining a stable and neutral lumbar spine. Increasing strength and function of the glutes and hamstrings (through teaching proper hip flexion and extension in a fixed position) can help athletes develop better movement mechanics, muscular strength and endurance, and may increase injury resilience during training sessions and competition.

How to Program the Reverse Hyperextension

Below are four sets, reps, and weight (intensity) recommendations for coaches and athletes to properly program the reverse hyperextension specific to the training goal. Note, that the below guidelines are simply here to offer coach and athletes loose recommendations for programming.

Movement Integrity – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations

This should be done with a light to moderate load for moderate repetitions in a controlled fashion to instill proper control and coordination.

  • 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions with light to moderate loads, at a controlled speed (focusing on proper eccentric/lowering of the weight), resting as needed

Muscle Hypertrophy – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations

If the goal is muscle hypertrophy (as Louis Simmons refers to it in the above video), higher rep-based programming of 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions using moderate loading (roughly 25% of best back squat) is suggested. 

  • 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions with moderate loads (about 25% of back squat), keeping rest periods 45-90 seconds

Strength – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations

For more strength focused work, be sure to used moderate to heavy loads in still a moderate repetition range. It is not advised to lift with maximal or near maximal loads, as this is an accessory movement.

  • 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions with heavy loading (roughly 50% of back squat), resting as needed

Muscle Endurance- Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations

While the reverse hyperextension may not necessarily be a lift that is trained for muscle endurance, some lifters may want to train more repetitions to increase training volume, muscle hypertrophy, and/or to increase lower back and glute health. The below rep ranges can work best for this type of goal.

  • 2-4 sets of 15-20 repetitions with light to moderate loads, keeping rest periods under 30-45 seconds

Reverse Hyperextension Variations

Below are three (3) reverse hyperextension variations that can be used by coaches and athletes to keep training varied and progressive.

Tempo Reverse Hyperextension

By performing tempos, a controlled concentric and eccentric cadence, one can increase time under tension, movement awareness, and potentially increase a lifter’s ability to activate muscles. Loading is often less than the non-tempo variations.

Banded Reverse Hyperextension

Rather than using bodyweight or a hyperextension machine, a lifter can use resistance bands to (1) load the movement when a machine is not available, and (2) can help to increase muscle engagement and under tension during this movement (accommodating resistance).

Reverse Hyperextension Isometric Holds

Performing isometric holds/pauses at the top of the movement s a great way to increase muscle activity during the extension aspect of this lift. In doing so, you can challenge a lifter’s upright torso positioning; necessary for front-loaded squats, back squats, thrusters, running, and more.

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Reverse Hyperextension Alternatives

Below are three (3) reverse hyperextension alternatives coaches and athletes can use to increase glute and hamstring development, address weaknesses, and build muscle.

Goodmorning

The goodmorning is a back-loaded barbell exercise that targets the lower back, hamstrings, and glutes, making it a good choice for lifters looking to increase back and hip strength.The primary difference is that this exercise places slightly more emphasis on lower back and spinal erectors development.

Glute Ham Raise (GHD)

The glute ham raise or glute hamstring developer is an exercise that increases muscle hypertrophy, endurance, and strength in a very similar movement as the reverse hyperextension. The primary difference is that this exercise places slightly more emphasis on lower back and spinal erectors development.

Hip Thrusts

The lying down hip thrust is a great option for lifters who do not have access to a reverse hyperextension machine and/or are looking to really loud the gluteal muscles. This movement is almost exclusively used for glute development and strength.

Build Stronger Glutes

Check out the below exercise guides and articles and learn how you can boost your deadlift and squat by stepping up your glute and hamstring training.

Featured Image: @damimoorefitness on Instagram

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