Back hyperextensions, also known as back extensions or simply hyperextensions, are a fantastic exercise for the posterior chain, placing great emphasis on the hamstrings and lower back. They present as something of a reverse sit up, but with the motion reversed – you perform crunches for your lower back!
Most commercial gyms have back hyperextension benches, making the process easy and simple. Simply throw in a few sets as assistance on deadlift day and carry on. However, many of us have been turning to working out from home recently, with access to commercial gym spaces being severely limited in 2020-21 due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is a problem for the hyperextension – few of us have the space and resources to install a piece of hefty equipment at home for the sake of a single exercise.
So, how do we get around this? How do we get the benefits of the back hyperextension from home?
There are a couple of ways. Firstly, you can probably perform a passable set of back hyperextensions using some kind of furniture at home, or simply by buying a cheap Bosu or Swiss ball. Secondly, there are a good few exercises that work the same muscles as the back hyperextension, that can be easily adapted for home use.
Performing the Back Hyperextension at Home
For this, you will either need a workout bench (that you pick up pretty cheaply for around eighty dollars or so, that will fold away easily enough in a big enough cupboard, and that can used for hundreds of different exercises) or similar surface. For example, a sturdy table, top step of the stairs or even your garden wall will suffice.
Alternatively, you can invest in a Swiss or Bosu ball that will give you the same kind of support needed to perform the back hyperextension.
To perform the back hyperextension, simply:
- Lie face down on an elevated surface. A bench will be best but, as above, many different surfaces can be used. Set yourself up so that your torso is hanging off the front edge.
- Make sure that you are secure, with your core engaged. Your legs should be resting firmly on top of the bench. If you find yourself tipping forwards, you will probably be too far up the bench – slide back a little.
- Bend down until your head is a as close as possible to the floor, without touching it. Keep your hands either by your head or crossed over your chest.
- Flex your back, bringing your torso up as high as is comfortable by tightening your lower back and glutes. Actively push your hips into the bench, exhaling as you come up.
- Be wary of coming up higher than is comfortable – you could hurt your lower back.
- Briefly hold at the top, then lower yourself back down to the start position by relaxing the muscles of your lower back.
- Repeat for your desired number of sets and reps. Do note that the back hyperextension is best performed at higher rep ranges (12+, generally speaking).
Alternatives to the Back Hyperextension at Home
If you haven’t got access to a suitable surface to perform the classic back hyperextension at home, or if you simply like some variation in your workouts, the following exercises will all work similar muscle groups, in similar ways. They can all be performed at home, though some will take a little equipment or help from a partner.
Nordic Hamstring Curls
Nordic Hamstring Curls are a very advanced movement that will be hard for most people to complete fully at first. You will need an anchor point for your calves/ankles and can perform them using a cable pulldown station or something similar. Alternatively, have a partner hold your feet down as you perform them.
You will likely need to build up to full Nordic Hamstring Curls. Do this by allowing yourself to come down to the ground under control, catching yourself at the bottom with your hands on the floor, and using your upper body in a push up motion to assist in coming up again.
The Superman is a slightly more basic version of the back extension that is very useful in strengthening the glutes and spinal erectors, and improving isometric control through the posterior chain.
Perform these with no equipment and keep your knees bent at 90 degrees, so your feet are off the ground. Actively point your toes downwards. This will better target your glutes.
Reverse Hollow Rocks
These are similar to the Superman. Reverse Hollow Rocks feature an isometric hold, in which you will be in a hyperextended position. This will increase spinal extension and glute and hamstring engagement. Though there is a lack of wide range of motion with Reverse Hollow Rocks, the skillset developed in maintaining position will have direct carry over into any exercises that require posterior chain stability (such as deadlifts and cleans).