Originally developed by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell, one of the world’s top powerlifting and strength coaches, in order to help rehab training for his back and spine, the reverse hyper machine has become a staple in many specialist and public gyms in recent years.
You may well have seen it in your own gym and wondered what it was for, and what exercises you can do with it.
It has many uses – more than most people might assume. It can be used both with light and heavy loads in order to induce strength or hypertrophy gains across the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. It can be used to rehab after injury, as Simmons originally intended, or it can be used to prevent injury and reduce lower back tightness.
This article will run through several of the basic functions of the reverse hyper machine, beginning with strength training, running through core control and onto therapeutic uses.
What To Use the Reverse Hyper Machine for
Strength Training and Hypertrophy
You can use the reverse hyper machine primarily for strengthening and building your posterior chain muscles. This will most often be used as an accessory to deadlift variations, though will also have a great deal of carry-over into your squats and other compound movements.
Any motion in which you need to keep your back strong and tight- which is pretty much every motion – will benefit from this.
As with any other exercise, you will want to rely on progressive overload for the most part. You will want to work your posterior chain multiple times per week, with a mixture of light to heavy loads. Using the reverse hyper machine, begin with more manageable weights at higher rep ranges- anything up to 15-18 is appropriate at this stage.
If you go too heavy early on you risk injuring yourself.
Begin with just your bodyweight. Run through a full range of motion, from the floor to a straight but neutral spine, controlling your movement throughout. Squeeze your glutes at the top and push your hips into the pads.
After this, you can progress to light weights, and then, eventually, begin to build up to heavier weights as you become ore proficient.
It should be noted that the reverse hyper will mostly be used for high-set work, as a complement to heavier barbell work. You will rarely want to go much below 10 reps, even on heavy lifting days.
Core Strength and Control
Arguably one of the best uses of the reverse hyper machine is in facilitating great improvements to your core strength and control. As you move the resistance – either body – or free-weights – your core is the stabilising factor that keeps you under control.
This is vital to any compound movement and athletic endeavour. Whenever you’re moving any load, including just your own body, core musculature is the first thing that should come on-line. Your big, core muscles need to engage fully, bracing hard yet fluidly, as you begin to move.
This is, of course, vital on the reverse hyper machine. Even as you engage your hamstrings, glutes and lower back, your deep core muscles will be bracing to keep you in a neutral, safe and strong position. It will be important throughout the movement for you to control the machine in this way, using your core to keep your body stable and the motions fluid.
This will have great carry over into your large compound movements like the squat, deadlift and overhead press, the same as the strength benefits mentioned above. It will also have great carry-over into everyday life as you develop and foster a strong, controlled core section.
This is where the reverse hyper comes into its own- it’s what it was designed for. It has very specific, very worthwhile application for spinal and back therapy. Of course, if you do have any injuries, it’s important to consult a qualified healthcare practitioner and work in conjunction with a reputable physiotherapist.
The reverse hyper can be used to prevent injury as much as to heal it. It will allow for a great deal of spinal decompression, whilst working areas of the back that usually suffer great amounts compression through loading. It gives great rehabilitation in the eccentric phase of back and hip flexion, whilst allowing the spine to stretch out.
As well as this, it’s a relatively safe, low-pressure way of working the lower back, glute and hamstring muscles. These are often the culprits in cases of chronic back pain: strengthening them and increasing blood flow in such a safe, controlled manner should prevent much of this soreness from starting in the first place.
Exercises with the Reverse Hyper Machine
Naturally enough, reverse hyperextensions are the most popular, most commonly seen exercises performed on the reverse hyper machine. They are great ways to build strength and core stability, as mentioned above, giving your posterior chain a rare access to lighter stimulation under higher reps.
This works by creating traction through the spine during the reverse hyperextension’s eccentric portion, giving you that ‘squeeze’ in the lower back, glutes and hamstrings that many familiar with the exercise have experienced.
It’s one of the easiest exercises to do OK, but one of the hardest to do well. Let’s run through a brief summary of how to perform the reverse hyperextension:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- When done, be sure to slowly lower the load to the starting position. This will limit any loss of control as a lifter finishes each set, decreasing the amount of stress being placed on the lower back.
You don’t necessarily need a reverse hyper machine to perform reverse hyperextensions. You can do them with a variety of machines, with a bench, or even reverse on a sit-up apparatus. However, if your gym has a reverse hyper machine, this is best- it will enable you to perform the exercise properly, gleaning all the benefit you can from doing so.
The most important thing to note is that you want to allow full hip flexion and extension whilst keeping a neutral spinal position.
Aside from the reverse hyperextension, there are numerous other exercises that can be performed using the reverse hyper machine. Don’t limit yourself to one single exercise every so often- keep it versatile and make the most out of this fantastic piece of kit with the following couple of exercises:
Single Leg Reverse Hyperextensions
This is a variation on the classic reverse hyperextension, as detailed above. However, it brings about a range of benefits that elevates it above just a mere variation for its own sake.
Using a unilateral approach, in which you keep one leg grounded and just use one to move, you will be taking a lot of strength away. This is partly because you’re using one fewer legs and partly because you will be taking a lot of lower back movement out of the equation. In this way, you can achieve a few benefits.
Principally, your hamstrings will do most of the work. If they are lagging behind your lower back and glutes, this is a good way to bring them back up to speed. Hypertrophy and strength gains through your hamstrings will come very easily doing single leg reverse hypers.
As well as this, you can correct any muscle imbalances. If your right side is stronger than your left, work them independently so that the right won’t be taking over all the time. The imbalance should soon diminish.
Pull throughs are fantastic movements for building hip, lower back and glute strength, and for hitting hypertrophy in the same regions.
Hinging like this is always of benefit, both on a day-to-day basis and for athletic pursuits. It also helps you to perfect deadlift movement patterns, and to work as an accessory to deadlifts with far less pressure involved.
All you need to do is stand about two feet away from the machine, facing away from it. Bend down, keeping your spine neutral, flexing backwards from the hips, and reach through your legs. Take a firm hold of the machine’s attachments or straps.
Stand up, performing the pull through. You will pull your hips forwards and squeeze your glutes hard through the top of the motion, locking your hips slightly forwards. Perform 3-4 sets of 10-14 for a real pump and to induce hypertrophy.
Though often undersold and understated, the reverse hyper machine is a great tool in the arsenal of anybody wanting to perform any kind of barbell athletics. For OLY lifters, it will help your snatches and cleans. For powerlifters, it will round out your deadlift and squat routines nicely. For bodybuilders, it will give you well developed glutes and hamstrings.
For anybody else just looking to keep healthy and fit, it will keep your back strong and your hips mobile.