The reverse hyper extension is the best lower body exercise that most people have never heard of. If you want to build up your glutes and hamstrings or rehabilitate your lower back, you owe it to yourself to give reverse hypers a try. In this post I’ll explain the benefits of the exercise, how to perform it correctly, and how best to program it into your workout routine.
Benefits of the exercise
The reverse hyper is possibly the best glute builder in existence because it works pure hip extension, which is the primary function of the glutes. The resistance is greatest when the hips are fully extended and the glutes are fully contracted, which makes it a great compliment to squats and deadlifts which stress the glutes more when they’re stretched. The hamstrings and lower back are also heavily involved in the movement, but it’s primarily a glute exercise.
The second major benefit of the reverse hyper is that it decompresses the spine as it works the muscles of the posterior chain. That makes it a great exercise for building the glutes and hamstrings while avoiding lower back problems. If it’s too late and you already have bulging discs, reverse hypers can be a fantastic rehab tool. They strengthen the muscles that stabilize the spine, they flush blood into the area for healing, and they relieve pain through spinal decompression. Louie Simmons, the legendary powerlifting coach from Westside Barbell in Ohio, is famous for rehabbing multiple bulging discs and a fractured vertebra using the reverse hyper. He was eventually able to squat 900 pounds after the injury. Many other powerlifters have had similar experiences.
In my personal observation, some individuals who have an injured back can do reverse hypers with no back pain, but others cannot. Your ability to do benefit from reverse hypers while injured depends on the specific type of injury and your ability to perform the exercise with good form. If you have a back injury, your best bet is to try reverse hypers with a very light weight while focusing on keeping your spine in as close to a neutral position as possible. If you feel pain, then you most likely have soft tissue damage that the reverse hyper is aggravating, and you should not do the exercise.
How to perform reverse hypers
To get into the starting position, begin by stepping one of your feet through the ankle strap. Use the other foot to step onto the side step and lie face down on the bench with your legs hanging off the bench. The crease of your hips should be right at the edge of the bench. Then place your second foot through the ankle strap. Grab the handles for stability. Now you’re ready to go.
To perform a rep, brace your midsection (as if preparing to be punched in the gut) and raise your legs behind you by extending at the hips. Stop when your legs are in line with your torso and your feet are a bit lower than the top of the bench. If you go any higher, you risk hyper extending the lumbar spine. Then lower the weight until your legs are at roughly a 90 degree angle with your torso, and repeat. As you do multiple reps, you’ll notice that the weight naturally wants to swing back and forth. Some swinging is desirable and will help you get a stretch at the bottom of each rep – just keep it under control and make sure the weight isn’t free falling on the way down. Another thing to avoid is excessive flexion (rounding) of the lower back at the bottom of each rep. A small amount of flexion and extension is OK.
Here is a video demonstration:
How to program reverse hypers into your routine
As a rehab or prehab tool, I recommend doing 3 sets of 15-20 reps, up to 3 times per week. Try working up to roughly 25% of your 1 rep max squat weight. If you have no idea what your 1 rep max squat weight is, a good starting point is around 50 pounds. You should not feel pain while doing this exercise. If you feel pain, try lightening the weight and working on your form, or drop the exercise altogether.
To build your glutes and hamstrings, I recommend doing 4-5 sets of 10-12 reps once per week, in addition to more conventional lower body exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc. A good working weight is roughly 50% of your 1 rep max squat weight. When performed as described, I guarantee you’ll feel an intense contraction in your glutes, and with continued dedication to the exercise you’ll be rewarded with buns of steel and a healthy lower back.
Work hard and good luck!