Get More From Your 45-Degree Back (Hyper) Extension

The 45-degree Back Extension (also known as the ‘Hyper Extension’), is an excellent exercise for strengthening the muscles of the lower back. Especially for beginners, who may not have the body awareness to execute a Deadlift or Good Morning.

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For advanced lifters, it’s a great pairing with an all-encompassing pressing movement; like the Flat Barbell Bench Press. Although, one of the challenges, is that most trainees don’t know how to increase the difficulty. Other than of course, increasing their rep range, slowing down the movement, or holding a weight (on their chest, or with their arms extended).

The first thing to recognize, is that this is just as much a glute exercise as it is a low back burner.

…IF you’re executing it properly!

Which starts with consciously using your glutes to bring yourself up, and firing (or squeezing) them at the top to hold yourself at 45 degrees.

Generally speaking, I tend to put a 1-2 second pause at the top of this movement, to force my clients to contract their glutes, tighten their core, and EARN their reps.

The second thing to recognize, is that your arms control the difficulty. Meaning, arms at chest is easier than arms extended, and arms close to the machine is easier than arms far away from the machine.

With these 4 options helping you work through the progressions…

1. Arms Extended & Aligned With Chest

The first way to get more from your back extension is to move from your bodyweight back extension with arms at chest (or extended but close to torso), to extended with hands parallel to chest.

Naturally, you’re going to want to swing the arms towards your hips (i.e. cheat!) as you come up. So pick a spot on the ground, go straight down to it with your hands, and keep your hands above it as you raise up. Once you’re at the top, fire those glutes hard for a 1-2 second pause, and start your next descend.

When you feel like you’re ready, add a dumbbell, plate or medicine ball, and DON’T change your form.

2. Arms Overhead at the Bottom

If you can fully activate your glutes at the top, and keep your extended arms aligned with your chest throughout, you’re ready for the next progression. For this movement, nothing changes at the top, but as you descend you’re extending your arms (or the weight) so they end up overhead at the bottom.

As you may’ve guessed, the desire to pull the arms in grows in significance with this addition, so keep that top-of-mind.

The other considerations with this exercise, are to focus on:

  • Really reaching and stretching at the bottom as far as you can
  • Retracting those shoulders (pull the shoulder blades back) as you elevate

3. Wide/Snatch Grip Barbell Back Extension

The better you get at back extensions, the more weight you need to challenge yourself. Especially if we’re talking about getting pushed in a lower rep range (ex: 6-8).

This is where the barbell comes in handy. Although, one of the problems with it, is that the range of motion is seriously shortened. Whether you have monkey arms, and are super strong (45’s on each side), or not.

Fortunately, widening your grip on the barbell solves this problem. While giving you the added benefit of an upper back and grip training workout.

Cudos to my friend Dave for teaching me this one a few years ago – who thought it would be fun to do a ridiculous amount of weight for 4-6 reps with a 5-second pause at the top.  (Thanks Dave!)

4. 90-degree Back Extension

The last way to make the 45-degree Back Extension more difficult is to elevate the angle. Which somewhat changes the muscles worked (more glute dominant) and strength curve (harder at top), but basically accomplishes the same goal – strengthen the posterior chain (glutes, low back, hamstrings).

Luckily, this doesn’t mean you have to go buy a new machine. As a little MacGyver action turns your 45-degree hyper extension into a 90-degree one.  (or 82 degrees if we’re being picky)

Disclaimer: Use at your own risk (of course).

Once you’re at 90-degrees, the same rules apply. Arms extended (aligned with chest, or overhead at bottom), pause and squeeze butt at top, keep shoulder retracted, add weight where appropriate.

Stay Lean (and goodluck)!
Coach Mike


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