I’m not always in agreement with the mainstream especially as it pertains to “unsafe” exercises. What do you do when a new fad comes along that goes against what your past experience has taught you? Do you go with the flow in order to get interviewed on the popular podcasts, posted on the popular websites, or invited to speak at the popular seminars? Or, do you stand your ground knowing that it won’t win you any fans in the industry? I’m proud to say that I am the type of guy who stands his ground. I will not cave until I am completely convinced that I should change something, and there are certain trends in the industry that leave me unconvinced at the moment.

I must admit, sometimes I have a hard time taking certain individuals in the S&C community seriously. For instance, when I listen to some of them speak boldly about exercises or concepts in which they have limited or no experience, I realize that they’ve been brainwashed. Many are so wrapped up in theory that they become “addicted” to the science even if it doesn’t add up in the real-world. You see, I’m an advanced lifter who has been training for seventeen straight years and is still trying to increase his strength, muscle mass, and power. You can’t pull the wool over my eyes very easily.

Many strength coaches these days are anti-back extensions and reverse hypers. While I appreciate the logic behind these folks’ arguments, I am still a big supporter of these lifts. For the record, I have no problem with a strength coach who has years of experience with these exercises and arrives at the conclusion that these lifts are not worthwhile. I do, however, have a bit of a problem with rookie strength coaches who have never spent a significant amount of time with these apparatuses and simply regurgitate what they’ve heard from their mentors.

I also have a problem with guys who are so passionate about being “anti-back extensions and reverse hypers” to the point where they’re irrational and absurd. From listening to some of these guys speak you’d think that lifters’ discs would explode and squirt gel across the weightroom the second they performed a back extension or reverse hyper. Sometimes the mindset of today’s younger generation of strength coach ticks me off! In conversing with some members of this crowd I realize that they think I’m an absolute idiot for prescribing back extensions and reverse hypers, yet I’ve had my glute ham developer, 45 degree back extension, and reverse hyper for four years and have trained myself as well as hundreds of clients off of them while they’ve only seen pictures of them or read an article or two about them.

We often forget that the online S & C community is a small sample of the total S & C population and that just because one’s favorite gurus have iron-clad beliefs about a certain topic, it doesn’t mean that they are completely correct or that hundreds of strength coaches and trainers out there aren’t having great success with the very same methods that are being denounced by the online community of coaches. For example, I know of a handful of top sprint coaches who list the reverse hyper as one of their top five exercises for speed development. Unfortunately, their voices aren’t heard because they’re so busy training sprinters.

Moreover, I’m shocked at the number of younger strength coaches who will see a video clip of a coach prescribing a high-caliber athlete an exercise like a back extension or a sit up and will race to the forums to post something like, “Oh my God! Can you believe that (insert athlete)’s coach was having him do (insert bad exercise such as back extensions, reverse hypers, sit ups, bent over rows, good mornings, flies, pullovers, hanging leg raises, or leg presses)! He’s so behind the times. It’s a wonder that these (coaches/trainers) get hired with such a lack of knowledge!”

If a coach is having great success with a particular lift, and it seems to be transferring over to his or her athletes’ sports performance without creating any perceivable harm to the athletes’ bodies, then why on God’s green earth would that coach abandon the exercise?

When we omit certain movements, we raise the risk of allowing our athletes to get weak in a particular movement pattern. I’ve witnessed plenty of strong athletes who can squat and deadlift a ton of weight yet struggle to execute twenty bodyweight back extensions or reverse hypers. What does this tell you? They’re weak and need more strength endurance in their posterior chains!

It is this coach’s belief that variety greatly reduces the need for strict periodization and that one should alternate accessory lifts frequently. Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with having a huge pool of exercises from which to choose. I believe that strength coaches should have their handful of “money lifts” as well as a plethora of accessory movements on hand to slate into their athletes’ programs.

In this article I’m going to roll through some of the arguments in favor of and against back extensions and reverse hypers. I’d like for you to be the judge.

Arguments Against Back Extensions and Reverse Hypers

1. Deadlifts and especially trap bar deadlifts are a safer hip dominant lift
2. Most folks do them incorrectly and compensate with their lumbar spine
3. Repetitive flexion-extension wreaks havoc on the spine
4. They require adequate levels of hamstring flexibility, anti-flexion core stability, hip flexor flexibility, and glute activation
5. Deadlifts and squats are much more effective due to a more pronounced eccentric component, more total-body muscle activity, and increased testosterone-release
6. “Supported” lifts or lifts that support part of the body train muscles without improving upon integrated, coordinated movement
7. In sport-specific training the isolation of joint actions is not worthwhile
8. They lead to significant amounts of shear loading on the spine even if executed properly

Arguments in Favor of Back Extensions and Reverse Hypers

1. While deadlifts, good mornings, squats, and lunges have axial, vertical directional load vectors, back extensions have anteroposterior, horizontal directional load vectors and reverse hypers are one of the rare lifts that have cyclical, dynamic directional load vectors due to the pendulum reorienting itself throughout the lift
2. These lifts can be done properly with all hip extension and no lumbar extension, and if done properly this tells a lot about the athlete in terms of hamstring and hip flexor flexibility, core stability, and glute activation
3. Just like we “isolate” for core stability, it’s a good idea to “isolate” for hip strength…whether it be hip extension, hip flexion, hip abduction, hip external rotation, etc.
4. It’s never unwise to hammer the posterior-chain which is often a weak link among lifters and athletes
5. Reverse hypers are therapeutic for the low back
6. These lifts will improve squat and deadlift strength as well as sprinting speed
7. These lifts have impressive levels of hamstring and glute EMG activity
8. Anything that strengthens the posterior chain might lead to less low back pain and injury

Let’s take a closer look at the various arguments against straight leg hip extension exercises:

1. Deadlifts and especially trap bar deadlifts are a safer hip dominant lift

Anyone with any weightroom experience knows that deadlifts involve much higher incidents of acute injuries. In fact, I can’t think of one strong deadlifter who has never aggravated his or her low back at some point from heavy deadlifting.

The case could be made that back extensions and reverse hypers lead to higher incidents of chronic injuries but I don’t agree. More on that later.

2. Most folks do them incorrectly and compensate with their lumbar spine

I agree. Most folks do in fact perform these lifts incorrectly. However, most folks also perform squats, deadlifts, and lunges incorrectly. It’s our job as professionals to teach our clients and athletes how to perform lifts properly. Shouldn’t we exhibit high expectations for our clients and athletes and “expect” them to learn how to perform lifts correctly? Think about how many times you “coach” squats and deadlifts. If you apply this same amount of “coaching” to other lifts they will get it.

3. Repetitive flexion-extension wreaks havoc on the spine

I am a big fan of Stuart McGill. I believe he’s a great person, a passionate researcher, and an impactful presenter. The science behind his work makes perfect sense. Bend the spine back and forth enough times and the intervertebral discs will eventually rupture. However, I take his research with a grain of salt.

Considering that 80% of individuals suffer from low back pain at some point in their lives it is important that we figure out exactly what is causing this pain. Is it weak glutes? Weak core? Repetitive flexion-extension? Poor back endurance? Quad-dominance? Tight hip flexors and poor posture?

It is my opinion that a weak posterior chain and weak glutes in particular are largely responsible for the alarming number of low back pain in the U.S. The flexion-extension argument just doesn’t hold up in the real-world. There are many folks that perform crunches, sit ups, and back extensions their entire lives and never experience back pain. If there were indeed a “set number” of flexion-extension cycles, every single individual who performed crunches would have disc-related injuries. Although it’s not en-vogue these days to go against the great Dr. McGill, you can’t ignore this simple fact.

The world record for sit ups was set by a Brazilian gentleman named Edmar Freitas who did 133,986 sit ups in 30 hours. He’s also done 111,000 sit ups in 24 hours. If we were truly dealt a fixed number of flexion-extension cycles, Edmar would have likely used his up during his remarkable feats and would have herniated a disc on sight. He’d have been carried off the premises in a stretcher. All boxers, wresters, and bodybuilders would have herniated discs as well. Edmar has probably executed over a million sit ups in his life yet he’s still able to walk around with an intact spine.

What does this tell you? I’ll tell you what it tells me:

1) Clearly we don’t have a fixed number of flexion-extension cycles
2) Strong muscles and proper form can buttress against shear and compressive loads, and
3) The intervertebral discs can clearly regenerate themselves to a certain degree

At any rate, I have no problem with folks who decide to abandon more traditional ab exercises like crunches, sit ups, leg raises, and side bends, and instead concentrate on performing solely stability exercises like planks, side planks, Pallof presses, ab wheel rollouts, bodysaws, chops, lifts, and suitcase carries. While I still program straight leg sit ups and hanging leg raises, I’ve found myself programming core-stability exercises much more often and traditional ab exercises much less often. However, back extensions done properly do not involve spinal flexion or hyperextension!

You be the judge; does it look like my low back is going into unsafe levels of flexion or hyperextension? I should mention that the two videos below showcase subtle technique alterations from “standard form” that increase gluteal contribution and decrease erector contribution:

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rubjN8fflk4&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1] [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDmhmmcTFy8&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1]

As you can see, my low back doesn’t flex or extend even when holding onto a 100 lb dumbbell and draping a miniband around my neck which probably offers another 50 lbs of resistance to the top of the lift.

What about reverse hypers? Here’s a video clip of Smitty from the Diesel Crew explaining how they perform their reverse hypers:

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwV-_HPHMFc&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1]

As you can see, it is possible to perform reverse hypers without flexing or extending the lumbar spine as well. If you tell me that this form is just too hard for people to master then I will think you’re a crappy trainer. Remember – high expectations and quality coaching!

4. They require adequate levels of hamstring flexibility, anti-flexion core stability, hip flexor flexibility, and glute activation

Proper squats require adequate levels of hip, thoracic spine, and ankle mobility; should we avoid them? Are you okay with your clients or athletes not being able to perform proper back extensions or reverse hypers? If they can’t do them right, it means that they either have crappy hamstring or hip flexor flexibility, poor levels of core stability, weak glutes, improper motor patterns, or simply an insufficient knowledge of form. Personally I’m not okay with my clients or athletes suffering from any of the aforementioned dysfunction and I intend to fix their movement patterns. If someone like me can do them correctly, then I surely expect them to do them correctly and will keep working with them until they get it right.

5. Deadlifts and squats are much more effective due to a more pronounced eccentric component, more total-body muscle activity, and increased testosterone release

I would actually agree with this statement. However, back extensions have an eccentric component that is more accentuated up top in the contracted position, while reverse hypers have an extreme eccentric component if you perform the exercise correctly and stop the pendulum from pulling your low back into flexion.

When you hold onto the handles in the case of the reverse hyper, you activate the forearms and lats and transfer energy from the hands down through the arms, back, and core. In fact, the process of holding onto the handles and adding a lot of weight to the pendulum makes the reverse hyper an excellent total body exercise. If you doubt me, I recommend palpating someone’s erector spinae all the way up and down the spinal column to see how hard they’re contracting during the lift.

The last thing I want to mention is that there have been a couple of studies that have come out in the past year or two showing that increased testosterone release from lower body exercise does not impact muscle protein synthesis in upper body muscles. This means that we may be wrong about “squats and deadlifts” causing upper-body growth due to increased testosterone release. Maybe the increased upper body growth from squats and deadlifts is simply due to the development of a strong set of erectors which allows for more weight to be lifted during upper body exercises like bent over rows, t-bar rows, bent over rear delt raises, and barbell curls.

6. “Supported” lifts or lifts that support part of the body train muscles without improving upon integrated, coordinated movement

At first thought I would tend to agree with this statement. However, upon further consideration one realizes that this is not in fact true. Since these lifts can hone in on muscular weak links and improve strength in the integrated, coordinated total-body lifts like squats and deadlifts, they lead to improved integration and coordination in a round-about manner. In other words, if you strengthen the hip extension pattern and the posterior chain in general, you’ll get stronger at squatting and deadlifting and more powerful in running and jumping.

Furthermore, is integrated, coordinated movement the sole objective of sport-specific training?

7. In sport-specific training the isolation of joint actions is not worthwhile

What happens when you get an athlete with virtually no glute development? Don’t you try to isolate the glutes with quadruped and bridging patterns in order to increase activation and hypertrophy? What if an athlete has weak hamstrings? Don’t you prescribe Russian leg curls or glute ham raises? The bottom line is that there are times when we need to increase the size of a certain muscle as well as times when we need to increase the muscular endurance of a muscle, both of which warrant isolation.

When you really think about it, nearly everything we do in sport-specific training is “isolation” work. In sports the body is all over the place. In the weightroom, we’re very controlled. Squats isolate double extension. Plyometrics isolate triple extension. Planks isolate core stabilization. Static stretching isolates muscles. So do mobility and activation drills. We foam roll individual muscles. When we bench press we isolate horizontal pressing. But in sports we combine several joint actions at once and usually move our upper and lower bodies simultaneously.

In sport-specific training we get individual parts strong so we can assemble them together on the field, court, or ring with the right timing patterns to create powerful movement. Although it’s wise to focus on “money exercises” that give you much bang for your buck, it is still okay to program some more isolated work as accessory movements. That said, I have a hard time seeing how anyone could really consider a hip extension movement “isolation training” when there are over 20 muscles involved in hip extension including large muscle groups such as the glutes, hamstrings, and adductors.

Here’s another way to think about it: Stronger deadlifts equal faster sprints. Reverse hypers equal stronger deadlifts. Therefore, reverse hypers equal faster sprints. In mathematics we call this the transitive property of equality. If stronger deadlifts truly lead to faster sprints, then anything that strengthens the deadlift therefore leads to faster sprints. In this manner a grip exercise could increase sprinting speed if it strengthens the grip which happens to be the limiting factor in one’s max deadlift.

Obviously if you’re limited on time, go with standing movements. Standing lower body movements like squats, deadlifts, lunges, and power cleans reign supreme for a variety of reasons, but supine, prone, and quadruped lower body movements can supplement standing lifts very well and lead to synergy in training adaptations. In other words, 2 plus 2 doesn’t equal 4; it equals 5.

8. They lead to significant amounts of shear loading on the spine even if executed properly

Deadlifts also lead to significant amounts of shear loading especially at the bottom of the lift when bent over and even more significantly when the lifter keeps his or her hips high when deadlifting. This technique is characteristic of taller lifters. When we pick up plates or dumbbells off the bottom rack, we experience large shearing forces on the spine. In fact, any supine, prone, or quadruped hip extension movement or standing hip extension movement that involves bending forward significantly is going to produce large shearing forces.

It is important to expose the body to forces from different directions as Davis’ law and Wolff’s law state that the body’s tissues can strengthen and restructure themselves to better prepare for the types of forces to which they’re regularly exposed. If we avoid certain directional loading patterns then injuries will arise in sporting situations as soon as the body is greeted with unfamiliar directions of force. With proper progression and mechanics, you can perform heavy back extensions and reverse hypers and not have to fear spinal injury, and you’ll even safeguard the body to prevent injuries in competition.

Summary of Arguments in Favor of Straight Leg Hip Extension Exercises

Back extensions and reverse hypers may be more “specific” to top-speed sprinting and may transfer better due to the more specific-nature of the directional loading pattern (horizontal vs. vertical) in comparison to squatting, lunging, and deadlifting patterns. Since the glutes contract very hard at the top of these movements at end-range hip extension, they may help add much needed power to that range of motion during athletics. This range of motion includes the critical stage of ground contact in sprinting.

When an athlete can demonstrate proficiency at heavy back extensions and reverse hypers, you know that he has adequate levels of hamstring and hip flexor flexibility, anti-flexion core stability, and glute activation. In other words, you can feel confident that their backs aren’t going to round forward or hyperextend very easily, their glutes are strong and can turn on when needed, their hamstrings are loose enough to allow for a healthy range of forward bending motion, and their hip flexors are loose enough to allow for full hip extension.

Strengthening the posterior chain in general may increase squat and deadlift strength in addition to staving off low back pain and injury. Many individuals have witnessed their back pain disappear once they started performing back extensions and reverse hypers. In fact, some experts argue that the reverse hyper is quite therapeutic for the low back as it rotates the sacrum and may “pump” fluid into the intervertebral discs. Although this sounds great in theory, it may or may not be true. Anecdotal evidence seems to support the notion.

In the clip below, I perform a heavy set of reverse hypers while allowing the sacrum to rotate. I have been performing reverse hypers for four years and am one of the individuals who feel that it’s benefited my back health tremendously.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJapROSUJEE&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1]

As Dr. Stuart McGill has often mentioned, pain is very specific to the individual’s injury, dysfunction, or pain-mechanism. For example, a flexion-intolerant person better keep a strong arch while he performs back extensions or reverse hypers and avoid going too deep or he’ll certainly feel it the next day. Conversely, an extension-intolerant person better brace the core hard and avoid going up too high on back extensions or reverse hypers or he’ll certainly feel it the next day. I should mention that arching the low back slightly in comparison to flexing the low back helps buttress the spine and protect the low back from shear forces by 23-43% (McGill). As a matter of fact, simply bracing the spine and contracting the core musculature increases spinal compressive loading by 12-18%, yet the act simultaneously enhances spinal stability by 36-64% (Granata and Marras, 2000). Some individuals get an uncomfortable tingling sensation when they perform reverse hypers. This is usually due to tight hamstrings and glutes and clears up with stretching and continued use of the reverse hyper.

The last thing I want to mention is that many high-level coaches are in support of the reverse hyper including Louie Simmons, Dave Tate, Kelly Baggett, Joe DeFranco, Erik Minor, Christian Thibaudeau, Martin Rooney, James Smith, Jason Ferruggia, and Charlie Francis. You certainly cannot call this list of coaches a bunch of idiots as these folks are some of the top minds in the S & C industry.

How Do I Use Reverse Hypers in Training?

1. I prescribe bodyweight reverse hypers to beginner males and amateur women that I train
2. I prescribe heavy reverse hypers to all ground-based athletes that I train
3. I prescribe them infrequently (maybe every other week) to most athletes that I train
4. I personally perform them when I notice that I have trouble getting the bar moving in the initial portion of a max deadlift

I hope that I’ve done a good job of trying to persuade strength coaches to being open-minded about back extensions and reverse hypers. Thanks for reading my article!

58 Comments

  • Brendon says:

    Wow, Bret absolutely awesome post. And it’s definitely great for a rookie like me about to graduate from college to read something like this. I really took a lot from your rant on theory and the current industry. I’ll keep this all in mind as I progress further down the road. Thanks for putting out great content.

    – Brendon

    • Brendon, keep up the good work. You’re putting yourself out there and making a difference which is more than most trainers can say for themselves. It took me years to build up the courage to start blogging, etc. so congrats!

  • Howard Gray says:

    “We often forget that the online S & C community is a small sample of the total S & C population and that just because one’s favorite gurus have iron-clad beliefs about a certain topic, it doesn’t mean that they are completely correct or that hundreds of strength coaches and trainers out there aren’t having great success with the very same methods that are being denounced by the online community of coaches.”

    “Unfortunately, their voices aren’t heard because they’re so busy training sprinters.”

    Great to hear someone else say this – have something very similar lined up for my blog next week!

    • Howard it seems that you and I often feed off of each others’ ideas…

      I always tell the folks who complain about not having a voice that it’s their own damn fault. Blogs, facebook, Youtube, and twitter are free and easy.

  • Chris Matsui says:

    Great post Brett! I completely agree with you regarding how people jump on the band wagon because Guru Coach is against X movement or X research states this…

    Research examples-
    Chris Johnson (http://chrisjohnsonpt.tumblr.com ) a great PT here in NYC brought up a great point about the empty can movement and how everyone jumped on board because Dr. Jobe recommended the empty can movement for “isolation” of the supraspinatus, although it seems he never stated “isolation” in his research. I believe we all know that it may not be an optimal movement…as it could potentially cause impingement.

    Dr. Klein’s squat study- we all know what happened with that.

    And the protein limit that Dr. Berardi talk about here-
    http://www.precisionnutrition.com/protein-limit
    Taking a study waaay too literally and not contemplating the practical application and repercussions.

    You made a great point that you should come to your own conclusion as to why you choose to do XYZ movement- so long as you can defend it annnnd as you stated…that they have the qualifications to do so. I find more often that people get injured when they are not qualified to do X movement or the execution of the movement is done horrendous form… more so then the exercise itself.

    To get back to your main point of the post-I’m with you on the back extension- I see no reason not to do the back extension/reverse hyper so long as there are no contraindications with the lifter and as you stated the lower back is not flexed or hyperextended.

    To defend the back extension even more think- Biering-Sorensen test although it’s isometric…the research has been proven valid.

    Anecdotally I find that isometric back extension holds help keep the upright position for the front squat/squat clean/squat snatch and for some clients with lower back disorders.

    Personally, I find that the longer I can hold the position the better my back feels and I have L4/L5 S1 disc herniation.

    Keep up the great posts!

    • Chris – you are one smart son of a b#%*!. Congrats on being so well-versed. You make excellent points…most of which would have added richly to my blog had I thought to include them. Great post!

  • Neal W. says:

    Great post! It reminded me of something Rooney or Tumminello would say.

    Personally, I dropped the orthodoxy on the spine about a year ago and have been doing a lot of gymnastics oriented strength and conditioning. I’m still going to stay away from the extreme spine extension movements , however.

  • Daniel says:

    Good post Bret, you are one of the nicest and most open minded people in this industry. There is a lot of research out there, but training is not a science. It’s an arte scienta. The problem with people is that as soon as they know a little or even tried something that worked for them, they assume everyone else is doing everything backwards. It makes sense from a marketing standpoint to never let people think that they have to learn some secret formula. Some people call it “continuing to learn,” guess what, that doesn’t happen at a fancy seminar, but in the gym where you are working hard. The fact is that the general public has fitness goals that can be achieved a 1001 ways if they put in the effort.

  • Daniel says:

    …happens in the gym or in the kitchen.

    Can’t edit the comments

  • Daniel,

    I hate the inability to edit comments! Anyway, I’ve been looking for a term for art/science and you nailed it!

    Arte/Scienza

    That’s exactly what strength training is! With so many variables, it’s unfathomable to think that we could nail it down to an exact science.

    Thanks!

    Bret

  • Roy Deluca says:

    Great stuff as usual……………………..but sit-ups? That’s one that probably deserves to be on the scrap heap, regardless of who uses it, excels, and hasn’t blown a disc yet. I don’t discard much, but that’s on my short list. But I will never bash another coach so long as he has sound reasoning for why he keeps it in.

    And while I can’t say that I don’t often wonder about that fixed flexion and extension cycles bit from Dr. McGill, those playing devil’s advocate may argue that exceptions don’t disprove the “rule” (although int his case there’s still debate over whether there is a true rule or not. Throw in the fact that a person may have a disc issue and be asymptomatic, and debating this is like going in circles at times.

  • Roy Deluca says:

    I should have added that my comments apply to bent leg sit-ups more so than straight leg ones, since those are the kind you say that you’re apt to program. My mistake for not making that distinction earlier.

    • When I program straight leg sit ups, I try to cue hip flexion and T-spine flexion. I believe that Shirley Sahrmann has addressed the “right-way” to do a sl sit up. I like sl sit ups for two important reasons:

      1) Their hip flexor strengthening effects.
      2) Clients love them. This is an oft ignored aspect of programming. Clients who love their workouts and look forward to training see much better results than ones who don’t feel confident about their workouts. This is why I’ll always compromise a little on the client’s behalf.

  • Roy Deluca says:

    Sorry for the third post, Bret. I figured I’d throw in one more comment with regard to those saying the deadlift has more of an eccentric component. While this can definitely vary depending upon how you go about it, to me the deadlift doesn’t have much or any advantage over back extensions of reverse hypers in that regard. In fact I think the latter two may have more, since on deadlifts the “eccentric” is more about staying tight and getting the bar back to the floor than it is about actively trying to fight the weight on the way down. Provided you’re not getting loose with form, dropping as quickly as possible is almost the order of the day. In fact I’d go with RDL’s before conventional ones if I wanted to focus on an eccentric. While customizing the training effect is possible with subtle tweaks, I look at conventional and sumo deadlifts as primarily starting strength, RFD, and glute emphasis at lockout (even though I recognize that your EMG tests showed this isn’t as much as most of us think). It’s got dead in the name, and it’s one of the few lifts where the concentric phase tends to steal the show (at least compared to other lifts).

    And your reverse hyper video demonstrates just how much eccentric stress can be had when you actively stop the weight from pulling you under.

  • Roy,

    Great post. Most folks don’t give the eccentric phase of a dl any thought. They just “drop it under control.” I know of some Oly lifters who say, “We don’t lower weights, we lift weights.”

    Yet some lifters like Vince Anello felt that the negative accentuated dl was his best deadlift-assistance exercise. Some sprint coaches love them too for their transfer to sprinting.

    I too would go with RDL if I wanted to focus on eccentrics, and I also think of deadlifts as more of a concentric-based, RFD/starting strength movement. I like the way you think!

    Bret

  • Nick Loftenberg says:

    Hi, Bret.

    Perhaps as a consequence of initially being introduced to reverse hypers on a machine with the rollers and not a strap, I had always performed them very strictly, starting each rep from a deadstop, and even trying to hold for a brief pause in the contracted position. I’ve seen excellent results from this, but do you think that a more “free” style, and emphasizing the swing a bit more/turning it into more of an SSC-focused movement versus a starting strength/dead sto one is more specific to sprinting and athletics in general? Or would you simply assess each case on its merits and adjust style according to needs.

    NOTE: I now have a reverse hyper that can use the rollers or straps.

  • Nick –

    No, the way you do them is certainly fine. In fact, I like to do them a variety of ways.

    1) The way you described using 90 lbs
    2) The way Smitty described in his video
    3) The way I demonstrated in my video using 180 or 270 lbs
    4) Using the long strap and just focusing on the concentric phase (so you let the pendulum swing forward while you’re relaxed and just wait til it comes back to contract your posterior chain) using 270 lbs

    The way you described may be better for starting strength, RFD. The way I did them in the vid may be better for elastic, SSC. The fourth way I mentioned may be better for active recovery as it doesn’t induce any soreness.

    If you read my blog on “best reps for hypertrophy and sport-specific purposes” you’ll know that I believe in a variety of rep-styles. One without the others doesn’t adequately do the job. So they’re all worth doing!

    Good post!

  • Bret,
    Great read man. I am a strength and conditioning specialist in the Milwaukee area and I completely agree with you on the use of reverse hypers and back extensions. I love using them both in my own training as well as clients. I love McGills stuff and have both of his books; his stance on reverse hypers is one of the few things I don’t agree with and like he and you both stated, different people have different conditions. I mean, Louie Simmons came back to train hard and heavy again after breaking his freakin back more than once, largely with the use of reverse hypers. Personally, I think they are good for both strengthening and recovery. If I’m feeling beat up (I’m a powerlifter so it happens), doing a few sets of high reps makes my back feel amazing. Both exercises are great for keeping the back healthy and the rest of the posterior chain strong. Aside from the demonstrations of you and smitty, if you take a look at louie or chuck vogelpohl doing them in chucks xxx video or any of the westside videos, they keep the movement pretty controlled as well. I think its just the fact that a lot of people have seen videos of guys doing them with terrible form and have forgotten about the benefits of doing them with correct form. I have even read about some people using reverse hypers to help rehab herniated discs. And stability is great but at some point the trunk has to move so I think its important to strengthen it with some actual movement outside of squats, deads, etc. I’ll be following your posts, nice work.

  • Great post Nick!

    “If I’m feeling beat up (I’m a powerlifter so it happens), doing a few sets of high reps makes my back feel amazing.”

    This comment is very important! The “anti-reverse hyper” gurus think that it’s all placebo effect. Like we’re all so stupid that we can’t tell the difference.

    Clearly something is going on physiologically to create this circumstance, whether it’s fluid being pumped into the discs, increased blood flow, traction, etc.

    Thanks!!!

  • James says:

    All well and good, for athletes. What about for guys like myself who hit the gym hard four days a week or so, but otherwise have desk jobs? 40 hours per week at the desk, 10 hours per week commuting, 4 hours per week in grad school class, miscellaneous other sitting… that adds up to 60-70 hours/week of sitting, minimum. So obviously, I’ll need to make sure that my glutes are firing in every set of lower-body exercises that I perform. But having disproportionately strong spinal erectors can start on the path toward anterior pelvic tilt (something I’m constantly fighting through core stability and glute activation work, with mixed success). That alone should tell me that I should leave the back extensions behind and focus even more on the glute work.

    I’m getting this in part from my chiropractor, himself a former competitive bodybuilder: http://www.yourchiropractor.net/discussion-7.htm

    Thoughts?

    • James,

      Thank you for your reply. I just skimmed over the article without reading it carefully because I was immediately annoyed. I could go on and on about his arguments, but I’ll try to focus on a few main points:

      1) Back extensions are not “back” extensions; they are “hip” extensions. As you see in my video, the core remains braced while the hips move. Reverse hypers can be performed as “hip” extensions as well. Form matters tremendously!

      2) Why would sitting shorten your erector spinae? I can see how sitting would shorten the hip flexors but not the erector spinae. I can see how sitting while leaning forward could increase the tone of the erector spinae but not if you sit upright or lean back. On a side note, I’ve been sitting for at least 12 hours per day for the past year (which isn’t very long but worth noting) and it hasn’t affected my hip flexor length or tonicity, nor has if affected my glute activation. I believe that once you achieve good hip mobility, core stability, and glute activation, it’s hard to lose if you keep training wisely. The key is getting there in the first place then never losing it.

      3) The glutes fire very hard in both back extensions and reverse hypers. Most people see more glute activation in these movements than in squats and deadlifts. I know this because I’m one of the only trainers/strength coaches to actually utilize EMG experimentation. I’m not saying to do one or the other; there’s plenty of room for all types of movement patterns in programming. Furthermore, back extensions don’t lead to more erector spinae activity over squats and deadlifts. Reverse hypers may, but I still wouldn’t worry about that too much. It is a huge myth that these exercises lead to a disproportionate amount of erector spinae contribution. When you perform a loaded squat and deadlift, there is transfer through the back which requires huge contribution from the erector spinae. When doing back extensions and reverse hypers correctly, it’s impossible to perform concentric hip extension without firing the hip extensors (glute max, hamstrings, and hamstring part of the adductor magnus). So they will not lead to anterior pelvic tilt. One could argue that by strengthening the glutes they will help correct anterior pelvic tilt.

      4) These are the two main points you should consider: First, are you doing them correctly? Most folks do them incorrectly. When done the right way they are amazing, safe exercises. Second, how do they make you feel? Many people swear by these lifts. Some don’t. Reverse hypers make some peoples’ backs tingle which is uncomfortable. There aren’t too many rules in strength training that are set in stone. Experiment and figure it out for yourself!

      Thank you very much for your post! I’m glad you had the courage to “call me out” and that you gave me the opportunity to possibly change your mind. Best of luck!

      One last thing about your comments; I love bodybuilding but I do not find them to be very knowledgeable about biomechanics. Please know that I read muscle magazines every month so I speak with experience. Same goes for chiropractors. I’m not trying to be rude, just speaking my mind.

      Bret

      • James says:

        Thanks for the great answer! I should emphasize upfront that my intention really wasn’t to “call you out” per se; I’m just a dude who likes lifting heavy things and reads T-Nation and a few select blogs (added to that list recently thanks to your post on the subject). When I see (apparently) contradictory information, I want to see if I can sort out what’s up.

        It’s always kind of funny to me that you’re cautioning me about chiropractors’ knowledge of biomechanics, because my chiropractor runs a business on the side running classes for athletic trainers — his favorite topic to rant about while grastoning or ARTing me is the apparently endemic lack of knowledge of biomechanics among athletic trainers. Now, he’s generally talking about the commercial gym personal trainers who have morbidly obese housewives do cheat curls, but he lumps some of the less qualified trainers at colleges and pro teams with those. I think he’d obviously exempt you from that category, but the irony strikes me as being pretty rich…

        Anyway, what I’m getting here is that, regardless of the applicability of back/hip extensions to the lifting programs of your average largely-sedentary middle-aged office workers, strengthening the spinal erectors, in conjunction with the rest of the posterior chain, seems a lot more useful for someone who’s squatting and deadlifting on a regular basis. I’ve kept them out for the last year or so; I also tweaked my back sumo deadlifting a few months ago, and I can’t help but wonder what role a weak lower back might have played in that. Okay, so bad form was probably the main contributing factor — I’m seeing a (qualified!) trainer about that shortly — but it’s a thought.

        It’s also worth mentioning that I met this chiropractor in the gym, and his leg workouts consisted entirely of leg pressing (dude could press well over a grand for reps…), leg curls, and SLDLs. He gave up squatting, he told me, when he entered chiropractor school and found that his squatting was giving him spinal arthritis in his twenties. I mention that because you talk about the contribution of the erector spinae in squatting and deadlifting; he’d argue, with Mike Boyle, that that’s why heavy squatting and deadlifting could be a problem. But that’s a WHOLE different can of worms!

        That was a much, much longer post than I originally intended. Sorry about that. Respond to what you can?

        Thanks again!

      • Matt says:

        I’ll admit that I constitute one of the rookie coaches, but I do have a lot of perspective spending most of my life as an untrained weakling who hurt myself repeatedly squatting/cleaning/deadlifting 225 lbs.

        I believe the whole PRO vs. CON war regarding the Reverse Hyper/Back Extension is essentially a failure to communicate.

        Every single client and person I’ve trained equates training a muscle with moving it. If an exercise is called a “Back Extension” then it must mean you use your lower back to move your upper body. You said it yourself, it’s a hip extension. This attitude is what that Chiropractor is decrying, and how I spent most of my life screwing up my back.

        On a proper 45 degree back extension, I give the cue to imagine my client is thrusting their hips into the bench. If we just stop and actually talk about what is moving, or what muscle we are trying to use to perform any given exercise, I believe many of our misunderstandings would right themselves.

  • Robert says:

    Brett, this post couldn’t have come at a better time. I am currently trying to increase my squat and dl poundage. My biggest problem on the squat is a leaning forward when coming out of the hole. I have a very long torso (length 30-32 pants and I’m 6’1) compared to my legs. I have been looking into back extensions to help sure up my erector strength and also to help my posture as I do a lot of hunching over a computer. Then I read Lyle McDonald’s article: http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/training/back-extension-technique.html

    He seems to be okay with training back extensions with a rounded back, if the goal is to train the erector dynamically. I had always thought back-rounding is a no-no, absolutely during squatting, and also during deadlifting and back extensions. You can see my comments/questions to that effect at the bottom of his article. You SEEM to be saying that back-rounding in this movement is a bad idea too. Any clarification on that? Would I be best to just train my erector isometrically for endurance anyways, since the goal during a squat is to maintain erect? As I put in my comments to him, I have a hard time understanding how rounded back during back extensions could be okay, while rounded back during deadlifts is a no-no.

    Any input would be much appreciated.

  • Robert, here’s a video I posted to Youtube a while back that shows a rounded-back variation. Know that most of the rounding occurs at the T-spine to make it safer (you want to minimize L-spine movement).

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_bMeu-ciT0&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1]

    Rounded back deadlifts or squats are much more unsafe due to the increased compressive forces over rounded back back extensions. You get compression just by flexing the core muscles but in axial loaded movements like squats and deadlifts you get increased compression which when combined with flexion is really bad. Anteroposterior movements like back extensions and reverse hypers are not quite as dangerous as you get shear forces plus flexion which in my opinion isn’t as bad (although I’m sure Stuart McGill and other back experts would take issue with this statement).

    At any rate, you must have common sense. As you gain experience as a lifter, you realize how to make things “work” for you. Here’s my take on different movements:

    1) I believe that all folks can squat twice per week. It may be better to use different variations on the different days.
    2) Most folks can deadlift twice per week too but one of those workouts might need to be a dynamic session.
    3) Most folks can hit the posterior chain twice per week but the movements need to be varied.
    4) Rounded back extensions can be performed sporadically (like once every 2-4 weeks)

    So here’s a general template that I like for lower body training:

    1) Pick a squat or unilateral squat pattern
    2) Pick a deadlift or good morning pattern
    3) Pick one or two posterior chain movements
    4) Pick one or two abdominal/core movements

    Hope you find my advice useful!

    • Robert says:

      your advice is definitely useful. I will def. continue to avoid lower back rounding in my deadlifting and squatting movements. As per my issue of rounding over in the whole while squatting, do you think back extensions are a good solution for this? And if so, rounded or not rounded? You’ll notice that in the Lyle McDonald article, he does discuss both. As of now, I am following the foam rolling / warm-up protocol in Eric Cressey’s Starting Strength program. Then I trap-bar dl, split squats (to work on hip-flexors flexibility and glutes), back extensions, and x-band walks on lower body day. Then I’ve been squatting with heel lifts on a separate day, keeping it low weight, trying to focus on back arching, no pelvic tucking, etc.

      Any specific exercises/drills you recommend for the problem of back rounding in squats?

      • Robert, I suspect that your problem is due to poor Thoracic-spine mobility. You gain T-spine mobility by doing T-spine mobility drills and by focusing on keeping the chest up while you squat. Here’s an example of a T-spine mobility drill (courtesy of Eric Cressey) but I recommend that you read up on the topic as there are plenty of good drills that also incorporate thoracic rotation, thoracic extension and rotation, thoracic rotation and lateral flexion, etc.

        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzWOECAhsAM&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=1]

        Do these several times per day every day!

        Sounds like you may also need to work really hard on your ankle and hip mobility. I’m not familiiar with Cressey’s program as I don’t have the book but I’m sure it’s a great program. Just stick with foam rolling, static stretching, mobility drills, and activation drills and keep the weight you use on your “heavy exercises” relatively low for a couple of months until you gain the necessary moblity to perform the lifts properly. Don’t go into ranges of motion that cause your form to break down. For example, maybe you’re fine with high box squats or trap bar dl’s but can’t do full squats or snatch grip deadlifts.

        Rounded back extensions may improve your mobillity while adding simultaneous strength and stabililty but don’t do them with any weight and make sure not to round the low back much; round mostly the upper back. Don’t neglect regular back extensions as well. Maybe alternate between the two each week as the back exension can help build hamstring flexibility with added strength.

        In general, stick with high volume and lower intensity on most of your lifts so you get a ton of practice. Over time you will be able to demonstrate excellent form but it takes consistency!

  • James,

    Well I certainly agree with your chiropractor; most trainers at commercial gyms don’t know much in the way of Biomechanics. There are a few of us trainers who have master’s degrees, CSCS certifications, extensive weight training experience, and have read a Biomechanics textbook or simply taken some accelerated Anatomy, Kinesiology, or Biomechanics courses, but we’re definitely in the minority!

    I would politely disagree with your assertion that performing isolated hip extension movements is more beneficial to more advanced lifters than sedentary folks. If you strengthen these folks’ posterior chains correctly most of their low back pain and mechanics issues go away.

    They start sitting back when they squat or sit down in a chair. They keep their torso up when the rise from a chair or squat. They keep their low back flat when they lift something off the ground or deadlift. Before their glutes and hamstrings are strengthened, they typically use all quads and low back during squatting and bending movements.

    When you tweaked your low back during sumo deads, it could be due to a myriad of factors; weak low back, too strong of a low back in proportion to the hip extensors which caused you to try to use mostly low back, insufficient hip mobility, weak core and core stabilization timing patterns, poor low back endurance, poor program design/insufficient recovery, not listening to biofeedback and auto-regulating, never deloading, and of course, improper mechanics. Many folks fail to spread their knees sufficiently and keep their chests up when sumo deadlifting.

    Personally I’m skeptical of anyone who performs a leg workout consisting of solely leg presses, leg curls, and SLDL’s. If you don’t like squats, do Bulgarian squats, lunges, or step ups. Or give front squats a try. But include at least one quad-dominant movement that moves the hips through a full ROM. I am a rare strength coach who actually likes the leg press, but only as a supplement to squat/deadlift patterns. Furthermore, he is behind the times. Nowadays bent-leg hip dominant movements like hip thrusts and single leg hip thrusts are becoming ever-more popular (and I’m not just biased because I’m the inventor). Although I’m okay with the occasional leg curl, why no glute ham raises, Russian leg curls, sliding leg curls, etc.? Why not strengthen the hammies in concert with the glutes? Last, I’m okay with SLDL’s but there’s no reason why regular deads and trap bar deads can’t be worked into a program and if he believes that squats were giving him spinal arthritis why wouldn’t SLDL’s also give him spinal arthritis? There aren’t any “secret” core muscles that are worked in one and not the other.

    I hope I don’t seem too harsh, but one thing I love about having a blog is that I can rant and rave and try to positively impact lifters’ perceptions. Thanks for the kind words by the way!

    • James says:

      Hey, like I said, just a dude trying to get to the bottom of something interesting and useful for my own training. For the record, I do plenty of squatting and deadlifting myself — mostly trap-bar deadlifting and powerlifter-style squatting, since my knees aren’t huge fans of narrower stances — along with every kind of single-leg exercise imaginable. I just haven’t always been able to justify back squatting and deadlifting, v. other movements that are less hard on the lower back — leg pressing, Bulgarian squatting, the like.

      Now, I squat/DL anyway, but as a lifting enthusiast with a liberal arts degree, it’s hard to tell a sports rehab specialist/bodybuilder leg pressing more than I ever expect to be able to that he’s wrong. Why do I think he’s wrong? Because of some articles I read on the Internet. Well, mostly because a steady diet of three leg exercises doesn’t seem like a lot of variety. And then I go and tweak my back, like he promised me I eventually would.

      Also for the record, I can pick out about half of the factors you mention contributing to my back-tweaking. Core stabilization timing patterns and not listening to bio-feedback (e.g. “hmm, this is really heavy, I should probably hold back” did cross my mind at one point — famous last words) are pretty far up there. Working on it! I’m now a convert to using weight belts when going heavy.

  • Haha! Well we’ve all been there before…just goes with the territory of heavy lifting. I suggest working really hard on planks, bodysaws, ab wheel rollouts, side planks, suitcase carries, Pallof presses, landmines, cable chops, and cable lifts for a couple of months. Also, I suggest a general warm-up consisting of foam rolling, static stretches, and mobility/activation drills. Make sure that during the core stabilization exercises you keep your lumbar spine in neutral, and work hard on them so you really improve your core stability. My hunch is that this will “bullet-proof” your low back (assuming you have good form and good program design).

  • Robert says:

    Wow, thanks Brett! I really appreciate the response. I will definitely keep hammering thoracic mobility and ankle mobility, Cressey definitely hits on these a bunch.

  • Matt – Great comment and great perspective! I can tell you’re ahead of the pack. Great cue as well!

  • Nice work Bret!
    One of the best Blog posts I’ve ever read – from anyone in this industry!
    It really comes down to the persons needs – not the exercises. No motion (exercise) is “bad” if you can control it.
    I don’t use extension exercises like the ones above with folks who are very lordodic. But. I will use the above exercises for folks with a flatter back posture.

    Coach N

  • Robert says:

    One more question, in light of the last comment. Do you recommend these types of movements for someone with APT?

    • Robert,

      With people who have APT, I really want to strengthen their glutes so I don’t shy away from these movements. I teach them to contract their core to prevent their lumbar regions from moving so the only movement they see on these movements is through the hips. Once they’ve mastered the ability to move solely at the hips with bodyweight, we’ll gradually progress in weight. If there’s any back pain in these movements, then of course we will not do them at all. But I’ve found that most folks can do them pain-free and most folks feel that these exercises help strengthen their entire posterior chain to eliminate back pain. The key is learning proper form.

      Bret

  • janmetpet says:

    Bret,

    I love your blog, but I have some mixed feelings about this post, because I believe it has conflicting messages.

    Straight to the heart of the matter.

    Although you state that you take ‘his research with a grain of salt’, I’m convinced that you do not. I have seen nothing in your excellent video’s in this post that is conflicting with the advice of McGill.

    To quote you again, ‘Although it’s not en-vogue these days to go against the great Dr. McGill’, it is en-vogue to state that pigspines aren’t (biomechanically) comparable with human spines. Although they share most if not all of the physiology. I’ve seen multiple posts on the web on the pigspine thing, but McGill did not come to his conclusions solely based on these tests. It’s the total sum of the research that led him to this approach, that I know you endorse and appreciate.

    The fixed bend till it breaks amount is probably true, but the range is hugely different per individual, as McGill states. An example of someone who does crazy amounts of situps does not strengthen your point, it says something about the individual and not the exercise.

    It did not bother me, because I think highly of you. But I also believe, you have this blog to share knowledge. People will only hear what they want to hear. If you send out mixed messages, it will hurt some people somewhere.

    In my mind I’ve read the following from your post.

    1. If you don’t know why someone is prescribing an exercise, ask why and try to understand his rationale and results

    2. Any exercise is wrong, if performed incorrectly

    3. If you can’t teach an exercise correct, then don’t prescribe until you do

    4. Any exercise has a price and a performance. Don”t judge on just one of the two, but using both criteria will make you a good trainer.

    In case of hypers en reverse.

    1. They tend to transfer well on sprinters, they give high EMG values on targeted muscles

    2. If you thing this is a low back exercise, you’re doing it wrong, see point 3

    3. Get into anatomy, into biomechanics, functional training, read book from some gluteguy, learn, ask instead of judging

    4. If an exercise increases shear 20%, but still in the safety range and it increases performance 5% more than any other known exercise, it may well be worth the price.

    I believe you could leave McGill out it and still send your strong message across. But, maybe I did not understand anything you wrote!

    ~ Chi

  • Chi,

    Awesome post! I haven’t completely wrapped up my beliefs on the flexion-extension issue. I had a great talk with a physiology professor at ASU who knows of Dr. McGill’s work and thinks differently about the issue. I’ve heard Mark Comerford’s beliefs too (he thinks differently as well). One of these days I’m going to call Stuart and have a discussion with him as I hear he is the ultimate gentleman and is not a close-minded person. I love this about him.

    What I would like to talk to him about is how much strong muscles can buttress against shear and compressive loading (many powerlifters deadlift with slight rounding in their low backs but never get injured due to strong contraction of the rectus abdominis and the entire inner and outer core units), as well as how much ability the intervertebral discs have to regenerate themselves and actually strengthen their tissue a la Davis’ law due to loading adaptations.

    I’ve heard the pig spine argument (horizontal vs. vertical loading) and I side with McGill on it…I don’t think it matters too much…what matters is that the structure and size are almost identical. And I actually believe that the comment about folks who do sit ups (and back extensions incorrectly) does strengthen my argument because there are so many of them who never have back problems, perhaps on one hand they are hurting their discs by all the flexion and extension but on the other hand they are strengthening the glutes, erectors, abs, obliques, etc. to the point where the muscles start picking up more of the load and controlling the movements which has a protective effect on the discs. Perhaps the benefits outweigh the drawbacks in this regard. At any rate, in this case it would still be wiser to perform static movements such as planks or side planks to get the same benefit but there are instances where I like dynamic core movements for strengthening other muscles…glutes, hip flexors, etc. (not that I couldn’t find alternatives that keep the low back in neutral but my point is that I’m not completely anti-flexion at the present time).

    As far as summarizing my points, you nailed it! Again, great post!!! I appreciate it.

    Bret

  • Chi says:

    Bret,

    Thanks for you response. I’m gonna stick with this post for a while, because your new one is to damn distracting. Some of us, still need to get some works done 😉

    As for your points of interest. I’m certain that strong muscles can buttress the shear, but it comes with a price and that is compression. As for the regeneration of the discs, we actually know that cartilage does not regenerate after a certain age (30+). Any damage will be replaced be scar tissue that is much weaker (Peng SD 2005).

    I have to respectfully disagree that the examples of people that do sit-ups proofs anything, because most important component in the quality of the disc is genetic (Battié MC 2009).

    Then there is the problem that the people that do not have backache, aren’t free of damage. It simply implies that the damage is not in a place where it hurts. Somewhere 20 to 36 percent of asymptomatic population has a hernia (Boden SD 1990). We used to think that there was no correlation between damage and symptoms, but cadaver research with bariumsulphate as a contrast fluid, shows otherwise (Videman T 2004) and so does CT scan with pain provocation (Schwarzer AC 1995). The failure to show correlation does not mean that there is none, it means that imaging techniques weren’t up to the task yet. The other reason for pain has to do with inflammation and whether nerves actually grow into the nucleus (Freemont AJ 1997). If you are inflammation prone then you can end up in a world of hurt.

    This is only litteraly half the story, because there is 50 percent chance that the disc is involved in asymptomatic back pain. Disc damage does lead to smaller discs and increases the chance on verterbrea damage (Adams MA 2006b, Zhao CQ 2007).

    The fact that quality of discs is mostly determined by the genes, that no symptoms not implies that there is no damage, that damage structurally weakens the discs would mean that you will create irreversible damage to your client (even if it doesn’t hurt). If someone is inflammation prone, you could even end up sooner with symptoms. Another thing you can’t see from the outside. Do you want to take the risk, just because there are people with stronger discs out here?

    I’m, really interested how you search for the truth develops, and I’m sure you will report it on your blog. It’s good to have this discussion. It’s in the interest of us all. So thank you again for your response.

    ~ Chi

  • Chi – who in the hell are you? Has anyone told you you’re a smart person? Thanks for the comment. I really need to quit being lazy and really delve into the spinal research to cement my opinion. Your question, “Do you want to take the risk?” is a great one and here’s my answer:

    No!

    This is what I currently do to help prevent back pain with my clients:

    1. Work on hip mobility and hip flexibility in all directions, as well as ankle and t-spine mobility
    2. Get their glutes very strong
    3. Stick with mostly core stability exercises for core-work
    4. If I prescribe straight leg sit ups and hanging leg raises, have them move at the hips and t-spine, not the low back (must be very advanced to do this…it can be done just not in the “traditional” manner)
    5. If I prescribe chops, lifts, landmines, and Stability ball Russian twists, have them rotate in t-spine not low back (must be advanced to do this too)
    6. If I prescribe back extensions and reverse hypers have them move at hips not low back
    7. Teach them proper mechanics and posture with weightlifting and with everyday stuff, for example how to pick stuff up off the ground
    8. Avoid crunches, supermans, side bends, and any low back twisting

  • Chi says:

    Bret,

    Who am I? Just a guy in more or less the same kind of business like you, but then in the Netherlands. As for smart, just had some great teachers and it is not like I invented influential and inspiring stuff like load vector training, etc. But thanks for the compliment.

    If I look at your list of things you do, you must be successful in prevention and I think it agrees with current research and clinical wisdom from Janda, Sahmann and the likes. I would throw in some McKenzie, Mulligan and Sahrmann in the mix, but I do rehab also.

    I believe your post simply proofs you’re ready to challenge claims of others and your response proofs that it holds true for your own claims as well. I cannot imagine a better combination for learning and self improvement. So I expect some great posts the coming years!

    ~ Chi

  • Tristan says:

    What I get from this article is that when performed correctly
    back ext and rev hypers are actually good for your back and can be a integral piece in a rehab or training program, especially in regards to those with LBP. The one thing that caught my attention most was these are really hip ext exercises and the low back should remain neutral.
    Its definitely made me think about integrating these exercise into my routine but I have always been quite hesitant because of my impinged nerve root, however I do a lot of 1 leg rdls and they seem to mimic both the rev hyper (the first picture in this article demonstrates my point) back ext.

    • Are they absolutely necessary? No. Can they be very beneficial? Yes. Try them out, see how they feel, and then decide whether to stick with them or toss them aside. Thanks!

  • Tyciol says:

    I’m amazed how so much resistance is used in these.

  • paolo says:

    Your arguements against McGill flexion avoidance are wrong.

    His research is backed up flexing cadavar spines

    repeatily in his lab.

    It is now very clear that the spine is like a coat hanger

    there is only so many times that it can be flexed before

    the discs will rupture. But everybody has a different

    number of flexes from genetics.

    What science is your opinion backed up by?

    Further you state that most peoples back problems

    is from weak glutes and weak posterior chain.

    I have fully read all his books and his newer materials.

    Have you?

    It has nothing to do with having a strong back or strong

    glutes. It has everything to do with faulty movement

    patterns low core endurance.

    • Paolo,

      Do you think for yourself? Does using dead pig spines with no muscles attached in vitro corroborate with living human spines with muscles attached in vivo?

      McGill – 18,000 flexion/extension cycles. Real world – millions of flexion cycles and no injuries. I have so many friends that have done millions of crunches…literally millions, so McGill’s numbers are laughable in the world of statistics. If you use McGill’s research to support your claim then you have to come up with an explanation as to why people are getting away with so many more cycles. What’s your explanation? Genetics? Exactly my point.

      If everyone just admitted that they don’t have a fucking clue when it comes to back pain the world would be a better place.

      I have to go, the Easter bunny is knocking at my door.

  • paolo says:

    If you are so fucking smart then why is that Stuart McGill

    sits on the editoral board f Spine Journal and not yourself?

    Until you can prove him wrong shut up.

    • Paolo, I do not think I’m smarter than Dr. McGill. I’ve read his books and his journal articles and am very impressed by his intelligence. However, I’ll take you up on your offer and prove him wrong. Every adult I know has accumulated far more than 18-25K flexion-extension cycles and a majority of them don’t have herniated discs. Some have performed over 1 million flexion cycles which is 5,555% more cycles than in McGill’s research – yet they still don’t have herniations. This indicates that his research requires more explanation. I would say that to his face and to anyone who uses his research as “evidence” that there is a limited number of flexion-extension cycles. There may be…but it’s far more than his research suggests for many individuals. McGill may know the spine, but I know strength training. Until we know more, I’ll keep on keeping on. I’m sorry you’re in love with Dr. McGill. Keep drinking the Kool-aid.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBeUGqeYsQg

  • Joe Hogan says:

    Great article and great replies.

  • Robby says:

    I love the reverse Hyper but kinda on a budget any one have a good idea on were to buy one??

  • Paul Lewis says:

    Hi Bret great article!
    What do you think about deliberately rounding on the 45 degree back extention to build and pump blood into the spinal erectors?
    A good example is the video demonstration that Glenn Pendlay and Donny Shankle did at California Strength a while back (available on YouTube) I would be interested in your opinion.
    Thanks.

  • Colby says:

    Great article bret! You have obviously given very rational evidence for the use of back extensions
    and reverse hypers, but I am curious (due to my own injury and for using these exercises with future clients) if performed with proper form can these exercises still be safe for people with pre-existing disc issues? Personally I am recovering from a bulging disc and working back to major lifts but I have always found these accessory exercises necessary for posterior chain work. I would love to hear your input or advice.
    Thank you for your time,
    Colby

  • Craig says:

    I recently found some old articles by Bill Starr about strengthening the lumbar extensors. He was a big fan of rounded back good mornings, and wanted to have his athletes work up to 8-10 reps with about 50% of the weight they were squatting. (If rounded back GM’s bothered them, he would switch to flat back good mornings). Your thoughts on flexing the lumbar with load via an exercise like this?

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