Weightroom Solutions: The Hyperextension-Prone Lifter

The term “hyperextension” sounds nasty! It conjurs up images of horrific knee, elbow, or low back injuries, especially if you’re not well-versed in Anatomy or Biomechanics. As it turns out, hyperextension is quite natural in some joints and not so much in others. In every day life, we hyperextend our wrists frequently throughout the day, and we hyperextend our hips during every step we take when walking. However, when we talk about hyperextension, we’re usually discussing the low back.

Some degree of spinal hyperextension is acceptable and possibly even warranted in certain situations. Setting up with a slight arch during deadlifts, keeping a solid arch when squatting, and arching slightly at the top of a back extension are natural tendencies, and many lifters move this way throughout their entire weight-training careers and never experience injury. Hell, if you’re holding extension, you’re not going into flexion, which can be just as problematic as hyperextension when it comes to the spinal pain and injury.

However, there are also myriads of lifters who do experience hyperextension-related back pain when lifting, and these people require a solution. How can you tell if you’re a hyperextension-prone lifter? Here are some clues. Do you:

  1. Overarch your back when locking out a deadlift?
  2. Have trouble squeezing the glutes during a plank?
  3. Feel low back pain at the top of a back extension or hip thrust?
  4. Move into lumbar hyperextension when stretching your hip flexors?
  5. Experience difficulty posteriorly tilting the pelvis from a standing position?

If you said yes to any of these things, then you will likely benefit from having a corrective plan of action. Here is your plan.

Correcting Lumbar Hyperextension

1. Stretch Rectus Femoris

Very often, hyperextension-prone lifters have tight rec-fems. Prior to performing squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, lunges, back extensions, or any other major lower body movements, stretch the rectus femoris muscles. Make sure that when you’re stretching the rec-fems, you don’t allow the pelvis to anteriorly rotate or the lumbar spine to hyperextend. Squeeze the glutes and only stretch as far as you can while keeping good lumbopelvic position. There are many ways to stretch the rec-fems. Here’s a video showing some of them.

2. Practice Posterior Pelvic Tilting

Engaging the glutes and low abs to posteriorly tilt the pelvis should feel very natural. Unfortunately, most hyperextension-prone athletes are unable to do this naturally and rhythmically. Their glutes don’t want to fire at end-range hip extension and they prefer to arch the low back and tip the pelvis rearward using the erector spinae (see Why Do I Anterior Pelvic Tilt for more info). Learn to somewhat relax your erectors and more heavily activate the glutes to lock-out the hips. There are many ways to do this. Some folks benefit from doing hip extension exercises on the floor while engaging in abdominal hollowing (not good for heavy lifts but sometimes good for low-load activation drills). Kellie Davis shows a great way to do this at the 2:58 mark here (hip-hinge with PPT).

3. Regress

Take a step backward so that you can take two steps forward. Try planks from your knees and engage the glutes. Try engaging the glutes at end-range hip extension during bodyweight hip thrusts. Use lighter loads and easier variations to groove proper patterning.

Keep it Nice and Neutral!

Keep it Nice and Neutral at the Low Back!

4. Integrate Properly

You can still employ deadlifts and heavier hip thrusts, but do these after you’ve stretched the hip flexors, activated the glutes, and practiced proper lumbopelvic-hip-complex (LPHC) patterning. Every “bad” rep you perform reinforces the poor pattern. Every “good” rep you perform reinforces the new and proper pattern. Don’t go too heavy or push the sets too hard to where your form breaks down.

Make Sure You Feel the Glutes Locking out the Deadlift

Make Sure You Feel the Glutes Locking out the Deadlift!

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!

If you’re a hyperextension-prone lifter, give these strategies a shot and see if they improve your movement quality. It takes a while for patterns to be re-programmed and new habits to be built, but with dedication and consistency you can be moving much better within a couple of months. And remember, “perfect practice makes perfect!”

17 Comments

  • Ryan Carer says:

    Great info as always Bret. In regards to your questions to check if someone is a ‘hyperextender’, I’ve also found that keeping tension in the glutes both on the concentric as well as the eccentric phases of the lifts like the hip thrust, deadlift make a world of difference in eliminating back pain. You’ve probably already experienced it, but if not thought I’d share the love.
    Ryan Carver, CSCS

  • Amanda says:

    Ooo I like this article. I’ve been obsessing over my anterior tilt that I didn’t realize I had till I began my sports massage class (Im a student getting my CMT). I’ve been trying to stretch these quads and my psoas because I now believe my “anterior tilt” is why I maybe lean to far forward when squatting. Probably because of my tight thoracic spine too. I would love if you did an article on how to tell if you have an anterior tilt. I always pictured an exaggerated lordosis as the way to detect an anterior tilt. My teacher did the comparison of my ASIS to my PSIS and noted my tight hip flexors.. but now I’ve read that isn’t always a good test… I’m Confused. Oh and also wanted to note that in those clues that I think many of us do the hyperextension of our lumbar in doing push presses!

  • Kashmir says:

    I love your articles and I’ve bought your book but hey what’s the deal with the woman in the pic vs the man on this one? It’s all good that you’re showing how to do it right but if you’re gonna have chicks bums how about guys bums too? Tit for tat as it were. Other than that I love your work and I’m looking forward to my book arriving so I can get started on it.

  • Kris says:

    In the video, 2cd stretch Psoas, should I keep the toe of my rear leg on the ground or is it OK to flatten the top of my foot on the ground? Also, I notice that Marianne and you seem to wear shoes with flat soles; should I change out of running shoes when I lift weights. (I have plantar fasciitis, I have a shoulder problem on the same side which my doctor seems to think can’t be rotator cuff because I’m female. I’ve been lifting for 3+ decades and these problems in my 40’s are getting really annoying). I did complete most of Bootyful beginnings in the spring (sans chinups) and the 30 day challenges when I was traveling over the summer.

    • Teresa Merrick says:

      For a physician to rule out the rotator cuff in your shoulder problem because you’re female is pretty suspicious. Women have rotator cuffs and rotator cuff problems too: I certainly had RC cuff problems. Did he/she do an X-ray (to determine the configuration of your acromion) or an MRI to assess your soft tissues? If the treatment plan for your shoulder is NOT just “stop lifting weights” and includes some things (physical therapy, Active Release Technique, etc) that ARE working, then the particular diagnosis probably doesn’t matter. However, if the plan is not working, then it’s time to get back on physician or get a second opinion.

      As to wearing running shoes for lifting, I used to do that for a long time. I eventually found wearing Chuck Taylors worked better (for powerlifting training and competing). And for nearly 5 years now I’ve worn Vibram FiveFingers for lifting. I’ve found that running shoes, with their elevated heels, tend to overdrive the quads and somewhat inhibit glutes. My fitness clients find they have more glute activation when not wearing their (running) shoes for strength exercises.

      • Kris says:

        Thanks. I recently got Body Glove 3T shoes and was going to try them for weight lifting. I am not sure if my plantar fasciitis is because I didn’t switch my worn out shoes early enough, due to switching brand names of shoes (don’t make the ones I had anymore) or being new to ballet (1 year).

        My doctor is a sports medicine specialist and marathon runner. He checked my shoulder by having me push against his hands in various directions and rotating it manually. It got much worse the day after I saw him. He said he didn’t see any problems with strength and mobility, told me that rotator cuffs problems are for men over 40 (had never heard of them in women). I have a huge pain threshold, but everyday things like opening doors or reaching into the back seat of my car are excruciating. His recommendation was no lifting and expect months to feel better, if I have a problem, he felt I was doing fine. He is on my case to eat less and exercise more as I haven’t lost all my pregnancy weight from having twins (now age 4, I’m 6′ tall 185lbs.) I asked for a referral and he said it wasn’t necessary.

    • Eden Elan says:

      When I changed over to wearing Chuck Taylors, my lifting improved significantly. I especially noticed it with my deadlifts.

  • Dixon says:

    I bought Strong Curves three weeks ago..Read it thru twice now..Im on the third week of Booty-ful Beginnings. I am having some low back “twinges” when I perform Hip Thrusts and back extensions. I noticed yesterday when I did the Walking Knee Hugs that when I pull up my Right knee I can’t activate my Left glute very well..?? My right glute activates great. I do have tight Quads and have been doing the Exercise you have in your video for the past four weeks a couple of times a week. They seem to be getting better..I couldn’t even put my opposite leg in front of me while kneeling on the stretch when I started but I can now. Is this issue going to prevent me from seeing progress on the program? I want to make sure Im getting all that I can from it and that Im doing it correctly. So much so that I take my book in the gym with me each and every time and if Im not sure I look it up..get a few stares but I don’t care, its worth it.
    Thank you for All your Hard work. I have really enjoyed Learning all this Great Glute Stuff!!

    • Bret says:

      Dixon, my client Molly experienced pain when hip thrusting until I taught her the PPTHT – posterior pelvic tilt hip thrust. Use the abs and glutes to posteriorly tilt the pelvis up top so that your spine doesn’t move into extension. Here’s a vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eshERY9UDBc

      For back extensions you’ll need to figure out how to do the same thing – PPT and “drive the hips into the pad” with the glutes. Hopefully these will hlep you. Post a video of your form here if you’d like and I’ll give you feedback. Cheers, Bret

  • Pastor Troy says:

    Bret, why don’t you right an article about glute force transmission as it relates to the ankle. What’s the point of having strong glutes if you can’t transfer that force into the ground.

  • Dixon says:

    Bret- Im in need of some advice. Sorry to bother you..I know your busy from your recent “I need an Assistant” Post but Im not sure where else to go. If you could just point me in the right direction I would be so appreciative. Ive been having some hip pain in my Left hip. Probably about the last couple of years..It pops and clicks and feels like it pops out of place. And when this happens it also bothers my knee. I’ve been just living with it but since doing the stretches you advise I’ve noticed that on Side Lying Clam that I’m unable to rotate my hip out..also if I hold my leg out straight in front of me I can not externally rotate my hip either.. This is also the same let that when I do the Rectus Femoris I can not squeeze the glute. I ran yesterday on my Cardio day and had alot of pain last night. I’ve always thought I just had a very tight Hip Flexor. But now Im not sure, I looked up External Hip Rotation pain and just became more confused. My question is this..should I just keep doing the stretches and lifting according to my Strong Curves program or is this possibly going to hurt my lifts? Or should I just go to a Dr.? And if I do are they going to know what Im talking about? I’ve never had anything traumatic happen to my leg or hip..But I do sit all day at a Computer Job. Thank you for any help you could give on this..Im just worried now that I see how bad the rotation is.

    • Bret says:

      Dixon – see a reputable physical therapist in your area. Might be piriformis syndrome – check that out on Wikipedia and Web MD. This stuff is tricky to discuss online. But stay positive, it can be cured in time. I’ve heard from some Strong Curves people that this cured their symptoms, but I heard from one Get Glutes (same programming) member that it excacerbated her symptoms. Hard to tell without seeing people in person. Best of luck, BC

  • Fliss says:

    I have just started Strong Curves after many years of doing a range of exercise classes, lots of running and more recently strength training. My goal is to work on my glutes without bulking up legs from squats etc. I have noticed that my lower back feels ‘tight’ and I am wondering if that is to do with tight hip flexors and over extending my lower back. I think what I am learning from Strong Curves and reading your blog is that I have been lifting heavy weights without any pain or discomfort but possibly have picked up some bad form or not realised that my back is over extending. I’d really appreciate your perspective on this!

Leave a Reply

SIGN UP FOR THE FREE NEWSLETTER

and receive my FREE Lower Body Progressions eBook!

You have Successfully Subscribed!