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:
- Overarch your back when locking out a deadlift?
- Have trouble squeezing the glutes during a plank?
- Feel low back pain at the top of a back extension or hip thrust?
- Move into lumbar hyperextension when stretching your hip flexors?
- 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).
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.
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.
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!”