Reverse Hyperextension Alternatives: How to Target the Same Muscles

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
April 18, 2022

An advanced version of the standard hyperextension exercise wherein the exerciser makes use of a  machine to add a certain level of resistance that is otherwise difficult to achieve with only the exerciser’s own bodyweight.

However, the reverse hyperextension is subject to a variety of complaints centering around the relative safety of the movement, and the fact that it requires a rather specific type of fitness equipment to perform properly.

As such, it is quite fortunate that several potential alternatives to the reverse hyperextension exist - the majority of which are capable of fulfilling its role within a training program without presenting the same drawbacks of the exercise itself.

Why Should the Reverse Hyperextension be Alternated Out?

Generally, when performed with proper form and an appropriate amount of weight, the reverse hyperextension presents little to no risk of lower back injury - however, this is not always the case, as few exercisers at the novice to intermediate level are capable of performing such an exercise with perfect form.

As such, one of the primary reasons behind the reverse hyperextension being substituted out is the safety risks involved in the movement, an entirely advisable decision if one is inexperienced in lower body compound exercises or is otherwise unable to access athletic coaching services.

reverse hyperextension

By extension of this, individuals with a history of hip flexor or lower back injuries, or those who are particularly susceptible to it should all avoid the reverse hyperextension (especially with significant levels of resistance), as it is likely to aggravate any injuries or cause new ones.

Finally, there is the opposite case wherein the exerciser’s own physical strength capacity has surpassed what can be safely used in the reverse hyperextension, or in the case of athletes wishing for a more intense lower body and back training exercise.

For cases like these, substituting the reverse hyperextension with a more complex and heavy alternative exercise should more than serve to help the athlete reach their training goals.

What are the Characteristics of a Good Reverse Hyperextension Alternative?

The reverse hyperextension’s primary mover muscle groups are that of the gluteus maximus that make up the buttocks, the various elongated muscles of the hamstrings muscle group along the back of the upper leg and the erector spinae muscles, of which stabilize and support the spinal cord so as to prevent injury.

When searching for an appropriate alternative exercise candidate to replace the reverse hyperextension, one should look out for compound movements that also utilize the previously mentioned muscle groups as primary mover muscles, as this equates to the potential alternative exercise sharing many characteristics with the reverse hyperextension itself.

lever reverse hyperextension

Being of similar muscle group activation set is not always applicable, however, as differences in mechanics, complexity and exercise intensity can all exclude certain exercises from being able to act as alternatives to the reverse hyperextension.

As such, any potential substitute exercise for the reverse hyperextension must share not only its muscle group activation pattern and set, but also a similar level of intensity, kinetics, mechanics, and relative complexity.

This, of course, does not apply if the intensity, mechanics or complexity of the exercise are the reason why the reverse hyperextension is being substituted in the first place - leaving it up to the exerciser’s discretion to identify what potential alternative exercise is most appropriate for them.

Machine Based Alternatives to the Reverse Hyperextension

As the majority of reverse hyperextensions are performed with the aid of an exercise machine, it is by no stretch of logic that any potential alternative with a similar type of training stimulus and length of time under tension will also make use of the many benefits associated with machine based resistance exercises.

This, of course, also requires that the following exercise machines be available to the exerciser, presenting one such possible drawback to utilizing a machine based alternative to the reverse hyperextension - as opposed to the simplistic convenience of free weight based alternative exercises.

Hyperextensions

The more common version of the reverse hyperextension, traditional back hyperextensions make use of a hyperextension machine wherein the exerciser hooks their feet in a secure position as they bend beyond parallel level over a cushioned surface, levering their hips and lower back to produce the force required in the exercise.

weighted hyperextension

This has the effect of activating the glute muscles alongside the hamstrings muscle group, erector spinae, and hip adductors - all in an intensity similar to that of the reverse hyperextension, though admittedly with significantly less applicable resistance due to the usage of the exerciser’s own body weight alone.

In terms of injury risk and exercise complexity, the hyperextension presents significantly less of a chance that any untoward incident occurs, both due to the relatively simplistic form required to perform it and the more natural mechanics of the exercise.

This is most noticeable during the eccentric portion of the repetition, wherein little to no spinal disc compression occurs due to the natural curve of the exerciser’s back as they dip downwards, something considered a large problem with the reverse hyperextension’s concentric repetition phase.

Seated Machine Hamstring Curls

Not to be confused with the lying leg curl machine, seated machine hamstring curls are another potential alternative to the reverse hyperextension exercise with the benefit of entirely ignoring the lower back and any subsequent injured areas that may be affected by such a muscular activation pattern.

seated leg curl

This shifts the percentage of resistance that activates the hamstrings to a much higher degree, thereby instilling more intense muscular hypertrophy and strength conditioning in the biceps femoris, semimembranosus and the semitendinosus that make up the hamstring muscle group along the back of the upper leg.

As such, the seated machine hamstring curl is the most appropriate alternative exercise for individuals seeking significantly intensified hamstring muscular activation while removing any risk of lower back injury, or a worsening of any lower back injuries that the exerciser is already suffering from.

Lying Leg Curl Machine

Quite similar in form and kinetics to the reverse hyperextension, the lying leg curl machine utilizes the same kinetic chain and muscle group activation pattern to induce a moderate level of training stimulus to the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and calves to a certain extent.

lying leg curl

This makes substituting the reverse hyperextension with the lying leg curl machine practically a lateral move, as they share a large majority of characteristics and form mechanics, and as such the lying leg curl machine may act as the perfect alternative for individuals who find themselves unable to access a reverse hyperextension machine.

Cable Machine Donkey Kicks

Also referred to as cable machine hip extensions, the cable machine donkey kick is a bilateral exercise that makes use of an ankle strap or similar handle to provide resistance at the distal point of the exerciser’s leg, thereby inducing training stimulus in the hamstrings, glutes and the hip abductors as they kick backwards.

cable donkey kickback

The exercise may be performed either lying on all fours or upright, allowing the exerciser to choose whichever position is most comfortable for them or is most appropriate for their exercise space.

As a reverse hyperextension alternative, the cable machine donkey kick is best used in situations wherein the exerciser wishes to only train a single leg at a time - as well as in the case of the exerciser wishing to significantly reduce the lower spinal column pressure they experience during the reverse hyperextension.

This is due to the angle of resistance utilized by the cable machine donkey kick - which, depending on the height and chosen position of the exerciser - can place little to no mechanical stress on the lower back of the exerciser, allowing individuals with minor to moderate lower back issues to perform the exercise comfortably.

Glute Drive Machine

A somewhat uncommon machine that makes use of plate driven resistance in order to induce a high level of muscular activation in the gluteus muscle group, the glute drive machine functions quite similar in terms of mechanics to the barbell hip thrust - though with the added safety and specificity of being a machine based exercise.

This eliminates the need for the activation of additional stabilizer muscle groups such as the abs or the erector spinae, by extension removing the lower back from the muscular activation set.

With such specificity, the glute drive machine may thereby act as an excellent alternative to the reverse hyperextension for exercisers wishing to isolate the glutes, with the hamstrings acting only as a secondary mover muscle group and thereby receiving far less stimulus in comparison.

Due to the lack of lower back loading throughout the exercise, individuals susceptible to lower back injuries may also use the glute drive machine as a reverse hyperextension alternative, though it is advisable for them to also combine it with a hamstring muscle isolation movement in order to prevent muscular imbalances from developing.

Free Weight Alternatives to the Reverse Hyperextension

Though the reverse hyperextension is generally considered to be a machine based exercise - certain free weight based alternative movements can allow for an altered training stimulus that may even surpass the reverse hyperextension in intensity and convenience, making them excellent substitutes in the right situation.

However, due to the more dynamic and unsupported nature of free weight exercises, the risk of injury and relative complexity of the following free weight alternatives is at the least equal to that of the reverse hyperextension.

As such, the usage of free weight alternatives are best left for athletes and gym goers wishing for more effective and intense substitutes to the reverse hyperextension.

Barbell Good Mornings

A classic preparatory or hypertrophic exercise that activates the lower back, glutes and hamstrings to great effect - the barbell good morning is performed with the exerciser hinging at the hips while standing upright and a barbell resting atop their trapezius shelf, generally resulting in significant stimulus to the majority of the posterior chain.

barbell good morning

The good morning is an often debated exercise, however, as it places significant pressure and shear force on the spinal column, with a particular risk of lumbar spine injuries due to the angle of resistance and the fact that good mornings often make use of high amounts of weight in order to induce an appropriate level of intensity.

As such, the barbell good morning is best left as a substitute exercise to the reverse hyperextension for powerlifters or other kinds of experienced gym goers that are not only familiar with the various form cues shared throughout lower back targeting exercises - but also those with sufficiently adapted connective tissue in those areas.

Romanian Deadlifts

A variation of the standard barbell deadlift wherein the exerciser greatly reduces the distance at which their knees spread apart during the exercise, the romanian deadlift is considered one of the most effective posterior chain builders available to exercisers, greatly surpassing the reverse hyperextension itself.

barbell romanian deadlift

However, this increase in intensity comes with the drawback of a significantly more complex form, and intermediate level lifting mechanics that make the Romanian deadlift an unsuitable alternative for novice exercisers or individuals with any sort of susceptibility to connective tissue injuries.

Apart from this, - though not necessarily a drawback or a benefit - the romanian deadlift will also activate a large variety of other muscle groups not necessarily trained by the reverse hyperextension, with the trapezius, quadriceps femoris and deltoids being among the most intensely stimulated by the Romanian deadlift - all of which would not be utilized in the reverse hyperextension.

As such, the Romanian deadlift is only truly a suitable alternative to the reverse hyperextension if the exerciser wishes to make significant alterations to their workout programming, as well as possesses training goals that require such an intense exercise take the place of the reverse hyperextension.

Individuals inexperienced with the usual deadlift form mechanics or those with a susceptibility to lower back, shoulder, hip, knee or neck injuries should all seek the advice of an athletic coach and physician prior to substituting the reverse hyperextension with the Romanian deadlift, however.

References

1. Lawrence, Michael A.1; Chin, Andrew2; Swanson, Brian T.3 Biomechanical Comparison of the Reverse Hyper extension Machine and the Hyper extension Exercise, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2019 - Volume 33 - Issue 8 - p 2053-2056 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003146

2. Llurda Almuzara, Luis, Noé Labata Lezaun, Carlos López de Celis, Ramón Aiguadé Aiguadé, Sergi Romaní-Sánchez, Jacobo Rodríguez Sanz, César Fernández de las Peñas, and Albert Pérez Bellmunt. 2021. "Biceps Femoris Activation during Ham string Strength Exercises: A Systematic Review" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18, no. 16: 8733. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18168733

3. Cuthbert, Matthew 1,2; Ripley, Nicholas J.1; Suchomel, Timothy J.1,3; Alejo, Robert4; McMahon, John J.1; Comfort, Paul1,5,6 Electromyographical Differences Between the Hyperextension and Reverse-\ Hyperextension, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: June 2021 - Volume 35 - Issue 6 - p 1477-1483 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000004049

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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