How to Do the Machine Back Extension

Build a Strong Back With Back Extensions

The back extension station, also known as the hyperextension machine is available at most well-equipped gyms. Another variation is the Roman chair. You lock your heels under a pad or roller, with another pad to support your lower body as you recline face-down. This facilitates flexing at the waist. 

The exercise targets the lower-back muscles, mostly the erector spinae. It is a pulling isolation exercise. Back extensions complement abdominal exercises by providing a reverse movement of the core muscles compared to crunches. The extension is usually performed as a bodyweight exercise, using only the upper body for the load. Adding a weight held at the chest, such as a dumbbell or plate, can provide additional work. A barbell can also be held behind the neck.

If you need more guidance on weight training please refer to the beginner's guide.


How to Do the Machine Back Extension - Starting Position

back extension exercise
  • Choose the appropriate back extension machine at the gym. 
  • Adjust the machine so that your feet are firmly hooked under the foot pads. You need to ensure a good fit so that you are held firmly when you start the bend at the hips.
  • Position your lower body across the large pad provided for this purpose. You need to be far enough forward so that you can flex the upper-body almost at right angles.
  • Cross your arms beneath your chest. (See diagram.)

How to Do the Machine Back Extension - Exercise Description

back extension exercise movement
  • The exercise requires that you bend at the waist, and a little at the hips, lowering the torso until approximately upper and lower body form a right angle.
  • Brace the abdominals while holding the arms folded and maintaining the body in a horizontal position. Make sure the ankles are well anchored.
  • Slowly bend at the waist until the upper body is at 90 degrees to the lower body.
  • Extend to the starting position and stretch upward just slightly so that the back is in hyperextension. This is a gentle reverse arching of the back. Do not push it too far.
  • Try 3 sets of 5 exercises -- more or less depending on condition and strength of back and abdominal muscles.
  • Perform this smoothly, do not bounce or jerk.
  • Enlist the assistance of a gym instructor if you need help setting up.

Muscles Worked by the Back Extension Machine

The back extension machine targets the erector spinae, which are three muscles: illiocostalis lumborum, longissimus thoracis and the spinalis. This bundle of muscles lies in a grove along the vertebral column. These muscles extend your lumbar spine.They originate at the points along the spine from the neck to the sacrum and insert along the spinal vertebrae, the ribs, and the skull.

Synergistic muscles used in the back extension are the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and adductor magnus. Stabilizer muscles used include the back, shoulder and neck muscles: biceps, triceps, lats, deltoids, traps, pecs and rhomboids.

People want to strengthen the lower back and use the back extension machine to target these muscles.


Controversy Over Back Extension Machines

Many trainers steer clients away from the back extension machine as they think the risk of strain isn't worth using it for an isolation exercise. Instead, they prefer compound or functional exercises such as squats, bent-over rows, and stiff-legged deadlifts to strengthen the lower back.

More: 11 Hyperextensions for the Lower Back: These exercises use weights, an exercise ball, resistance band and cable machine to perform a variety of back extension exercises.

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