Roman Chair Back Extension (Lumbar Extension)
The Roman Chair Back Extension (Horizontal Bench Back Extension) is a great exercise for your lower back muscles. In this post you will learn how to perform the Roman Chair Back Extension using perfect technique in order to get the most benefit from this excellent lower back exercise. Furthermore, we will let you know some of the typical ways the exercise is done improperly so you can take steps to correct yourself before they even happen.
Most gyms have some type of back extension equipment, be it a Roman chair (horizontal bench), incline bench, or a larger machine with attached weight stack. Whether this is a good or bad exercise for you depends on how you do the exercise and the status of your back. If you have current back pain or a recent injury, skip the back extension exercises until you’re healed.
The Roman Chair Back Extension Exercise Instructions
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Position yourself (lie face down) in a back extension apparatus (on a Roman Chair) with your upper thighs and lower hips on the support pad. You must be able to bend at the waist freely. Because the axis of flexion passes through the coxofemoral joints, the pubic bone should not rest on the support pad. Place your ankles under the roller pads. Start with your body in a straight line head to toe. Place your arms across your chest.
ACTION (MOVEMENT): Slowly bend forward by relaxing your back and abdominal muscles. Continue as far as possible without rounding your back or raising your thighs from the support pad (keeping your back naturally arched, lower your upper body as far as you comfortably can). You should feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings. Hold for a count of one. Return to the start position by contracting your back and abdominal muscles until your body is once again straight. Do not arch your back up at the end of the movement. Pause and repeat.
Exercise Key Points to Remember
- Your hips and legs should be supported, but your trunk should hang off the end.
- Your hands can be crossed on your chest (easiest), behind your ears, or straight out in front of you (hardest).
- Lower your upper body until your head is nearly on the floor. Then raise your torso back up until it forms a straight line with your legs.
- This is one of a few exercises in which it’s not a mistake to round your lower back (you can roll your back up and down like a snail). But if you have lower back problems, you may not want to do this exercise by rounding your lower back. Instead, lower your torso as far as you can without rounding your back, then straighten to the starting position.
- Your torso should move up and down through an arc of about 90-degrees. Avoid hyperextending your spine. The erector muscles work to stabilize and straighten the spine, while the glutes and hamstrings generate hip extension during the movement.
- You must carefully roll your spine up and down if you want to focus the effort on the erector spinae muscles. To do this, you must perform the exercise rather slowly.
Muscles Involved in a Roman Chair Back Extension
This exercise mainly develops the group of paraspinal erectors of the spine (iliocostales, longissimus thoracis, spinalis thoracis, splenius, and semispinalis capitis), quadratus lumborum and, to a lesser degree, the gluteus maximus and the hamstrings except for the short head of the biceps femoris.
- You can also do this exercise on on a regular flat bench if you have someone to hold your legs.
- Performing the torso extension with a bar on the shoulders stabilizes the upper back, which focuses the effort on the lower part of the erector spinae muscles.
- The back extension machine allows you to focus on the lumbosacral mass of the spinal muscles (Torso Extensions at a Machine).
- To increase the intensity, perform the exercise while holding a weight to the chest or behind the neck.
- Using an incline bench makes this exercise easier for beginners to execute (see 45-degree back extension).
Alternative Exercises (Substitutes)
- Good Morning Lift
- 45-degree back extension (incline back extension)
- Traditional Deadlift
- Romanian Deadlift
- Machine Lumbar Extension
Extension Versus Hyperextension
The Roman chair back extension exercise is often called a hyperextension, implying a movement in which you raise your torso past the point at which it forms a straight line with your legs.
We strongly advise you not to hyperextend; doing so would put unnecessary pressure on your spinal disks. We do, however, want you to exercise your spinal erectors muscles through a range of motion, from flexion through extension – a movement they’re designed to perform safely.
Most gyms have a special bench for back extensions that places your body parallel to the ground (Roman chair). Another type of back extension bench positions your body at a 45 degree angle. For either bench, you can do the exercise with no resistance except body weight. To add more resistance, you can attach resistance tubing around your upper back or use a specially designed bench (if your gym has one) that allows you to adjust the resistance.
As shown earlier in this post, the classic bench places you parallel to the floor (90-degree bench). This bench is not very comfortable to get into and use, but it provides more resistance for the lumbar muscles and a stronger stretch for the spine in the bottom position. It is therefore a more advanced bench when compared to 45-degree bench (45-degree back extension). The variant is good for intermediate and advanced athletes. If you are beginner, try incline back extension first.
The Roman chair back extension is a fairly safe way to strengthen the lumbar muscles, because, unlike the deadlift, it places very little tension on the intervertebral discs. To avoid damaging your spine, perform the exercise in a slow, controlled manner. The lower back muscles are meant to contract more in an isometric manner rather than explosively. If you feel any pain in your spine on the way up, do not raise your back any higher.