Back hyperextensions can be a great counterpart to ab exercises to strengthen the lower back.1Dreisinger, T. E. (2014). Exercise in the management of chronic back pain. The Ochsner Journal, 14(1), 101–107. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3963038/
But, how do you do hyperextensions for lower back strength workouts?
If you are planning your core workouts, you may wonder, how many hyperextensions should I do in each session? And, how can I make hyperextensions harder or easier to suit my fitness level and strength training goals?
In this exercise guide, we will discuss how to perform hyperextensions for your lower back, how to modify them to add variety to your core workout routine, and ultimately answer your question, how many hyperextensions should I do based on my fitness level?
Let’s jump in!
How Do You Do the Back Hyperextension Exercise?
Before we look at how many hyperextensions you should do to strengthen your lower back muscles, let’s look at how to perform the back hyperextension exercise in your core workouts.
The hyperextension exercise, more commonly referred to as back extensions, refers to an exercise where you are using the muscles in your lower back (primarily the erector spinae group) along with your glutes and hamstrings to hinge your entire torso backward from the hips.
There are different ways to do back extensions, but if you have access to a hyperextension weight machine at the gym, this will be the most ergonomic and straightforward way to perform the exercise.
There are a few designs of back extension stations or hyperextension benches at a gym, but most of them are tilted about 45.°
You secure your thighs and lower body and then hang over the machine so that you can raise and lower your torso through a wide range of motion.
Here are the steps for how to do back extensions on the hyperextension machine:
How To Perform A Back Extension
- Adjust the back extension machine so that the top pad is positioned at the top of your thighs when your feet are down on the platform.
- Slide into the machine and position your body with your feet shoulder-width apart on the foot platforms with the top pad crossing along your upper thighs but below the level where your leg and torso meet. You have to have full mobility at your hips.
- Cross your arms over your chest if you are holding a weight or if you are a beginner. You can progress to putting your hands behind your head for bodyweight back extensions. This position will be slightly harder. If you are holding a weight for back extensions or strength and hypertrophy as a stronger athlete, tightly hug the weight plate or dumbbell along your sternum.
- Allow your torso to hang down from the machine so that your body is in a triangle position with your legs angled up to the point of the thigh pad, your butt and hips forming the apex of the triangle, and then your back and head are hanging down towards the floor as the opposite side of the triangle from your legs.
- After taking a deep breath in, exhale as you engage the muscles in your lower back and glutes to lift your torso all the way up until your body is in a straight line angled according to the back extension machine.
- Pause, flexing and squeezing the muscles in your lower back, but, and hamstrings for 2 to 3 seconds.
- Inhale and then very slowly, control the descent back to the starting position by hinging from your hips until your torso hangs back down. The slower you can go, the better. You do not want to allow momentum and gravity to help you hang back down. Rather, you want to use your posterior chain muscles and erector spinae to contract eccentrically against gravity to maximize the strengthening benefits of the exercise.2Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., Vigotsky, A. D., Franchi, M. V., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Hypertrophic Effects of Concentric vs. Eccentric Muscle Actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(9), 2599–2608. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001983
- Complete your desired number of back extension reps.
Variations of Hyperextension Exercises
There are a few different ways that you can modify back extensions for beginners or progress back extensions for advanced athletes.
#1: Reduce the Range of Motion
For beginners, the simplest way to make back extensions easier is to start with just your body weight. You can begin with a reduced range of motion so that you aren’t lifting all the way up as far as you can.However, don’t make this a long-term habit; as soon as you get strong enough, start using the full range of motion and performing fewer back extension reps, as necessary, to maximize the benefits of the exercise.
A simpler and safer way to work with a reduced range of motion for back extensions as you build up the necessary strength for using the hyperextension machine is to perform prone (lying on your stomach) back extensions on the floor.
Then, you can progress to Supermans (see below) before trying back extensions.
This is also a good alternative for those who want to do back extensions at home or who do not have access to the back extension bench at the gym.
#2: Try Weighted Supermans
The Superman is a bodyweight exercise that also works the lower back extensors (erector spinae).
As you get stronger, you can add weight to your upper and lower body in the form of ankle weights and a dumbbell or medicine ball, respectively.
Here are the steps for this lower back strengthening exercise:
How To Perform A Weighted Superman
- Lie on your stomach with your arms extended overhead holding on to a dumbbell or medicine ball between both hands.
- Squeeze your glutes and lower back muscles to raise your upper body, head, and chest along with your lower body so that only your stomach and the top of your hips stay on the ground. Keep your arms straight when you pick up and lift the weight.
- Hold the top position for 2-3 seconds and then lower back down.
If you are not yet strong enough to do the full Superman exercise, you can just lift your upper body off the floor and work on the back extension piece of the exercise.
#3: Do Stability Ball Back Extensions
If your gym doesn’t have a hyperextension machine or you are doing back workouts at home, you can do back extensions off of a stability ball or a Bosu ball.
How To Perform A Stability Ball Back Extension
- Roll a stability ball up close to a wall or somewhere where you can secure your feet. If you go near a wall, you can put your feet against the base of the wall at the junction of the floor.
- Lie on the ball facedown so that the ball is on your stomach and your hips are slightly off the ball. Press the soles of your feet up against the wall near the floor so that you are secured on the ball.
- The ball should be on your upper thighs with your torso hanging off. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows out to the sides.
- Keeping your legs straight, contract your glutes and lower back muscles to lift your entire torso up and back as far as you can go.
- Pause and hold the top position for 1 to 2 seconds.
- Slowly lower back down.
#4: Add Weight
The best way to make back extensions more effective for increasing strength and building muscle in your posterior chain and lower back muscles is to add weight.
Typically, hugging a weight plate, such as a 10-pound, 25-pound, or 45-pound weight plate will add effective load to your body.
You can also hold a dumbbell at chest level against your sternum if you do not have access to weight plates or you need more weight for back extension workouts than you can get with typical weight plates or bumper plates.
This will help advanced athletes reach the necessary relative load or intensity of the exercise to stay within the hypertrophy load guidelines and/or strength guidelines once bodyweight back extensions become too easy to cause fatigue by the end of the recommended number of reps for your training goal.
How Many Hyperextensions Should I Do To See Good Results?
As with any strength training exercise, the number of back extensions you should do depends on your fitness level, training goals,3Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Van Every, D. W., & Plotkin, D. L. (2021). Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports, 9(2), 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports9020032 and the other exercises you are performing for the muscles worked by back hyperextensions.
Here are a couple of guidelines for how many hyperextensions should do:
How Many Hyperextensions Should I Do As A Beginner?
Start with 2 sets of 8 to 12 reps of bodyweight back hyperextensions. Build up to three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Take at least 90 seconds of rest in between each set.
Once you can do 10 to 12 reps per set without struggling, you can add weight.4Iversen, V. M., Norum, M., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Fimland, M. S. (2021). No Time to Lift? Designing Time-Efficient Training Programs for Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. Sports Medicine, 51(10). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01490-1
How Many Hyperextensions Should I Do To Increase Strength?
For advanced athletes looking to increase strength in the lower back muscles, glutes, and hamstrings, hold a weight plate or dumbbell against your chest that corresponds to at least 85% of your one-rep max (1RM).
Perform 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps with at least 2 minutes of rest in between sets.
Focus on ensuring that you are using proper form and maintaining the intensity of the back extensions exercise with more weight rather than increasing the number of reps that you do when you are trying to increase strength.
However, make sure you can safely handle the weight and you’re not straining your lower back or hamstrings.
How Many Hyperextensions Should I Do To Build Muscle?
If you are doing back extensions to build muscle, follow the guidelines for hypertrophy.5Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Krieger, J., Grgic, J., Delcastillo, K., Belliard, R., & Alto, A. (2018). Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 51(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001764
This involves working up to 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Use enough weight that you can manage all of your reps but that you feel fatigued by the last 1-2 reps of every set.
How Many Hyperextensions Should I Do To Increase Muscle Endurance?
To build muscle endurance, you need to do more reps of back extensions.
To increase muscular endurance with back hyperextensions, perform at least three sets of at least 15 reps with no more than 60 seconds of rest in between each set.
Use a weight that is about 65% of your 1RM or less. As you get fitter, do more sets of back extensions and reduce the rest in between each set.
Note that with any of these recommendations, you should stop if you feel that you are using momentum rather than your lower back muscles and glutes.
To supplement your hyperextension workouts, check out our guide to the best posterior chain workout here.
- 1Dreisinger, T. E. (2014). Exercise in the management of chronic back pain. The Ochsner Journal, 14(1), 101–107. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3963038/
- 2Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., Vigotsky, A. D., Franchi, M. V., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Hypertrophic Effects of Concentric vs. Eccentric Muscle Actions. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(9), 2599–2608. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001983
- 3Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Van Every, D. W., & Plotkin, D. L. (2021). Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports, 9(2), 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports9020032
- 4Iversen, V. M., Norum, M., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Fimland, M. S. (2021). No Time to Lift? Designing Time-Efficient Training Programs for Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. Sports Medicine, 51(10). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01490-1
- 5Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Krieger, J., Grgic, J., Delcastillo, K., Belliard, R., & Alto, A. (2018). Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 51(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001764