A few areas of the body are a little less visible to the owner than other people, but that doesn’t mean the hard-to-see areas are not important. The rear thigh and buttocks provide a case in this point. While these areas are largely out of your vision line (unless you line up in front of a mirror) these lower body parts are very visible to everyone else. Unfortunately, the gluteal and hamstring muscles can get a bit soft and underdeveloped just because they are not front line and visible, and therefore it is easy to forget about any direct exercise for these areas. It turns out that in addition to creating the obvious contours for your lower body, these muscles are also mechanically important for “small” things like walking and climbing steps.1 For that reason, it is easy to think that your aerobic exercises should take care of these areas, but usually that is not enough. If your mirror tells you that your lower body and particularly the gluteal and hamstring areas have been lagging a bit, the reverse hyperextension exercise on a bench will provide an excellent tool to correct this deficiency and make it one of your strengths.
Muscle Structure and Function
The gluteus maximus is the largest of all the hip muscles and a major thigh extensor.2 It attaches to the hip bones, the sacrum, the lumbar area of the lower back, and the posterior part of the femur. It has another attachment on the iliotibial band of the fascia latae, which prevents the thigh from bowing out when the muscles of the thigh contract. When the torso is fixed and the hip joint is free to move, this muscle extends the femur bone of the thigh, which is the function of the reverse hyperextension.3
Reverse hyperextensions activate hamstring muscles on the posterior thigh.3 Although you might not think that the hamstrings have much to do with the buttocks other than being neighbors, they provide part of the shape that accentuates a firm buttock. In addition they provide the sweeping shape to your posterior thigh. The hamstring muscles consist of the long head of the biceps femoris, semimembranosus and semitendinosus muscles.2 The long head of the biceps femoris begins on the ischial tuberosity, which is the bony part of your hip that you sit on when you are in a chair. The fibers of the short head of the biceps femoris start on the lower one-third of the femur bone just above the knee. Both heads of the muscle fuse into a thick tendon, which crosses the lateral side of the knee joint to attach to the fibula bone (and some ligaments) on the knee.2 The muscle fibers of the semitendinosus muscle attaches to the ischial tuberosity and inserts into a cord-like tendon that connects to the medial side of the superior part of the tibia (the large medial bone of the leg). The semimembranosus muscle also begins on the ischial tuberosity and it attaches to the posterior part of the medial condyle of the tibia just below the knee joint.2 All of the hamstring muscles flex the knee. However, they also help to extend the thigh at the hip joint4 and this is the primary action involved in the reverse hyperextension.3
The reverse hyperextension also activates a group of three postural spine muscles, which together are called the erector spinae.5 The iliocostalis muscle is the most lateral of the erector spinae group. It begins from the iliac crest of the hip bone, and inserts into the ribs.2 The intermediate muscle of the erector spinae group is the longissimus muscle, which runs almost the entire length of the back. The spinalis muscle runs up the center of the back from the lumbar and lower thoracic spinous processes of the vertebrae to the spinous process of the thoracic and neck (cervical) regions. Collectively, the erector spinae group are strong extenders of the vertebral column.2
Reverse Hyperextension on a Bench
1. Place your feet behind the pads of the reverse hyperextension machine. Some benches have a two-pad system, and you would instead place your feet between the pads in those machines. If you do not have a machine, you can use a high Roman chair.
2. Lie on the top pad, so that your pelvis is on the bench but your hips and thighs hang off the back. Grip the handles (or the side of the bench) to keep your torso from moving on the bench.
3. Keep the knees straight and flex the hip joints so that the thighs and legs are pulled towards the chest.
4. Reverse the movement by extending the thighs in a slow and controlled fashion, while lifting the legs backward and upward. Although it is called “hyperextension,” it is actually best if you do not overextend the hip on this movement, as this could cause excessive torque through the lower back spine and compress the intervetebral disks. This could increase the risk for injury in the lower back. Stopping with the thighs parallel to the floor will provide a good muscle activation and not increase the risk of incurring lower back injury.6
5. Repeat the sequence for 10-15 repetitions in a slow and controlled fashion in both directions.
Reverse hyperextension may increase hip flexor and hamstring flexibility a little. However, the greatest benefit of this exercise is that it will greatly improve, shape, strengthen and firm your gluteal and hamstring muscles. In fact, you may find that your lower body exercises all will seem a bit easier in a few weeks, and that will have a lot to do with the indirect improvements that you obtain by doing reverse hypertensions. After a few months, you will not need to worry about these muscles that are out of sight, because you will be getting plenty of compliments from those who have a good line of view of your new lower body.
1. Tikkanen O, Haakana P, Pesola AJ et al: Muscle Activity and Inactivity Periods during Normal Daily Life. PLoS One 2013;8:e52228.
2. Moore, K.L. and A.F. Dalley. Clinically orientated Anatomy, Fourth Edition. Lippinot, Williams & Wilkins, 1999; pp. 467-474; 554-560; 563-571.
3. Kang SY, Jeon HS, Kwon O et al: Activation of the gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles during prone hip extension with knee flexion in three hip abduction positions. Man Ther 2013.
4. Ono T, Higashihara A, Fukubayashi T: Hamstring functions during hip-extension exercise assessed with electromyography and magnetic resonance imaging. Res Sports Med 2011;19:42-52.
5. Ekstrom RA, Osborn RW, Hauer PL: Surface electromyographic analysis of the low back muscles during rehabilitation exercises. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2008;38:736-745.
6. Arab AM, Ghamkhar L, Emami M et al: Altered muscular activation during prone hip extension in women with and without low back pain. Chiropr Man Therap 2011;19:18.