Want a healthy, strong, pain free low back and powerful hips? Get on the reverse hyper!
By: Christian Stricker aka “The Colonel”
The reverse hyper, a mythical machine amongst most CrossFit boxes and really most gyms in general (just so happens that we have one right here in Bend, OR at Oregon CrossFit). It looks like some type of medieval torture device that unruly citizens would be strapped to for public execution (this of course is most likely not true as I’m not aware of any historical accounts of reverse hypers being used for this purpose). While it can be somewhat painful, in a good way, it is great for strengthening and restoring some of the most important muscles of the body.
Whether you want to develop a great ass, hamstrings and low back for aesthetic purposes, for pure functionality (read: to lift heavy weights, run faster, jump higher and generally be more badass) or to prevent back problems, the reverse hyper is a great tool to accomplish all of these goals. Since I’ve started using it, my deadlift has increased by over 100 pounds and all lifts that involve the hips and low back are much more stable. It feels like there are steel cables running along my spine. There have been a few periods where I’ve slacked on it and experienced back pain but that was quickly remedied by getting back on it.
Depending on how you use it, it can have several benefits. These include strengthening and building the muscles of your low to mid back and hips through a larger than normal range of motion and traction (the pulling apart of areas of the body) of the spine, promoting the restorative movement of fluid and blood to the structures and improving the endurance of the muscles to allow you to do more work for longer periods of time. The strengthening of the whole range of motion is more important than it initially sounds. Most of the time, the back is “taught” to stay in one position, either arched or flat. While this is normally beneficial, the problem arises when this area experiences stresses in the ranges that haven’t been trained/strengthened and are weak. Instances such as your back unexpectedly rounding (which isn’t an issue if you have strengthened that range of motion) during a lift or you casually bend over from your waist to pick something up and throw your back out are examples of this.
It’s interesting that, in my 8+ years of training and 4+ of coaching and all of the round back lifting that I’ve witnessed, the only people I’ve known to hurt their backs are the ones that ALWAYS stay in an arched or hyper arched position or that lift after sitting for extended periods of time without mobilizing. When you do reverse hypers, you strengthen the entire range of motion that your back goes through thus giving you a safety cushion in case something unexpected like the above happens.
If your goal is strengthening your low back and hips, doing the reverse hyper with HEAVY weight (relative to your abilities of course) of around half your deadlift or squat max for 2-4 sets of 10-30 reps works pretty well when done twice a week. The less reps and sets you do, the more important it is to use a more challenging weight. In my experience, the heavier you go, the more you use the entire hip and low back complex. When I would use lower weights, I would get a pretty good pump in my low back but it wasn’t until I started going heavy that I would get the same feeling in my glutes and hamstrings.
If your goal is restoration (accelerating the healing of an area, such as when your back is sore) then higher sets and reps and lower weight should be used. You want to get that “pumped” feeling in the area. This can range from 1-3 sets of 50-100 reps, 10 sets of 20 or pretty much any other scheme that fits the above criteria. The purpose is to do something that gets blood flowing to the area that’s sore but not to wear you out.
You can use the reverse hyper pretty much anytime during your training. It works well warming up on it before lower body workouts to get everything activated, as accessory work after you do your main lifts to increase strength in the hips and low back, at the end of heavy lower body session to release a tight back and promote restoration, on upper body days as a way to heal your sore back from the previous day’s training and/or strengthen it if you forgot to do them the day before.
If you have any questions, make sure to ask your coach about all the different ways to properly use the reverse hyper. If it doesn’t happen to be programmed and you have time, utilize it before or after class depending on your goals. Let me know what you experience after you start using it regularly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or in person at the box.
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