The History of the Reverse Hyper Extension Machine

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Lower back pain is an all too common problem these days for the average office worker. Long stints in the chair, hunched over, with poor posture. It’s little wonder back ache is one of the leading complaints for desk jockeys. If just sitting for extended periods of time causes such pain, imagine what lifting hundreds of kilos in a squat or deadlift does to the lower back!

It’s this juncture between the regular Joe and the super strong that the Reverse Hyper Extension Machine takes it place. Once a niche piece of equipment, the machine is beginning to crop up in more and more gyms. Though not my new gym but that’s a personal gripe!

So what is this machine that promises to strengthen the lower back, resolve back pain and build a damn strong posterior chain? Where did it come from and, perhaps most importantly, who invented it?

What does it do?

Well if you suffer from back pain or are seeking to improve your squat or deadlift numbers, the reverse hyper extension machine promises to do a heck of a lot!

Targeting the glutes, hamstrings and lower back, the machine is a simple but effective way of strengthening the posterior chain like nothing else. Distinct from the back extension or Romanian deadlift, done correctly, this exercise is perhaps one of the most effective machines to grace the gym floor.

Though ungainly, uncomfortable and sadly uncompromising, the exercise has saved many a gym goer from a visit to the chiropractor and has in fact become a mainstay in certain lifter’s rehabilitation regimes. For those of sound body, but perhaps not sound mind, the exercise has also improved many a PR owing to its crossover into the deadlift and squat.

While the machine is still somewhat niche, it’s popularity has grown greatly since the ’80s and ’90s when the first prototypes were initiated. Indeed, so popular has the machine become that home gym lifters have begun to create their own DIY versions, so that they too can enjoy the benefits. As more and more lifters are drawn to powerlifting, weightlifting and crossfit, its likely that the machine’s popularity will only grow.

Where did it come from?

The story from traditional powerlifting lore goes as follows:

In the early 1970s, Louie Simmons, the famed world recording breaking powerlifter and founder of Westwide Barbell club, suffered a series of injuries to his back. Injuries is perhaps putting it mildly as several of these injuries involved breakages to certain vertebrae! Refusing traditional medical approaches, which included removing two discs in his back, Louie took to a series of alternative methods.

Included in this was a series of acupuncture, stretching and weighted exercises. Of interest to us was Louie’s own creation, the reverse hyper extension. Focusing primarily on the reverse hyper, Louie enjoyed a full recovery. A comeback he repeated once more in the 1980s after breaking his back yet again. Enter the Reverse Hyper Extension once more and Louie is soon setting world records with relative ease. By the early 1990s, Louie had patented his machine and began selling it to the grateful gym going masses.

Here’s the story in Louie’s own words:

There’s just one problem

While Louie is undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in the Iron Lifting game, there are reasons to believe that he merely perfected the machine, as opposed to inventing it. Several others have made claims to inventing the Reverse Hyper during the 1970s. One such individual being the Canadian coach, Tony Dolezel. Suffering from his own injuries, Dolezel invented a similar machine, which you can read about here.

Yet Dolezel was latter to admit that he was preceded by another Canadian lifter, Roger Quinn, who during the early 1970s would lie across a pommel horse and push his legs against two spotters, thereby mimicking the Reverse Hyper Extension effects (see here for a 1974 article on the topic). So who do we credit as the inventor?

Arguably no one!

As early as the 50s and 60s, bodybuilders using iron boots (detailed here), were using the weighted shoes as a means of performing reverse hyper extensions. Writing on progressive resistance training in 1950, messieurs DeLorme and Watkins featured one such example

screenshot-2017-02-06-14-23-58Thomas DeLorme and Arthur Watkins, Progressive Resistance Training, Figure 30.

Between DeLorme/Watkins and Roger Quinn we are left with the probability that the movement of the reverse hypertension machine has long been a mainstay within the fitness community.

While this perhaps casts doubts on claims that Simmons’ invented the exercise, it should take nothing away from the fact that he greatly improved upon the design, both in its functionality and accessibility.

Until next time, happy lifting!

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