Strengthening the lower back needs to be done with a focus on connecting all of the muscles that extend the hips. Very frequently, focusing on activating and strengthening the glutes will reduce and in some cases, completely alleviate lower back pain. I find this exercise works particularly well for sacroiliac joint problems. The reverse hyperextension is one of the top exercises I use for this. You can perform reverse hyperextensions without a bench. In the video below, I will show you how to do this with a swiss ball.
Watch this video to learn how to perform it. Be sure to pay attention to the details, as they make ALL the difference!
Did you notice the focus on STARTING the movement from the Glutes??
Seriously, this can mean the difference between the reverse hyper extension causing lower back discomfort and it being a great exercise for your lower back pain. What we are trying to correct here is called Faulty Hip Extension. This is were you are turning on the muscles in your posterior chain in an inappropriate order. This movement is distinctly different from the 45 degree hyperextension bench, and I prefer to start with the reverse version first.
Using a Reverse Hyperextension Machine or Bench
The bench version is commonly done with a unit designed by Louie Simmons. It has a pendulum that attaches to the bench so that you can add weight as the exercise becomes easy. Its really great if you have one, but if not, a high bench can be used with the same results.
Setting Up On the Reverse Hyper Bench
When setting yourself up on the bench, you will want to make sure that your ASIS bones (which are the bones on the front of your pelvis) are just AT the edge of the bench. This will allow for a bit of traction on the lumbar spine as your legs drop straight down. You will get a gentle stretch of the lumbar muscles at L-5/S-1 by doing this.
To initiate the movement, as stated in the video above, start by squeezing your glutes as you lift your legs in the air. You should think about pushing those ASIS bones into the bench, which will automatically help you use your glutes. You will ONLY go as high as you can extend your hips, which will be determined by how much psoas tension you have.
As an additional tip to make the reverse hyperextension more effective, allow your legs to turn outward slightly. This is a natural motion the glutes perform, and will enhance the contraction and improve range of motion. Avoid letting your knees bend. This encourages the hamstrings, and reduces focus on the glutes. Do NOT force them straight, just avoid deliberately contracting your hamstrings to bend your knees.