I used to throw my back out 2 or 3 times per year. It was usually from cumulative overuse of my back muscles. I’d get a sudden pain in my lower back, which would make any back movement painful for 2-5 days. Then I saw a Roman chair at a gym, and I thought, “hey, that would work the exact muscles that get sore when I throw my back out”. So I started using it regularly. At first, I would just do extensions with my hands on my head. As this became easier, I started holding weights to my chest. After about a year, I could safely do extensions while holding 70 pounds/32 kg to my chest. And I’m no muscleman; I’m 6’ tall and weigh 170 lb/77 kg.
Anyway, I feel this exercise is the one that has had the most benefit for me. No more backaches, and I can dive into any back-twisting work without fear.
So why is the Roman chair unloved? There’s never more than one, and it’s always tucked into a back corner of a gym, and I never see anyone using one.
Not sure. I belong to a chain and have been to a dozen of their locations and they all have one. I use it every other day in conjunction with crunches on cardio days.
A couple years back I had a bulging disc that nothing seemed to help with and was given the advice to build the core muscles around the lower back to take duty off the spine.
Seemed to have worked since I really don’t have any current back issues to speak of.
There are also machines which can do the same exercise. The machine typically has you sit on it with a bar against your upper back and something to lock your feet into. You set the weight to whatever you want and lean back to lift the weight. People may be using that machine for the convenience aspect.
Or there are rowing machines that exercise the same muscles, plus more such as arms, traps, neck. I think the roman chair isn’t as popular because there are no adjustments to add/subtract resistance. Unless you carry quarters and hold them against your chest.
I also think another reason is that it has a lesser coolness factor than machines do. But there are many types of lifts that can be done with just your body weight. And when you travel or camp, you’re better prepared to stay at places without gyms.
It is a good machine and most gyms have one. You are right people use it less than many other machines. Not sure it is the least used machine in the gym though.
The first reason is that most lifters overemphasize working on the arms and chest. Novices often do not do enough leg exercises, back exercises to counterbalance the chest, or any overhead lifting or loaded carries.
Some lifters are essentially interested in powerlifting and do mainly variations of squats, presses and deadlifts; older lifters like this often scorn most machines except racks.
Third, some gyms have limited space and prefer similar machines which allow back extensions or raises which better stress the hamstrings by shortening the axial moment arm.
Fourth, many people think the back can be worked sufficiently doing rows, shrugs and deadlifts. That depends on ones goals, but isolation exercises are often helpful. Exercises for rehabilitation sometimes differ from ones to build strength or size.
Still, if one has limited time they may prefer other back exercises. You can add some resistance but far less than on rows or deadlifts. Probably most people do not think of it as an abdominal exercise - though it is.
I used to suffer lower back pain twenty years ago and went to a “Physician’s Neck and Back Clinic” that emphasized exercises with machines designed to target specific back muscles. After a month of using their specialized equipment I was discharged and told that the one exercise I needed to do on my own to prevent reoccurring pain is the Roman Chair. I’ve used it regularly since and have not had any back problems.
My one issue with it is that as I’ve gotten older I’ve developed a problem with dizziness for a few minutes after I use it.
A quick web search shows a poll of UK gym owners saying the least used equipment includes recumbent bikes, agility ladders, bosu and Swiss balls, ski ergs and TRX. Though this list may not be representative of all gyms. One might add climbing ropes, specialty benching and squat bars, sit up benches, paralette bars, weighted vests and gadgets to work the hand or wrist. I remember when most guns had neck machines, now few do.
A quick web search shows a poll of UK gym owners saying the least used equipment includes recumbent bikes, agility ladders, bosu and Swiss balls, ski ergs and TRX. Though this list is not representative of all gyms (never been in one with a ski machine). One might add climbing ropes, specialty benching and squat bars, sit up benches, paralette bars, weighted vests and gadgets to work the hand or wrist. I remember when most guns had neck machines, now few do. Too bad.
Many people do not like exercises that are really hard work, look soft or do not work the “mirror muscles”. Plenty of people are intimidated by barbells or even machines, stick to treadmills or never use their gym membership.
I’ve always referred to the exercise illustrated in the OP as the ‘hyperextension’ (as opposed to the equipment it’s being performed on, which I’ve heard called a ‘Roman chair’, and a ‘hyperextension machine’). Other exercises that can be performed on it include ‘Roman chair situps’, where you’re facing upwards, with the shins pressed against the cylinder at the bottom.
That said, the Roman chair in my gym gets a fair amount of use. I use it for hyperextensions every workout, as part of an abdominal routine. Similar to Yosh99, I got into the habit after a lower back injury years ago. AIUI the hyperextension offers unique benefits because it’s basically the only exercise that offers resistance to the lower back muscles in the fully flexed position.
A piece of equipment I find much more rare is for the ‘Roman chair squat’. It presses against the backs of the calves and the tops of the insteps (while keeping the upper body upright), allowing you to bend your knees into a squat which intensely isolates the upper thighs (similar to a Sissy squat). It’s more of an arcane bodybuilding movement.
Well this was an interesting discovery. I clicked on this thread, thinking I knew what a Roman chair was, and then read the OP and thought “That’s what a Roman chair is? I thought a Roman chair was this.” And it turns out that it is. It’s both of those. And why we couldn’t come up with different names for two completely different pieces of gym equipment is beyond me.
Anyways, to answer your OP, I saw it used pretty frequently when I went to the gym, but I started exclusively using my home gym about, oh, I don’t know, ten years ago? So maybe it’s dropped out of fashion.
A few other ideas: You mention that it has had the most benefit because you stopped having backaches, which leads to the question of why most people at your gym go there. If you’re a competitive power-lifter, for example, the back extension isn’t one of the lifts you’ll be doing. If you’re there mainly for vanity and trying to train your glamor muscles, not many people swoon over lower back muscles. If you’re trying to join the thousand pound club, you’ll be focusing on your squat/deadlift/bench, not your back extensions.
Lastly, back when I would go to the gym and used to do back extensions, I remember there was some disagreement within the community about whether back hyper-extensions (added the word hyper, because the fundamental disagreement was over whether you should go through the full range of motion, or stop once your shoulders were parallel with your hips) were good for your back or not. Some trainers would say it was good and strengthened your back, but others would say that it was putting your back in an unnatural position and putting a lot of strain on it. If a person does have lower back pain, they might deliberately avoid the machine because they’re concerned that the machine would aggravate their back pain. And according to the experts, it’s arguably possible to use the machine in such a way that it DOES aggravate lower back pain, so they might have good reason to avoid it.
This sounds accurate to me. I suspect that the issue here is that many of these items are mobile. The squat rack and treadmill are always going to be in the same spot, but if you want to use some TRX bands or an agility ladder, they’re probably lying on the floor in a new spot in the gym every time you go, and you’ll have to hunt around to find them. Personally, I started using the Bosu ball and TRX bands a lot more once I transitioned to working out at home, and I always knew where to find these items.
[/quote]I don’t doubt it’s possible to use the machine in a way that aggravates the lower back, but it has definitely helped me alleviate my lower back problems.
Some background: I suffered a bad muscle spasm in my lower back over thirty years ago while deadlifting. After recovering, I adopted an abdominal routine of four or five exercises together, one of which is the hyperextenstion. The routine is based on one I saw in a magazine by former bodybuilding champion Frank Zane, who claimed that the lower back is strengthened by being trained along with the rest of the abdomen. I do this routine before every workout.
When I do hyperextensions, I have my waist and feet at approximately the same height, and I only raise my shoulders to this same height. I have seen people perform the exercise with the feet higher than the waist, or holding a weight plate behind their head. I avoid these variations because they seem to put more stress on the lower back.
This has worked for me, but as always, YMMV. The lower back is a complicated area, and can experience a wide variety of problems.
The back is a tricky thing; it gets plenty of stress in people who do basic squats and deadlifts. But deadlifting with a rounded back is a serious error that can lead to slipped disks - here form matters more than load. Many gym lifters also fail to fill their stomachs with air to protect their back (pushing against the belt if using one). Abdominal exercises often work the back, of course.
Doing back extensions stresses the lower back in an acceptable way - the healthy adult spine can handle a lot of vertical force (several hundred kilograms of mass). With body weight nothing will happen, and holding a dumbbell does not really increase the load that much (so I do not do it as it is bothersome but not very beneficial). What is pretty bad for the lower back is rapid loaded twisting - which people used to do on sit-up benches but is no longer much seen.
I remember seeing that at the gym and not knowing what it was for. I don’t remember it being mentioned in my PE class, and it seems a bit less obvious by itself than other equipment. I wonder if some people just don’t know about it.
You’d think that, with all the backache issues everyone has, this sort of machine would be one that would get used a lot—heck, that you’d frequently see home versions advertised on TV.