I’ll be honest, I regularly use various Back Extensions, Good Mornings, and RDLs interchangeably.
All 3 exercises strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, and low back to varying degrees, so it made a lot of sense to me.
However, that all changed recently when I read a paper that was just published.
And let me tell you- it will forever change how I program hip extension exercises.
The Paper- Are All Hip Extension Exercises Created Equal?
Without going into detail, the authors do some biomechanical calculations to determine where the most tension is on the hips for the following exercises:
1. A Good Morning.
2. A 45-degree Back Extension.
3. A Horizontal Back Extension.
Essentially what they demonstrated is that the torque on the hip is greatest in different positions for each exercise.
The torque is highest on the hips at the bottom of the Good Morning.
And it makes sense when you look at it, right?
The most difficult part of the Good Morning is at the bottom. Once you get the bar moving, you’re usually good to go.
The torque is highest on the hips during the middle portion of the 45-degree Back Extension. The “middle portion” for the sake of this paper was measured as 135-degrees.
According to the picture in the paper it’s essentially when your chest is parallel to the ground.
And when you think about it, it makes sense. This position is more difficult to hold than the top or the bottom, right?
Finally, the torque is highest on the hips at the top of the Horizontal Back Extension. Again, think about where it’s most difficult to hold. The top, when you’re parallel to the ground, right?
Alright, I know what you’re thinking- cool Dickie, I know how to feel the burn better with these exercises. But how can I use this info to make me a better wrestler?
Personalizing Your Plan
Here are some scenarios. If you’re getting stuck under an opponent after a shot and end up in an extended position like one of these two situations:
Then you should consider an increased usage of the Good Morning. According to the paper, the Good Morning will better mimic the torque at your hips in the two scenarios above.
If you’re having trouble in body lock situations or breaking an opponent down when riding legs, consider the 45-degree Back Extension.
And finally, if you’re not able to maintain a good sprawl and as a result keep getting scored on after you stop your opponent’s shot, then give the Horizontal Back Extension a try.
**Special thanks to Ryan Beckhorn for stepping in for these photos. Ryan, who grew up down the road from me, was a NYS Finalist back in the day. He was also the long-time high school drill partner of the great Troy Nickerson.
If you’re really looking to improve the force you produce with your sprawl, based on the information presented in the article, I think it’s safe to assume that Reverse Hypers may be another good option.
Here’s a video of me performing a Band Reverse Hyper:
If you don’t have a Reverse Hyper at your disposal, here are two alternatives that may work for you.
First, you can use a Glute Ham Raise, which is more common in gyms than a Reverse Hyper.
The second is to use a bench. If you use a bench, the best way to provide resistance is through Manual Resistance. To do this, simply have a partner provide resistance on the way up as your raise your legs. Additionally, have your partner press your legs back down as you resist them. It creates constant tension and is a great way to really tax a muscle.
Here’s a video of me providing Manual Resistance to my wife Laura, while she wears some pretty snazzy pants!
Although the range of motion is limited, the torque on the hips is still maximal at the top. This makes it a great option to improve hip strength for sprawling.
Listen, I don’t think this should be a call to over-examine the various aspects of wrestling and try to specialize your program in every way possible.
It’s simply meant to bring to your attention that while it may seem like these exercises can be used interchangeably, there’s a better way to add them in your program.
So, with that, here’s my challenge to you- think about specific areas you may be struggling with in wrestling and decide which of the 3 exercises above may help you.
Then make the necessary adjustments to whatever program you may be using and see how your performance improves.
As far as sets and reps go, I’d stick with about 4 sets for 6-8 reps. Rather than looking to increase your volume, look to push the weight up. This is especially helpful since high levels of strength are what’s needed to score in the position(s).
Additionally, because you’re looking to train your hips to produce more force in a specific area, consider adding a 2-second hold to the most difficult part of the exercise. For example- a 2-second hold with your chest parallel to the ground when using a 45-degree back extension.
Contreras, B., J. Cronin, B. Schoenfeld, R. Nates, G. Sonmez. Are all hip extension exercises created equal? Strength and Conditioning Journal. 0(0), 1-6. 2013.