I was working with a personal training client recovering from low back issues yesterday and I instructed her on the quadraped hip extension exercise. This is definitely a favorite of mine which is usually done incorrectly. I instructed the exercise and talked about it’s importance and she revealed that she knew the exercise was good, but did not “feel it” like she would with other exercises making her skeptical. I think that is often a problem as we always want to feel what’s working or have some kind of burning sensation to know it’s effective. In situations like this it is critical to educate the client on why you chose the exercise, what muscles does it work, and what to expect.
To properly execute the quadraped hip extenstion, start in the quadraped position (on all fours- knees under hips, and hands under shoulders). Use a mirror for visual feedback so you can view the entire length of the body from head to toe. Find a neutral spine position and draw in the belly button to lock in this position. Once you have achieved this starting point, extend the hip back as far as you can while maintaining a neutral spine. This is where this exercise goes wrong!! The goal isn’t to get the leg as high as possible but just far enough before you lose a straight spine. Also, make sure you are staying centered and don’t lean over the support leg.
The muscles being working during the quadraped hip extension are the spinal extensors including the longissimus, iliocostalis, spinales, and multifidii. Stuart McGill discusses this exercise in detail in his book Low Back Disorders and reveals it causes significantly less lumbar spine compressive forces (<2500N) compared to prone lumbar extension exercises (>6000N), concluding it is safer, especially during low back rehabilitation. Below you will find a video to demonstrate this exercise. Note the use of a broomstick to give feedback on positioning of the spine.