What Is the Roman Chair?
Lie face down on the chair to target your back and buttocks.
Chances are, you've probably seen the Roman chair in the gym and just never known its proper name. It features two pads: one higher and larger to support your hip region and a lower, smaller pad under which you hook your legs for leverage.
Most often, people lie face down on the chair, with heels hooked under the back pad, and hinge up and down from their hips to target the lower back. But you can vary your position to target the glutes, hamstrings and abdominals, too.
Strengthen Your Abs
To work your abdominal muscles with the Roman chair, sit on the top pad of the Roman chair, hook the tops of your feet under the lower pad and raise and lower your torso.
For a more advanced exercise, try the Roman chair twist. For this move, sit on the top bench of the Roman chair and hook your feet under the smaller pad. Hold a medicine ball, weight plate or dumbbell extended out in front of your chest. Lean back until you feel your abs brace to keep you supported and slowly twist side to side.
Ab exercises with the Roman chair do use your abdominal muscles as stabilizers, but require notable action from your hip flexors. If your hip flexors become too tight or strong, you could develop back pain.
Don't have a Roman chair? Improvise!
You can simulate a Roman chair by sitting on the long side of a workout bench, extending your legs out in front of you with your feet hooked under a heavy bar. Then, raise and lower your torso to perform the "sit-up."
Target Your Back Muscles
But the Roman chair isn't just for your ab muscles. You can strengthen your back muscles, too, which are also part of your core.
Lie face down on the chair, hook your heels under the foot pad and lift and lower your torso to perform what's known as the back extension. Back extensions help build endurance in the muscles of the lumbar spine, according to a 2002 study published in the journal "Spine."
To ensure you're working just your back, position your body so that your hips lie directly on top of the upper pad. Begin with your back parallel to the floor and move slowly to bend at the hips and lower the trunk toward the floor. Avoid rounding the spine — keep it in a straight line from the top of the head to the hips.
Quick movements and moving beyond parallel at the top of a back extension can lead to back pain or injury, especially if you're new to the exercise.
You'll also see people hold a weight plate across their chest to add resistance as they lift and lower their torso. This could put an excessive load on the spine and cause injury. The lower back is designed to stabilize the body in an upright position, not bear extra weight, according to Britton Taylor, D.C.
Focus on the Glutes and Hamstrings
Lastly, you can use the Roman chair to work your lower-body muscles, too. When you position the hips just forward of the pad so they readily flex and extend as you perform the back extension, you'll activate your glutes and hamstrings along with your lower back. You'll feel your glutes contract as they squeeze to raise and lower your torso.
Always adjust the Roman chair to fit your height and the length of your torso. Talk to a fitness professional or physical therapist for tips on the best adjustments for you.
Andrea Boldt has been in the fitness industry for more than 20 years. A personal trainer, run coach, group fitness instructor and master yoga teacher, she also holds certifications in holistic and fitness nutrition.