A Roman chair is a piece of exercise equipment used to strengthen the muscles of the back, legs, and core. An apparatus for performing bodyweight exercises, the Roman chair pins the lower body in place during movements involving hinging or bending at the waist or hips. Roman chair exercises typically focus on the muscles of the lower back. With small variations in form, however, that focus can be shifted to the muscles of the posterior thigh and hips like the hamstrings and glutes. Other popular Roman chair exercises work the internal and external obliques in the abdomen and the quadratus lumborum, a muscle found along the sides of the waist.
Roman chair exercises are intended to be performed in the prone, or face-down, and side-lying positions. This apparatus is designed so that the body is pinned in place at a 45-degree angle with the hips and upper thighs resting on an angled pad at the top of the chair and the lower legs held under a roller pad near the bottom of the chair. In the prone position, therefore, the front of the hips and upper thighs would be pressed against the upper pads and the lower calves would be pressed against the roller pads with the feet resting on an angled metal platform. The upper pads can be adjusted to the height of the user by lifting or lowering the pads so that the tops of the pads line up with the tops of the hips.
Of the possible Roman chair exercises, the lower back extension is perhaps the most popular. Performed in the prone position, it involves lowering one’s upper body toward the floor by bending forward from the waist and then contracting the muscles of the lower back to raise the torso back up until the body is in a straight line and spine extended. Hyperextension of the spine, or arching the back at the top of the movement, is generally not recommended, particularly for those with a spinal joint injury.
A variation of the lower back extension, one that is considered safer for individuals with a disc injury or other spinal injury, involves performing the same motion but lifting and lowering from the hips rather than from the waist. This version requires contracting the glutes and hamstrings in the back of the hips and thighs to extend or straighten the hips rather than overstressing the muscles of the lower back. To do so, the exerciser maintains a straight or extended spine throughout the entire range of motion with abdominals drawn in and bends from the hips to lower the upper body toward the floor. He then actively squeezes the gluteal muscles to lift the torso back up until the body is aligned with the legs.
Other Roman chair exercises train the muscles along the sides of the abdomen and lower back, the obliques and the quadratus lumborum. A basic version is the side crunch, which involves lateral trunk flexion, or bending sideways at the waist. To perform this exercise, the user positions himself in the chair facing sideways with his weight on the bottom leg and top leg resting lightly atop of the bottom leg. The side of the hip rests against the chair’s upper pads, and the hips should be stacked — neither tilted forward nor tilted backward. Without moving the hips against the pads, the user then bends sideways from the waist so that his bottom shoulder moves toward the floor and, contracting the muscles on the top side of the abdomen, straightens the torso back up until the body is again aligned with the legs.