The Roman chair might just be the most controversial piece of gym equipment. For some, it’s the ideal way to strengthen the core muscles. Others will warn you to avoid Roman chairs, citing a high risk of injury and back pain.
All this conflicting advice probably has you wondering if a Roman chair is a good piece of equipment for your home gym. The truth is, Roman chair exercise is a great way to build muscle and can actually relieve back pain when done correctly.
Want to learn more? Read on to learn the right way to use a Roman chair and how to pick the best one for your home gym.
What Is a Roman Chair?
The Roman chair is a stationary piece of equipment with two main components: a flat pad for your torso and a pair of leg pads. You may also hear it called a Roman bench, a Glute Ham Developer, or a hyperextension bench, after the main workouts that use them.
Whatever you call it, the Roman chair is a versatile piece of equipment. Adjusting the height and angle of the groin pad and leg rests lets you use it for a wide range of exercises.
Many of these are aimed at the erector spinae (the group of muscles running along your spine) while others focus on the hamstrings, glutes, or abdominals. Add weights and you can easily get a whole-body workout.
What is a Roman Chair Used For?
The most common use are Roman chair back extensions. This exercise works the glutes, abdominals, and lower back muscles, and is an efficient way to improve your overall core strength.
Changing your positioning or the height of the groin and leg rests lets you target specific core muscles, as well. Roman chair sit ups and twists are popular variations on the classic hyperextension as a way to tone your abs into six-pack shape.
Many Roman chairs also have handles on the side of the groin rest. This further expands its capabilities, adding workouts like dips and incline push-ups to the list of exercises you can do with it.
Benefits of Roman Chairs
- They help relieve back pain. Roman chairs allow you more freedom to adjust your posture during your workouts, allowing all the muscles of your back to share the load. This reduces lower back fatigue and lets you strengthen your back without over-working it. 
- They improve your posture. Those who sit at a desk most of the day often suffer from poor posture caused by muscle imbalances. Strengthening your back muscles can correct posture problems, preventing future aches and pain.
- You can adjust them to fit your size and shape. Even people who are more than 6 feet tall can use a Roman chair comfortably. Most use a stainless steel design that supports 300 pounds or more
- They’re compact and lightweight. Roman chairs take up even less space than weight benches. Some are even foldable so you can store them out of sight in a closet or under the furniture. This is perfect for those who don’t have the luxury of a dedicated home gym.
Is a Roman Chair Worth It?
The design of a Roman chair is relatively simple. This means they’re more affordable than more complex weight training machines or exercise equipment like treadmills and ellipticals. Combined with the versatility, this makes it a very worthwhile investment for most home gyms.
Competitive lifters have used Roman chairs to train since the early 20th century, when it was popularized by strongman Sig Klein. They’re an effective low-tech way to train without using a ton of space or equipment. That alone makes them worth the investment.
That said, no exercise equipment is the perfect fit for everybody. People who shouldn’t use Roman chairs include:
- Those with existing back injuries. While Roman chairs strengthen the back muscles, they can put a lot of strain on them in the process. Those who have suffered spinal injuries should check with their doctor before using a Roman chair.
- Workout beginners. Having complete freedom of movement is a double-edged sword. It’s great if you know what you’re doing, but there’s nothing to prevent you from jerking and overextending, resulting in strains and pulls. Most injuries from Roman chairs are the result of bad form. If you’re a newcomer, you may want to get some spotting and coaching from a trainer before getting a Roman chair for your home.
Which Roman Chair is Best?
You’ll find a lot of different Roman chairs on the market. For those who aren’t gym equipment experts, choosing the right one for your needs can be tricky. If you need help narrowing down your options, check out the reviews below of the three best Roman chairs out there.
The Marcy Adjustable Hyperextension Roman Chair is the best roman chair for home gyms. Its durable stainless steel tubing construction is a great value at the price. You can set it up in about 15 minutes, and it’s compact enough to use in small spaces like studio apartments.
What we really love about the Marcy Adjustable Roman Chair is its versatility. Adjustable leg holders allow you to use the bench for a range of different exercises. They make it more comfortable to use, too, no matter what workout you’re doing.
- Durable steel tube framing construction
- High-density foam padding on handles and leg holders
- Adjustable ankle pad height
- Won’t sway or slip during use
- Compact design easy to move and store
This fully-adjustable Roman chair from Stamina is a comfortable workout bench for users of any height and build. Both the groin rest and the leg holder can be moved to suit your needs. You’ll also appreciate the easy to reach hand grips and foam-padded leg and groin rests.
When you’re done with your workout, the Stamina Hyper Bench has a foldable frame and can get flat enough to slide under the bed. This is great news for those in cramped apartments or tiny homes, and makes it one of the best Roman chairs for convenience.
- Foldable design can be stored anywhere
- Groin rest and leg holder are both adjustable
- Durable vinyl upholstery is easy to clean
- Pivoting high-density foam rollers
- Non-slip footrests keep it secure during workouts
The leikefitness Deluxe Home Gym Workout Station is the best all-in-one home gym for a whole body workout. You can adjust the height and angle of the foot holder and groin rest. When you’re done, the whole thing folds down flat, with wheels for easier transportation.
You’ll get more exercise options with the leikefitness Deluxe Home Gym and that’s it’s primary strength. Its unique design allows you to do squats and similar leg workouts, along with the standard exercise Roman chair owners look for.
- Heavy-duty steel frame supports up to 330lbs
- Adjustable height and angle on leg holder and backrest
- Resists slipping and swaying during use
- Arrives fully-assembled
- Foldable and wheeled for moving and storing
Choosing the Best Roman Chair
Still not sure how to pick the right hyperextension bench? Let’s take a look at the most important features to consider when you’re deciding which one to buy.
Some models only have an adjustable leg rest, while others also let you control the height and angle of the groin pad. More adjustment options allow it to accommodate a wider range of users, and make them useful for more variety of exercises.
User comfort is about more than the quality of the padding, though that does play a role. It’s also about how safe you feel using the Roman chair. A no-slip base prevents skids and swaying so you can workout worry-free. Most models also have a handle on the groin rest that makes it easier to get into position for your exercises.
The stainless steel tubing used in all three models above is sturdy enough to support most users. That said, the maximum weight capacity of home Roman chairs can vary, from around 250 pounds on the low end to 330 pounds or more for heftier models.
If you don’t have a lot of space, a folding model is ideal. You’ll only need to clear a space for it when you plan to use it and can stash it out of sight the rest of the time. Some models also have built-in wheels so you can move it from place to place more easily.
Most home Roman benches require some assembly out of the box. For some, that’s just attaching the leg pads and unfolding the frame, while others will need to be assembled piece-by-piece. If you’re the type of person who struggles to put together an Ikea bookshelf, you’ll probably want to go with a model that’s mostly complete when it arrives.
Is a Roman Chair Bad for Your Back?
As we mentioned above, Roman chairs can actually have significant benefits for your back health, improving your posture and alleviating lower back pain.
So why do they have such a bad reputation for causing back problems and injuries? Mostly because people do the exercises wrong. If you use the correct back extension technique, a hyperextension bench is a safe, effective way to work your core.
Tips for Safely Using A Hyperextension Bench
- Use slow, controlled movements. Fast, jerking motions are the most common cause of injury during back extensions. Moving slowly will also give you a better workout.
- Don’t over-extend. When you hear “hyperextension”, you might be tempted to arch up as far as possible. This puts too much strain on the back muscles and is another common source of injuries. At full extension, your body should form a straight line from your head down to your feet. Working out in front of a mirror can be a good way to check your extension until you get the feel for it.
- Keep your core muscles locked. Since there’s nothing on the machine keeping your body rigid, you have to do it yourself. Locking your core keeps your spine correctly aligned to reduce the risk of injury (and helps prevent the jerking motions we warned against above).
- Stop if you feel light-headed. When your head is lower than the rest of your body, blood can rush into your brain and cause a head rush. This can make you feel dizzy, and can even cause fainting and black-outs in extreme cases. Take a break at the first sign of light-headedness to avoid injury.
- Hold weights across your chest, not behind your head. Adding weights to your exercises increases the resistance and builds muscle faster. Your neck shouldn’t be bearing the brunt of the weight, though, and that’s what happens when you hold weights behind your head. Clasping the weights across your chest gives you a more secure grip and centers the weight in your core, preventing strains and injury.
How to Use a Roman Chair
There are a lot of different ways to do a Roman chair workout depending on which muscles you’re hoping to target. Let’s look at some of the most popular exercises to get you started.
Roman Chair Back Extensions
Back extensions are the best exercise for strengthening the erector spinae and relieving lower back pain. You can also add weight as you progress for a more intense core workout.
- Position the groin and leg pads so they’re in line with each other then mount the machine face-down, with your hips resting on the groin pad and your ankles or calves braced under the leg pad.
- Cross your arms over your chest or place your hands by your ears. Don’t clasp them behind your head, as this can put extra strain on your neck.
- Lower your body and relax, then clench your core and extend your body until your torso is in a straight line with your legs.
- Lower your body as far as you can reach while staying flexed.
- Repeat in sets of 10-15 lifts per rep.
Roman Chair Twist
Adding a twist works the external obliques as well as the core and lower back. Start without any added weight until you’re confident in your technique. Once you’re comfortable with the exercise, holding a weight at arm’s length during the twist adds an upper-body component as well as increasing your ab workout.
- Adjust the leg pads to be in-line with the groin pad. Sit on the groin pad and brace the tops of your ankles under the leg pad.
- Engage your core and lean back as far as you can. While you don’t want to hyper-extend, the closer you can get to parallel with the ground, the better the workout will be.
- Slowly twist to one side and then the other. A full rep is complete when you’ve returned to center after twisting both ways.
- Repeat for 8-10 reps per set.
Roman Chair Sit Up
Roman chair situps are kind of like the inverse of the back extension above. Instead of using your back muscles, though, your abs are engaged to lift your body. That’s why a Roman sit up chair is among the best gym equipment for sculpting washboard abs.
- Adjust the leg pads so they’re on the lowest possible setting.
- Sit on the groin pad and brace the tops of your ankles under the leg pads.
- Cross your arms over your chest and engage your core, then slowly lower yourself down as far as you can. Ideally, your upper body should be at a 45 degree angle to upright, or roughly in a straight line with your legs.
- Raise yourself back to upright and repeat for 10-15 reps.
Like with the back extensions, you can add weight to increase the resistance. Simply hold a weight plate or dumbbell across your chest while you do the Roman chair sit ups.
Roman Chair Glutes Ham Developer
This exercise is especially effective at toning the muscles of your upper legs, in addition to your glutes. Because it’s slightly more difficult to get into the correct position, you’ll want to have experience with basic exercises like back extensions before attempting this workout.
- Position the groin pad and leg pad in line with each other. If you can, adjust the distance so they’re as close together as possible.
- Brace your quads against the groin pad and secure the backs of your ankles under the leg pads. Your weight should be braced against your legs, with your hips positioned slightly over the pad.
- Cross your arms over your chest then lower your body as far as you can.
- Lift your body back to the starting position by pushing your ankles against the leg pads and engaging your glutes.
- Repeat in reps of 10-12 lifts, with at least a 30-second break between sets.
Isometric Glute Hold
A hold can be a great way to work your muscles without putting extra strain on your joints with up and down motions. As you get stronger, you can extend the length of the hold or add weight.
- Position the leg pads and groin pad in a direct line with each other, then mount the machine face-down with your hips slightly over the edge of the pad. Most of your weight should be braced against your quads.
- Cross your arms over your chest and engage your core, then lift your body into a fully-extended position. Your body should form a straight line from your head down to your feet.
- Once you’re in position, extend your arms out in front of you.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Bring your arms back in toward your chest, then slowly lower your body down to where you started.
What’s the Bottom Line?
A Roman chair can be an excellent addition to your home gym—as long as you know the right way to use it. Follow the tips and exercise recommendations above to stay safe and get the most out of your new equipment. If you want perfect posture and washboard abs, a Roman chair is arguably the best way to go about it.