Using a Roman Chair for the first time might seem a little intimidating – at first glance, it’s not immediately apparent exactly how you’re supposed to use it. But this seemingly complex piece of equipment is actually pretty simple once you get the hang of it. It’s most commonly used for building strength in your core, glutes, and postural muscles, but its use can extend to exercises that promote full body strength and conditioning. Use it on its own to cultivate improved functional movement and prevent injury, or as the perfect accessory to accompany heavier and more intense lifts. You really can’t go wrong!
Read on to dive into the benefits of incorporating a Roman Chair in your workout routine, as well as some simple exercises you can try today to start building strength.
Get to Know the Roman Chair
Hyperextension Roman Chair with Dip Station
The Roman Chair is a small, inclined weight bench that allows you to use your body weight (and other strength equipment) to work your core, glutes, and postural muscles. Common exercises that are performed on the Roman Chair are back extensions, crunches, and oblique crunches. And while these exercises are some of the most traditional Roman Chair movements, the list doesn’t stop there. Add the Roman Chair to any body weight, dumbbell, or kettlebell workout to spice up the way you do push-ups, biceps curls, triceps dips, postural exercises, and more
What are the Benefits of Using the Roman Chair?
If your goal is to build strength, you have found the right piece of equipment. The angle of the bench allows for a larger range of motion for most abdominal and back extension exercises, giving you more bang for your buck with each rep. It also requires a significant amount of core stabilization, so you can work on refining your core strength holistically.
Increase Core Strength
Build abdominal strength by using the Roman Chair for crunches or oblique crunches. You can also build strength in this area through isolated isometric holds or in addition to other exercises (see more on that below).
Improve Your Posture
Not only do back extensions aid in the quest to achieve an upright posture, but you can also perform shoulder stability exercises on the Roman Chair (i.e., I’s, Y’s, and T’s) to improve scapular retraction and mid-trapezius strength. Improving strength in these muscles combats that rounded shoulder posture that so many of us are familiar with. These types of exercises require isometric contraction of the core muscles to provide a brace for the spine as you move other parts of your body, effectively building core strength as a secondary benefit. Another win for your posture!
Build Your Glutes and Hamstrings
If you work at a desk, as so many of us do (*raises hand*), chances are you experience tight hip flexors with a side of underactive glutes. This can lead to problems down the road, such as injury and decrease in function, if not addressed proactively. Using the Roman Chair for back extensions is an effective and simple way to target these areas that need a little extra attention. The chair allows you to isolate and target the glutes and hamstrings without inadvertently using other muscles to help out with this movement.
Exercises You Can Do with the Roman Chair
Try out one or all of these exercises as part of your current training routine, and level up your strength gains!
Adjust the Roman Chair, so that when you enter the machine the chair pads are at hip height. Lie prone on the Roman Chair (facing the floor) and hook your feet under the foam rollers, feet planted firmly on the plates. Place your hands behind your head or across your chest. Tuck your pelvis forward and tighten your core. Bend forward at the hips as far as feels comfortable, then squeeze your glutes as you bring your torso back to the starting position.
Start out using bodyweight only, then gradually progress to adding weight (weight plates, dumbbells, kettlebells) if desired.
Target: Glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae (low back).
I’s, Y’s, and T’s
Start in the same position as you did for the back extensions. Keeping your torso stabilized, roll your shoulders back and down, away from your ears. Holding that position, lift both arms out in front of you and overhead, palms facing towards each other (I). Be mindful that you aren’t flaring out your ribcage or overextending through your thoracic spine. Repeat again with your arms at a 45-degree angle (looks like a Y shape), and again with your arms coming out to the side (T).
Target: Posterior rotator cuff muscles (infraspinatus and supraspinatus) and mid-traps.
Sit on the Roman Chair pads (facing away from the floor) and hook your feet under the roller pads, feet planted firmly on the plates. Place your hands behind your head or across your chest, and keep your chest open. Tuck your pelvis slightly and activate your core. Slowly extend your torso back as far as you are able to without over-arching your low back. Squeeze your abs to bring your torso back to your starting position, being mindful of not activating your hip flexors too much.
Target: Rectus Abdominus and Transverse Abdominus.
Side Plank Hold
Start as you would with a regular side plank, facing out to the side of the machine. Place your hip on the chair pad and your feet underneath the roller pads. Your feet will be pointing perpendicular to the plates. Extend your arms overhead as you use your core to hold this position.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Now that you’re pumped for your new Roman Chair exercises, take a few breaths and make sure you set yourself up for success. Here are a few road bumps that are common when using the Roman Chair – make sure you swerve to avoid them
Not Adjusting the Chair Properly to Fit Your Height
Before using your Roman Chair, take a moment and ensure the chair is set to your height. The chair pads should sit right at hip height so that your pelvis and hips are supported. Avoid adjusting it too high, where you won’t be able to fold forward properly, or too low, where your hips won’t be supported enough and potentially add unnecessary stress to your low back.
Not Taking Time to Evaluate Your Form
Before you start counting those reps, be sure to evaluate your form for each exercise. In most of these Roman Chair exercises, you will be placing a lot of stress on your body in a way that it may not be used to. This is a good thing, and the path forward towards growth, but also requires mindfulness to ensure you aren’t adding stress in a way that could be damaging. A few key things to keep in mind:
- Before initiating movement, always keep your core engaged, by pulling your belly button back towards your spine.
- Keep your shoulders pulled down and away from your ears.
- Avoid locking out your knees, always keep a soft bend in your joints.
Doing Too Much Too Soon
In general, this is an exercise rule of thumb (it’s always good to allow your body time to adjust to a new activity), but it’s especially important with the Roman Chair. In the same vein of advice as taking the time to be mindful of exercise form, also be mindful of your exercise volume. You are working your body in a different way than usual and it’s important to allow time to adapt. You may have muscular weakness or imbalances that you might not have been previously aware of, and easing into new exercises will allow you to address these issues if they pop up. Ignoring any red flags and barreling through 20 new Roman Chair exercises could potentially end in injury.
The Roman Chair doesn’t have to be the mysterious piece of equipment lurking in the corner of your gym. After becoming acquainted, it can be an excellent modality to help push you through plateaus and level up your strength training routine. If you’re a desk worker looking to improve your posture and spine health, an avid lifter who’s looking for an extra edge, or someone just starting out on your strength training journey, the Roman Chair might be just what you need.