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Specificity of a Back Muscle Roman Chair Exercise in Healthy and Back Pain Subjects


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: January 2011 - Volume 43 - Issue 1 - p 157-164
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181e96388
Applied Sciences

Purpose: Roman chair exercises are popular for improving back muscle endurance but do not specifically target back muscles. This study aimed to determine whether an adaptation of the Roman chair exercise would induce more fatigue in back muscles than in hip extensors.

Methods: For this study, 16 healthy subjects and 18 patients with nonspecific chronic low back pain performed trunk flexion-extension cycles until exhaustion in a Roman chair with hips flexed at 40°. Surface EMG signals were recorded bilaterally on four back muscles and two hip extensors (gluteus maximus and biceps femoris). Motion analysis of the trunk segments (pelvis, lumbar, and thoracic spines) was also carried out.

Results: In both groups, EMG revealed clear evidence of muscle fatigue for the gluteus maximus, less clear evidence of fatigue for the lower back muscles, and motor unit recruitment (without fatigue) for the upper back muscles and biceps femoris. A change of muscle activation pattern was emphasized throughout the exercise bout, with some lower back muscles showing an increase followed by a decrease or leveling off of activation and with upper back muscles showing an increased activation at the end. Kinematic analyses revealed a progressive decrease (11°) in the lumbar range of motion (ROM) and a progressive increase in hip (2°) and thoracic (7°) ROM during the exercise bout.

Conclusions: Roman chairs allow more freedom to change the kinematics of the spine during the exercise (less lumbar and more thoracic motion) to delay lower back muscle fatigue by sharing the load between the lower and upper back muscles. Even with adaptations to reduce hip extensors fatigue, this may make this exercise not as specific as wanted for fatiguing lower back muscles.

1Occupational Health and Safety Research Institute Robert-Sauvé, Montreal, Quebec, CANADA; 2Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation of Greater Montreal, Montreal Rehabilitation Institute, Montreal, Quebec, CANADA; 3Centre for Research in Health Sciences, School of Physical Therapy, Universidade Norte do Parana, Londrina, BRAZIL; and 4School of Rehabilitation, Faculty of Medicine, University of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, CANADA

Address for correspondence: Christian Larivière, Ph.D., Occupational Health and Safety Research Institute Robert-Sauvé, 505 boul. De Maisonneuve Ouest, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 3C2; E-mail:

Submitted for publication February 2010.

Accepted for publication May 2010.

©2011The American College of Sports Medicine