Common Back Extension Mistakes & Fixes – Muscle & Fitness

There’s a movement term that Original Strength’s Tim Anderson came up with: good, better, and better. Even when a movement is done badly, it’s still good because the whole movement beats sitting on the couch. But the number of times I’ve seen athletes make back extension mistakes over the years tests Tim’s ethics.

The back extension exercise, when done correctly, targets the muscles of the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings through a wide range of motion, allowing for increased strength and hypertrophy. And it’s a highly versatile exercise that can be loaded in multiple ways to build size and strength.

The problem is that this exercise is either overlooked for much more TikTok-worthy exercises or just sloppily performed. Proper form works best with back extension.

Here we’ll learn how to do this great exercise, what’s necessary, and some common back extension mistakes that keep you from getting the most out of it.

How to do bodyweight back extension

  1. Secure your feet on the back extension machine with your hips on top of the pad.
  2. Cross your arms over your chest.
  3. Then keep your chest up and shoulders down and slowly lower your upper body until you feel a big stretch in your hamstrings.
  4. Be aware not to round your lower back.
  5. Stand up using your glutes and lower back until your body lines up with your legs.
  6. Reset and repeat.

What is needed for good shape

There isn’t much to back extension, and after watching a YouTube video or two, you too can snag some good reps on the back extension machine. It is an easily progressable, regressive and beneficial exercise for all lifters. Because you can’t have enough lumbar strength and buttocks.

  • Setup is vital to this exercise; this simple step trips up some lifters. Make sure your heels are locked in and your pelvis is NOT on the pad.
  • Neutral spine throughout range of motion because if you’re flexing and extending your lower back, you’re not working the intended muscles.
  • Some thoracic (upper back) range of motion is required to lift the chest and lower the shoulders to help put you into good lifting posture.
  • Go slow, not fast. Some exercises are designed to be done quickly, but the Back Extension exercise is not one of them. You want to feel the muscles work.

4 common mistakes in back extension

While it’s a simple move, mistakes can still be made that detract from this exercise. Here are four things NOT to do when doing this great lower back and glutes exercise.

Female performing a back extension
Boyan Milinkov

Artificial range of motion

With exercises targeting the lower back and glutes, there’s a temptation to hyperextend the lower back for greater range of motion. This is a big no-no because if you keep doing it, your lower back will let you know in certain terms that it’s not working properly. When you feel it more in your lower back than in your buttocks, that’s a sign you’re going too far.

Fix it: Finish the range of motion with the glutes giving them a good squeeze before the approach lock. This will make sure you don’t go too far.

Too much momentum

The back extension is not a 1RM exercise but adds muscle building volume to the glutes and lower back. It’s best to perform with control and feeling your glutes and hamstrings rather than using momentum. Better here to focus on tension and not on speed.

Fix it: It’s easy to say slow down, which you should, but doing back extension with tempo, say three seconds eccentric and concentric with a three second glute squeeze (3033 tempo), will do the trick.

Fit female doing back extension errors
Boyan Milinkov

Know the difference between your hips and your back

Like the hunting dog exercise, some lifters have trouble distinguishing between hip and lower back extension. Knowing how to pivot at the hip joint rather than the lumbar spine is vital to doing this exercise well.

Fix it: Timed it out is a great place to start, and feeling the stretch in your hamstrings, not your back, is key here. Knowing how to do the hip joint is also essential, and you may need to go back to the basics if you’re having trouble telling the difference between your hips and your back.

Correct installation

The back extension is easier to do with the hips resting on the pad but less effective. The movement for this exercise is at the hip joint, and when you lock your hips, the muscle-building benefits for your lower back and glutes go away.

Fix it: Adjust the pad so it rests on your quads, not your pelvis.

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