I am a personal trainer and this is one of the best exercises to strengthen my back muscles

    Woman at the gym performing a back extension on a bench with her hands behind her head

Woman at the gym performing a back extension on a bench with her hands behind her head

I’m a personal trainer and back extensions are one of the best compound exercises for strengthening my back, glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles. It’s easy to screw up and injure your lower back doing the exercise, so I’ll cover how to do it safely below and the many benefits you may expect.

Back extensions primarily target and strengthen the posterior chain muscles, which are the muscles that run along the back of the body, and the core muscles will also engage to help support the torso and drive movement.

To perform this, you’ll need a back extension bench or similar, a staple in most gyms that also easily fits into home gyms as part of the best home gym equipment, but you could do it on the floor as well. Read on to understand why this is the only move worth adding to your strength programs and how to do it.

How to do back extensions

Image of a woman performing back extensions on a bench against a white background

Image of a woman performing back extensions on a bench against a white background

As mentioned, you will need a back extension bench or similar to perform the exercise. Move slowly, with control, and avoid rocking up and down during the exercise or arching your spine.

Start with 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps and build from there.

  • Place your feet on the foot plates and your thighs on the bench with your hip joints just in front of the bench

  • Engage your core, gently squeeze your glutes and back muscles

  • Keep your spine and neck neutral and pull your shoulders back and down

  • Lean forward at the hips and lower your chest towards the floor and thighs

  • Pause, then return to starting position, creating a straight line from head to toe.

What are back extensions used for?

Back extension creates strength and stability in the muscles that hug and protect the spine, the erector spinae muscles. If you suffer from back pain, the exercise might also strengthen your hips and improve spinal mobility, improving back pain and sciatica symptoms (plus, these are the best exercises for sciatica if you need more inspiration ).

That said, if you suffer from back pain, you should always consult a doctor before trying any new exercises. The move, also known as a hyperextension, uses a forward bending motion to work muscles along the back of the body, including the glutes, through hip extension, and even the rear delts during some variations.

You don’t need weights to do this, as gravity acts as resistance during exercise, meaning you could build back strength as part of a weight-training or weight-free strength-training program. And the research confirms it! You might even improve the quality of other similar movement patterns like deadlifts, which use hip extension and the same muscle groups.

In addition to a strong back, core, and set of glutes and hamstrings, the move could help keep you safe during functional training and heavy compound lifts, improve running efficiency and posture, and prevent injuries during daily activities and exercise.

Back Extensions: Variations

If you plan on adopting any of the variations below, I recommend one of the best yoga mats to support your hips and elbow joints.

Superman

an illustration of a woman doing the superman exercise

an illustration of a woman doing the superman exercise

This can be used as a connecting exercise to develop a strong back before moving onto the bench press. You can do this from the floor and target the same muscle groups by extending and lifting both arms and legs off the mat and slowly lowering yourself back to the floor. Keep a neutral neck and look towards the mat as you move. You can learn how to make Superman in detail here.

Upward facing dog

Woman doing upward facing dog with hands down on her yoga mat

Woman doing upward facing dog with hands down on her yoga mat

If you’re new to back extensions or returning from an injury, adjust to an upward-facing dog instead. This is for yogis.

As:

  • Start on your stomach with your legs extended behind you

  • Place your hands on the mat just in front of your hips and press through them to lift your chest

  • Gently lift your hips off the floor and lower your shoulders

  • Look ahead and hold on. Lower your back to the floor.

If this seems too strong, instead lower your elbows and keep your hips flat on the mat, which should take some of the strain off your lower back. For a deeper stretch, place your elbows or practice yoga blocks.

To progress the back extension exercise on the bench, place your hands behind your head or hold a weight close to your chest such as a barbell plate or the best adjustable dumbbells. Some benches can be modified to varying degrees, providing greater range of motion and making back extensions more difficult.

Rear Extensions: Common Mistakes

Overextension and hunching over are two common mistakes I see during back extensions, which put extra strain on the muscles, particularly around the mid-lower back. This means rounding your upper back as you lower or leaning back too far at the top of the movement.

To avoid this, think about creating a straight line from head to toe in the starting position. Lower your shoulders and engage your core, always moving with a neutral spine. Make sure both feet remain planted low to create a stable base to move from.

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