How to Do a Back Extension

Back extensions are a terrific exercise for strengthening the lower back, which is often overlooked but essential to a strong, healthy core. Back extensions specifically target the erector spinae, which is made up of three muscles: the illiocostalis lumborum, longissimus thoracis and the spinalis. While this exercise is typically performed using a machine, it can be adapted to be done without equipment.

Strengthening the lower back provides better support to the spine, leading to improved posture and allowing you to more easily rotate and bend over to pick up objects.

How To

  • Before you begin, check the foot pads on the machine to make sure they are set at the proper height in order to hold your body firmly in place during the exercise. Make sure that when lying on the machine, your upper body is far enough forward that you can easily hinge forward at the hips.
  • With arms crossed over your chest, engage your core and bend forward at the waist until your upper body is at about 90 degrees to your lower body.
  • Take a breath here and then exhale as you extend your back, lifting your upper body back up until your torso is again in line with your hips. Make sure not to overly arch your back at the top of the movement.


Depending on your fitness level, you can aim for three sets of five repetitions. If you are new to working your lower back or struggle with back issues, pay close attention to your body and do only as many repetitions as you can while maintaining proper form.


From the floor: If you don’t have access to a back extension machine, or find the exercise too difficult, you can perform back extensions from the floor. Lay on your stomach on a mat if you have one, feet together. Your hands can be beside your face, or out to the sides in a T-position to increase the intensity, or back by your hips to make things a little easier. Engage through the lower back to lift your upper body off the floor and then slowly lower back down.                                            

Weighted extensions: If you are looking to increase the difficulty, try adding a bit of weight, but be careful as only a small amount of weight is needed to make a big difference. This is done by holding a dumbbell or weighted plate against the chest.

Cautionary Notes

Make sure not to arch your back at the top of the movement. Doing so can strain your lower back. You should not be extending your back beyond the height of your thighs when completing the maneuver.

This exercise should absolutely not be performed by anyone with a herniated disc. Consult a personal trainer or your doctor if you have a herniated disc and are looking to strengthen your lower back.

If you feel pain in any part of your back while performing back extensions, cease the exercise immediately and speak with your doctor or a fitness trainer.

Do not use momentum to complete the exercise. Using quick or jerky movement to raise your body while in this position can compress the discs in your back and cause serious injury. Slow, controlled movements are very important while doing back extensions.

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