Back Extensions are a common sight in most gyms. People jump on the 45-degree back raise machine and do extensions thinking that they will fix or prevent lower-back pain.
Problem is, most of these folks end up overarching their backs and causing back problems or making the pain worse.
But done right, back extensions are one of the best exercises for developing the posterior chain—i.e., the muscles on the backside of the body. Back Extensions specifically focus on the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. A strong posterior chain improves overall strength, power, speed and injury prevention, while helping to build a physique that many seek.
As an accessory exercise, Back Extensions work nicely to finish off a training session. They also function well as a warm-up for Squats or Deadlifts just using bodyweight.
The first few times you do Back Extensions, I recommend doing them at the end of your training session, because the low-back pump will be intense enough that you wouldn't want to use it before squatting or deadlifting. Once you do them regularly and build your lower back and adapt to the movement pattern, then you can start implementing them as a warm-up exercise.
Bodyweight Back Extension
- Set the pads at approximately hip level. I like to set them right below the top of my pelvis so I can go deep into the movement.
- Step into the machine and place your feet against the plate at the bottom so your calves are pressed against the lower leg supports. At this point your body should be straight.
- Start the movement by moving down at the hip, keeping your back flat the entire time.
- Reach the bottom but be careful not to go too far and round your back to get extra range of motion. Go only as far down as you can without rounding.
- Return to the top but make sure not to overextend at the top. This is one mistake I see very often.
Weighted Back Raise
- Get into the back raise machine as specified above, but this time hold a plate or dumbbell at your chest.
- Lower yourself to the bottom and return to the top as specified above, holding the weight the entire time.
- Master the bodyweight back raise first before progressing to the weighted variation, and when you do, start light.
Band-Resisted Back Raise
- This is a personal favorite of mine to finish off a tough Squat/Deadlift training session.
- Hook a band around the bottom bar of the back extension so one end can be pulled up toward the top of the machine.
- Get into the machine and set up, but this time place the end loop of the band around the base of your neck, resting on your traps.
- Perform the back raise as above but with constant tension from the band, with more tension at the top of the movement.
Isometric Back Raise
- Set up the band as above and set up for the Back Raise.
- Start the movement but only drop a few inches; hold this position with constant tension on your posterior chain, making sure to stay in good position with your back flat the entire time.
- This can be performed just with a isometric hold or combined with regular reps. For example, hold for five seconds, perform a full rep, repeat the hold.
Pete Rubish Back Raise Deadlift
- This movement should be reserved for elite athletes or those who have built a considerable amount of strength and need something a little more than a band.
- Made popular by elite powerlifter, Pete Rubish (900+-pound Deadlift at 220 pounds bodyweight), this movement is no joke and should be used with caution.
- Set up a barbell below the machine and set up as you would for any of the above variations.
- Perform a rep but stop at the bottom and grab the bar with the same grip with which you deadlift.
- Finish the rep holding the bar and repeat, being extra careful not to round your back and staying in good position.
Safety Squat Bar Back Raise
- Again, this movement should be used only by elite athletes and those with high strength levels and training experience.
- Set up in the back raise machine same as above, but this time with a safety squat bar resting on your back.
- Perform the rep same as above but again, be very careful with this advanced movement.
There you have it, all the variations of the Back Extensions you need to build an iron posterior chain. If you have never done them before, start with your bodyweight and master that first before progressing to more difficult variations. As always, follow me on Instagram and YouTube for daily training tips and workouts.
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