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8 Back Extension Alternatives

Of all the muscles in the human body, those of the lower back are arguably the most important. Your lower back is the bridge that connects your upper and lower body, and any chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Almost every movement you perform involves your lower back, and weakness in this area will affect the rest of your body.

But the lower back is not just important during things like lifting and throwing; it can also be a source of pain. Weak lower back muscles put extra stress and strain on your lumbar vertebrae. Unlike the muscles of your lower back, the lumbar vertebrae and the associated discs and ligaments have a poor blood supply and are very slow to heal.

There are lots of exercises you can do to strengthen your lower back, and keeping your lower back strong should be a priority. As many as 80% of all adults suffer from back pain during their lives, and while it’s often short-lived and mild, some cases of back pain can be severe and debilitating.

Strong back muscles reduce the stress on your lumbar vertebrae, which could lessen your risk of serious back injury. In this article, we discuss the back extension and reveal the best back extension alternatives.

8 Back Extension Alternatives

What Is a Back Extension?

The back extension is a bodyweight exercise. Performed using an angled bench called a 45-degree or hyperextension bench, this exercise is a standard gym fixture, and there are benches designed for home use, too.

You can also do back extensions using a stability ball or lying flat on the floor. However, the floor version involves a smaller range of motion, which makes it somewhat less effective.

What Muscles Does Back Extension Work?

woman doing back extension on the ballBack extensions are an isolation exercise, which means they involve movement at just one joint.

However, and despite this, back extensions involve more than one muscle group. The muscles involved in back extensions are:

Erector spinae – these are the muscles that run up either side of your spine.

There are seven overlapping erector spinae muscles running from the base of your spine to the nape of your neck, all of which have long, Latin names.

The erector spinae muscles extend and laterally flex your spine and are the agonists (target muscles) of the back-extension exercise.

Gluteus maximus – known as your glutes for short, this muscle is located on the back of your hips and is basically your butt. It’s the largest, most powerful muscle in the human body, and it’s responsible for hip extension.

Hamstrings – located on the back of your thigh, there are three hamstring muscles; semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris. The hamstrings work together to flex your knees and extend your hips.

8 Back Extension Alternatives

No back-extension machine? Or are you just bored of doing this common exercise? No problem; here are eight equally effective alternatives!

1. Romanian Deadlifts

The Romanian deadlift is an effective lower back, glute, and hamstring exercise that you can do with a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, or even a resistance band. Unsubstantiated rumors suggest this exercise was invented by Romanian weightlifters and brought to the US by visiting Olympic weightlifting coaches. True or not, the RDL is an excellent back exercise.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and your weight in front of your hips, arms straight.
  2. Lean forward from your hips and lower the weight down the front of your legs. Descend as far as you can without rounding your lower back.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.

2. Reverse Hyperextensions

reverse hyperextension with weightThis bodyweight exercise works your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.

It can be done using a special reverse hyperextension bench, but you can also do it with a regular weights bench or even a stability ball.

How to do it:

  1. Lie with your chest on an exercise bench or stability ball. Use your arms to hold your upper body stationary. Your feet should be lower than your hips, and your legs should be straight.
  2. Using your glutes and lower back, lift your legs so that your feet are level or slightly above your hips. Keep your legs straight.
  3. Lower your legs and repeat.

3. Good Mornings

Good mornings are so-called because, when you do them, you look like you are bowing to someone in greeting. But, don’t let this gentle-sounding name fool you; this is a demanding lower back exercise that compares well with back extensions.

How to do it:

  1. Rest and hold a barbell across your upper back, just like you would for squats. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Brace your core.
  2. Lean forward from your hips as far as you can without rounding your lower back. You should feel a pronounced stretch in your hamstrings.
  3. Stand up straight and repeat.

4. Kettlebell Swings

Most back extension alternatives are done using a slow and controlled lifting and lowering speed. Kettlebell swings are a little different in that they are done explosively. This makes them a good exercise for athletes and more advanced exercisers.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a kettlebell in front of your hips and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Brace your abs.
  2. Push your hips back, lean forward, and lower the weight between your knees. Do not round your lower back.
  3. Drive your hips forward and swing the weight up to about shoulder height.
  4. Lower the weight and repeat.

5. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

Single-leg Romanian deadlifts Single leg exercises like the SLRDL are great for developing balance, mobility, and strength.

A lot of life’s activities happen on one leg rather than two, so it makes sense to include at least a couple of single-leg exercises in your workouts.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet together and your arms by your sides. Hold a weight in your right hand. Shift your weight over onto your right leg. Bend your knee slightly for balance. Brace your abs.
  2. Hinge forward from your hip and lower the weight down the front of your leg. Extend your left leg out behind you to act as a counterbalance. Take care not to round your lower back.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.
  4. Catch your breath, swap sides, and do the same number of reps on the opposite side.

6. Cable Pull-Throughs

The cable pull-through is a machine variation of Romanian deadlifts. However, using a cable means your muscles are under constant tension, and there is less strain on your lower back.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a rope handle to a low pulley machine. Stand with your back to the machine and astride the cable. Hold the handles in front of your hips. Take 1-2 steps forward to tension the cable. Bend your knees slightly and brace your abs.
  2. Lean forward and reach back between your legs. Do not round your lower back.
  3. Stand up straight and repeat.

7. Hip Thrusts

While hip thrusts are usually thought of as a glute and hamstring exercise, they’re also pretty good for your lower back. You can do this exercise with or without weights and using a bench, stability ball, or just on the floor as preferred.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the floor with your shoulders and upper back against a bench or stability ball. Bend your legs and place your feet flat on the floor. Rest and hold a barbell across your hips.
  2. Drive your feet into the floor and lift your hips up until they are level with your shoulders.
  3. Lower your butt back down the floor and repeat.
  4. Too easy? Try doing this exercise with one leg.

8. Hand Release Push-Ups

woman doing Hand release push-ups in the beach No, this isn’t a typo! Push-ups ARE a chest, shoulder, and triceps exercise, but this variation also works your lower back, making them an excellent alternative to back extensions.

How to do it:

  1. Squat down and place your hands flat on the floor, fingers pointing forward and about shoulder-width apart. Walk your feet back until your body forms a straight line. Brace your abs.
  2. Bend your arms and lower your body to the floor.
  3. Lift your hands up, pulling your shoulders back and together and lifting your chest 1-2 inches off the floor.
  4. Put your hands back on the floor and push yourself back up.
  5. That’s one rep; keep going!
  6. You can also do this exercise on your knees.

Can You Do Back Extensions Every Day?

Can and should are two very different things, so while you could do back extensions every day, you probably shouldn’t. Exercises like back extensions cause microscopic damage to your muscles. While that may sound like a bad thing, it’s actually the trigger that makes your muscles stronger.

It takes between 48-72 hours for your body to recover from a workout, so, ideally, you should do back extensions every other day rather than daily. Doing them more often may lead to overuse injuries and could impair your progress.

Bottom Line

Back extensions are a popular exercise. That’s because they’re straightforward and easy to learn. Beginners like them and more advanced exercisers can make back extensions harder by holding weights or doing them using one leg at a time.

Despite their name, back extensions aren’t just a back exercise. Instead, they work your lower back, glutes, AND hamstrings. This makes them a valuable posterior chain exercise. A strong posterior chain is essential for sports performance and general health, and many everyday movements involve these muscles.

Strong back muscles help support your lower back and could help prevent lower back pain. Of course, that means you need to do them properly to avoid hurting yourself. Do not round your lower back!

As good as back extensions are, they’re not the only way to strengthen your lower back. In fact, there are plenty of other exercises that are just as effective. So, even if your gym doesn’t have a back-extension bench, you can still keep your posterior chain muscles strong.

Use back extensions and these eight alternatives to strengthen your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. It makes sense to train these muscles together because that’s how they work in nature.


References

  1. Fitness Volt, https://fitnessvolt.com/

Patrick

Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine and owner and lecturer for a fitness qualifications company. In addition to training prospective personal trainers, Patrick has also authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos.

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