Best Exercises for the Lower Back (Deadlift is a 4!)

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Last updated on February 8, 2023

The lower back is an often neglected bodypart. When they do work it, most guys don’t use the best exercises. The result is a comparatively weak area of the body that is susceptible to injury. In this article, we identify the best exercises to strengthen and develop the erector spinae muscles of the lower back.

Lower Back Anatomy


There is actually no lower back muscle. When we talk about the lower back, we are referring to the erector spinae, Rather than strictly being a lower back muscle, the erector spinae originates on the pelvis but runs all the way up to the back of the neck. Most of that muscle lies behind other muscles of the back, such as the latissimus dorsi and trapezius.


There are three muscle columns to the erector spinae as follows:


  • The spinalis, which is closest to the spine
  • The longissimus, which is the middle column
  • The Iliocastalis, which is the furthest from the spine


The key function of the erector spinae is to extend the spine by pulling it back. The furthest muscle column from the spine, the iliocostalis, also assists in rotating the spine and providing rotational stretch.


People often experience lower back pain. As a result of this, people think that their pain is caused by lower weak business. Naturally, they assume, there must be exercises that can be done to strengthen this area of the body. The reality is that a weak body part does not equate to pain in the body part. If a person has weak biceps, does that mean that they are going to experience pain in that muscle? Of course not!


More often than not a gym goer experiences lower back pain as a result of doing bad exercises badly. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses are all bad news for the lower back. Any movement that forces you to round your spine while you are under a heavy load is going to cause some degree of negative spinal impact.


So, the first thing you need to do to prevent lower back pain is to stop doing the exercises that are causing your spinal pain.


It is important to note that the first 7-8 inches of the erector spinae is constructed of fascia. It then becomes muscle fiber. However, that muscle fiber has limited capacity for growth, especially when compared to other muscles like the biceps. That is because, just like the abs, it is a flat sheet of muscle.

Do You Need To Do ‘Lower Back’ Exercises?

As well as allowing you to bend your spine backwards, the erector spinae also maintains rigidity in the spine when you are doing many of the most common exercises in the gym. For example, when you do the seated rowing exercise, the erector spinae prevents the torso from folding forward. In the squat, the erector spinae does the same thing. In fact, you are working your erector spinae when you put your weights away, move a bench around the gym and even when you bend down to pick something off the floor.


From all of this, a person might argue that you do not actually need to do any separate work for the erector spinae muscle. However, the exercise that you get for the erector spinae when you do all of those moves is isometric contraction. Doing a good dynamic exercise would be of benefit to that muscle.


Ok, let’s now take a look at some exercises for lower back strength and development to sort out the best from the rest.

Deadlift: Rating = 4


The way to work the erector spinae maximally is to move it through its range of motion. However, when you perform the deadlift, all of the action is happening at the hip joint. The problem is that the erector spinae does not cross the hip joint. It is the glutes and the hamstrings that do cross the hip joint, so these are the ones that are getting the work, not the lower back.


The erector spinae only works isometrically when you do the deadlift. It simply maintains the spinal position. This, like any other isometric move, is an inefficient way to work the muscle.


As a result of its inability to activate the erector spinae through its dynamic range of movement, the deadlift is not a very good exercise for the lower back.

Hyperextension: Rating = 5

The hyperextension exercise is performed on a hyperextension bench and has you pivoting your body from the hips . This may look like it is providing dynamic movement for the lower back, but it is not. Just like the deadlift, the hypertension primarily involves hip extension and pelvic tilt. Your erector spinae once again provide isometric contraction but, in terms of dynamic movement they are getting a free ride!

Seated Torso Extension: Rating = 10

The seated torso extension is probably going to be a new exercise for you. This move provides ideal dynamic contraction through the entire range of motion of the erector spinae. The starting position has you sit on a bench with your knee bent and a light weight (around 10 lbs) held on your thighs. From a neutral spine position, round the spine as you contract your abs to curl your torso down to your thighs. Now reverse the motion to extend your erector spinae all the way back to full extension. The repeated rounding and then contracting of the spine will provide the elongation that the spine requires for maximum stimulation.


The seated torso extension is similar to the seated cable crunch exercise for the rectus abdominis, except that the resistance is coming from the opposite direction. With the crunch, the concentric movement bends the torso anteriorly, while with the seated torso extension, the concentric movement bends the torso posteriorly. We could consider that the two exercises are the opposite of each other, just as the rectus abdominis and the erector spinae are opposite each other. These two exercises are the best you can do for the abs and the lower back.

How to do the Seated Torso Extension

To Conclude

If your not doing these then adopt these as part of your workout and we believe you will be please with the difference you notice. As always contact us with your results !

Steve Theunissen has qualified from the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. He has over 30 years experience in fitness and nutrition and currently working with famous fitness professionals. He is currently living in New Zealand with is wife and daughter.

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