Are Back Extensions Worth Doing?

back extensions
January 18, 2023 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “are back extensions worth doing?”. This is an important topic to discuss as there are great reasons for performing this exercise, as well as certain things that you should be aware of. 

By the end of this article you will be a lot more informed about the utility of back extensions and will be in a good place to make a decision about adding them into your workout routine. 

Are Back Extensions Worth Doing?

Back extensions are certainly an exercise that is worth doing for many reasons. Firstly if you are able to squat and deadlift pain free, the back extension can be a great complimentary exercise to strengthen the lower back.

A stronger lower back will certainly help you on the squat and deadlift and reduce the risks of lower back injuries. If you have existing lower back pain then the back extension can serve as a rehab exercise and also help to improve the health of your lower back.

Back extensions can be done with relatively high frequency, providing that you don’t go too heavy on them each time. Therefore you can get in a lot of quality volume for the lower back and pump a lot of blood into the area.

This exercise can help you to reduce the risk of suffering lower back injuries in the future. In addition, the back extension is a great exercise for working the hamstrings and the glutes. 

If doing back extensions, I would caution against using a back extension machine. It is best to perform back extensions on a 45 degree hyperextension bench, you can do them weighted or with just bodyweight.

Keeping The Lower Back Strong And Healthy

One of the huge benefits of back extensions (on 45 degree hyper bench) is that they help to strengthen the lower back and keep it healthy long term. You can add slabs of muscle to your spinal erectors through consistent use of this exercise with progressive overload.

It is worth remembering that lower back injuries are one of the most common injuries that people experience in the gym. The lower back comes into play in pretty much every big compound movement. A stronger lower back will help to reduce the risks of injuries in the squat and deadlift. 

Having said all this, sometimes a weak core can play a role in lower back injuries. You could have a very strong lower back, but if your core is weak then the lower back will take over too much on certain movements. This could actually increase the risk of lower back injury.

Therefore, whilst a stronger lower back is important you should not neglect core training and should incorporate some form of isolation work for the abs. This could be decline weighted sit ups as an example or a cable crunch variation. 

back extensions

Rehab The Lower Back After An Injury

To share my own experience, I hurt my lower back many years ago from deadlifting heavy. My technique was good but I was deadlifting heavy every week back then for months on end. 

One day I came into the gym and my glutes were sore, but I proceeded to pull heavy regardless. This is how I hurt my lower back, since then I’ve had to adapt the way I train and no longer do heavy deadlifts or barbell squats due to the injury.

Instead I do back extensions, reverse hypers and various rowing movements for the back and posterior chain. For legs I do different leg press variations, leg curls, leg extensions, calf raises and bulgarian split squats.

When rehabbing my lower back injury, the back extension was a fantastic exercise for me. I was able to train it with high reps and high volume to pump a lot of blood in the area and improve the health of my lower back from there.

Nowadays, I do back extensions twice a week. One day I go heavier for a higher rep set and another day I do a higher rep set with lighter weight. I don’t go ridiculously heavy on back extensions as I find it will aggravate me if I go way too heavy.

The exercise is mainly for keeping the lower back healthy for me. In terms of weight, I prefer to use the reverse hyper as an exercise to load heavier and I am a huge fan of that exercise for strengthening the posterior chain. 

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Great Exercise For The Hamstrings

Something that is often overlooked is how good back extensions are for the hamstrings. They are an incredibly underrated exercise for adding meat to the hamstrings.

When you perform heavy 45 degree back extensions or even higher rep back extensions, you will feel your hamstrings working hard and the pump is incredible. I would go as far as to say that they are as good as leg curls in terms of the pump that you can achieve. 

In addition, back extensions work the glutes well. If you want to emphasise the glutes more then you should do rounded back back extensions. This is where you round over more at your upper back (don’t allow lower back to enter flexion), go down and then come up. Don’t overextend on the way up, just come up enough to get a good contraction in the glutes.

There is a good video below showing how to do round back back extensions, this exercise will emphasise the glutes to a greater degree.

Are Back Extension Machines Good?

In quite a few gyms now you will see dedicated back extension machines. In my opinion you should avoid using those machines at all costs! They will likely cause you more harm than good.

This is because those machines lock you into an unnatural movement pattern and can result in injuries. If you want to do back extensions then you should do back extensions using a proper 45 degree hyperextension bench. 

Some machines can do more harm than good, it is also true that everyone responds differently. This is why if you are trying a new machine for the first time, the best advice is to proceed with caution and see how your body responds to the exercise.
machine back extension

Final Thoughts

Are back extensions worth doing? The answer is simply a resounding YES. The benefits are huge – they will keep your lower back strong and healthy, perfect for rehab and injury prevention, work your hamstrings and glutes well and can be done with higher frequency. 

I personally believe that every lifter should perform either 45 degree back extensions regularly or reverse hypers regularly – if you can do both then even better!

If you have any comments on back extensions please leave them below. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

>>How To Prevent Lower Back Injuries From Lifting

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