4 Exercises to Strengthen Your Lower Back

When we first hear people discuss their lower backs we often think of the word “pain”, rather than “astounding strength” or “superb development”. The notion of training the lower back to elicit specific muscular development can often be neglected outside of formal strength and power sports. Regardless of your sport, nearly every athlete can benefit from strengthening the erectors (lower back muscles), glutes, and hamstrings, often the three working dynamically together, referred to as the posterior chain.
For some lifters, squats and deadlifts may very well be all the “lower back” training they need, however others may find that their backs (and often glutes/hamstrings) have inadequate capacities to develop force. It is important to note that, some lifters may struggle more with mobility and flexibility of the hips, spine (lumbar and thoracic extension), and even knees, which may result in compensated movement patterning. It is important to note that athletes who may have injury to the spine, discs, or movement imbalances should seek medical attention and rehabilitation prior to attempting these strengthening exercises.

In this article, we will lay out four simple and highly effective lower back specific exercises that weightlifters, powerlifters, and functional fitness athletes can include within their training program to:

  • Increase Strength
  • Increase Injury Resistance
  • Increase Force Output (Posterior Chain)

Romanian Deadlifts (Stiff-Leg Deadlifts)

A video posted by Mike Dewar (@mikejdewar) on

In a previous article we discussed the history of the Romanian Deadlift and how weightlifters, powerlifters, and functional fitness athletes can benefit from performing this exercise. Increasing posterior chain strength will assist and further develop the lower back musculature, resulting in increased performance and injury resilience.

To perform, I recommend using a load that is 70-100% of your clean (or 50-60% of your deadlift) for 3-4 sets of 6-10 controlled repetitions.

Goodmornings

This exercise places a greater stress upon the back and lower back, and can be done to improve strength and stability across the full range of motion while hinging at the hip, such as in the clean, deadlift, low bar squat, and pulling movements.

To perform, choose a load that allows you to control the load eccentrically, stretching the hamstring. I tend to keep the loads lighter (lighter than the Romanian Deadlift loads) to allow for better hinging and movement.

Back Extensions (Weighted and Paused)

A video posted by Mike Dewar (@mikejdewar) on

These bodyweight classics can do wonders for the posterior chain and lower back. Increasing the volume, loading, and or pausing at the peak of the movement can create concentric, isometric, and eccentric strength of the erectors, which are vital for heavy pulling, squatting, and ballistic movements.

Challenge myself with this one, performing 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions with a moderate to heavy load.

Glute Bridge

While this exercise highlights the glutes, insufficient glute strength can result in lower back pain, which is often mistaken for weak erectors. Hamstrings and glute muscles are the prime movers for squatting and pulling, which means the stronger they become the healthier the lower back will too. While performing these glute extensions, be conscious of stabilizing the spine, only moving at the hips to minimize spinal extension and/or flexion.

  • Increase Glute Activation
  • Minimize Lumbar Extension
  • Pelvic Stabilization

Loading can be heavier with this movement, as long as the spine is stable.

How To Include Them In You Training

Typically, lower back exercise can be included in assistance section of the training session, which is often after the main power and strength blocks. Moderate loading and volume can be performed while keeping a high emphasis on sound movement patterning and a neutral back.

Final Thoughts

Developing the posterior chain, and specifically the erectors can increase force production, spinal stability, and decrease risk of injury (provided movement patterning and mobility are sufficient) in training and sport.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.