The Purpose of a Back Extension Exercise

The back extension exercise strengthens your back and protects you from injury.

The back extension exercise strengthens your back and protects you from injury.

A trim lower back is very attractive, but the essential reason to work the muscles around your spine is to improve their function. You engage your lower back all day long bending over, straightening up and carrying items. According to the American Chiropractic Association, lower back pain is a leading cause of missed work days and the second most common reason people visit a doctor. Back extensions are an exercise you can do at home or in the gym to keep the muscles strong and healthy.

Lower Back Muscles

The back extension exercise develops the erector spinae muscles in the lower, or lumbar region, of the back. These muscles keep your back upright and to protect your spine from injury. Ironically, they are susceptible injury themselves. Your extensor muscles become stressed in the daily course of bending over, straightening up and moving around. Walking, running, or leaning over the handle bars of a bicycle also tax the muscles. Even sitting in a chair or lying on a couch can cause the muscles to tighten.

Back Extensions

You can perform back extensions anywhere without any special equipment. To perform the exercise, lie face down with your arms at your side. Lift your head, shoulders and chest off the floor by arching your lower back. Avoid pulling your head back as this can cause neck strain. Pause and lower back down. If this movement is too difficult you can place your hands under your shoulders and push up to help arch your back. For advanced variations, extend your arms in front of your body or place them behind your head. Perform 10 to 15 reps, rest and repeat for two more sets.

Stability Ball

If you want to strengthen and stretch your lower back, bring a stability ball into your workout. For the back extension, lie face down with your stomach so your body forms a straight line from your head to your feet. Spread your legs hip width and clasp your hands behind your head. Keeping your back straight, lower your head and torso over the ball. Use your lower back muscles to lift your body back up. Don’t go past your starting point or you might injure your back. After three sets of 10 to 15 reps, flip over and stretch your back over the ball.

Gym Stations

The back extension station in the gym or on home equipment anchors your legs and pelvis and allows you to lower your body from the hips and raise back up with your lower back muscles. Some stations start your body at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Other stations start your body parallel to the floor. As with the stability ball extensions, avoid hyperextending and injuring your back with this exercise. To add resistance take 5 to 10 pound weight plate from a free-weight rack and hold it against your upper chest with your fingers curled around the top of the plate and your forearms crossed to secure the weight against your body. Perform three sets of 10 to 15 reps.


Before working out your lower back, warm up with five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity. Stretch your lower back and your hamstrings before and after the exercise with standing and seated forward folds, holding the stretches for 30 seconds.

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About the Author

David Raudenbush has more than 20 years of experience as a literacy teacher, staff developer and literacy coach. He has written for newspapers, magazines and online publications, and served as the editor of "Golfstyles New Jersey Magazine." Raudenbush holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in education.

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