All too often, gym-goers focus on vanity muscles at the gym. You’ll strive for bulging biceps, six-pack abs, and a chiseled chest while neglecting some of the most fundamental muscle groups of the human body — like your back.
Sure, no one struts around the gym saying, “Nice lower back, bro.” But performing lower-back workouts has many benefits in terms of health and athletic performance. Want to stay injury-free while training for the marathon? Train your lower back. Want to improve your one-rep max in squats? Train your lower back. Want to be able to pick stuff off the floor when you're 90? Train your lower back.
This article will teach you about the muscles of the lower back, the benefits of strong back muscles, and the best back exercises to perform at the gym.
Numerous muscles make up your lower back. Here, we discuss the two main muscle groups: the transversospinalis muscles and the erector spinae.
According to StatPearls, three layers of muscles make up your transversospinalis muscles, including the rotatores, multifidus, and semispinalis. These muscles go all the way up your spine. Their purpose is to rotate and extend your vertebral column.
Three types of muscle make up this group — the iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis. The erector spinae works as an opposing force to your abdominals, preventing them from overworking and helping to straighten your spine. For example, if you bend over to pick something up, the erector spinae helps raise you back to your starting position.
The lumbar region is situated around the lower half of the torso, making up your abdominal muscles and lower back. This region supports the majority of your body weight, which is why low-back pain is so common — and why performing lower-back workouts is imperative to your health and fitness
The top benefit of training your lower back is injury prevention. Lower-back pain is one of the most common ailments impacting athletes and sedentary individuals alike. Lower-back pain can be caused by poor posture, a sedentary lifestyle, sitting at a desk for extended times, or overusing underdeveloped muscles (which is why you should never focus on just vanity muscles at the gym).
Having a strong lower back can also help you improve your performance in the gym and in sport.
Strong lower-back muscles can improve other upper- and lower-body lifts, including deadlifts, squats, and even your bench press. In addition, strong back muscles contribute to a strong core, which improves your athleticism and overall quality of life.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, strong back muscles allow you to twist, turn, bend, and straighten your torso. This is necessary for both everyday tasks, like picking up a laundry basket, and athletic movements, like swinging a golf club or baseball bat.
Below, you’ll find five of the best back exercises to include in your workout routine. These include compound exercises, isolated lower-back exercises, and stretches.
To perform a cat stretch, place your hands and knees on the floor, so you’re in a tabletop position. Push your upper back into the air so you have a hunch-back. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then drop your stomach and lower-back muscles toward the floor, hyperextending your spine. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat.
A deadlift can be performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell. The below instructions guides you through a dumbbell deadlift.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides, one dumbbell in each hand. Roll your shoulders back and down, brace your core, and tuck your chin. Push your butt directly back, slightly bending your knees, while bringing the dumbbells closer to the ground. Keep your back perfectly straight (do not hunch over). When you reach your end range of motion, return to a standing position.
Grab a light barbell and place it on your traps (as if you were going to perform a back squat). Push your butt toward the wall behind you, keeping your back straight. Being careful not to hunch your back, try to bring your back parallel to the ground (never go below parallel). You should feel a significant stretch in your hamstrings. Return to your starting position.
A goblet squat can be performed with a kettlebell or a dumbbell. The below description guides you through a dumbbell goblet squat.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold the bell of the dumbbell directly underneath your chin, with the small plate resting on both palms for support. Keep your shoulders rolled back and down, abs braced, and elbows tucked in near your sides.
Push your butt back, and lower into a squat position. If you are extremely tight, you may need to take a wider stance. When you reach parallel, use your glutes and quads to return to a standing position as you press your knees out.
To perform this exercise, you will need to use a hyperextension (back extension) machine at your gym. If you do not have access to a hyperextension machine, performing supermans works as an excellent substitute.
Enter the hyperextension machine face down. The top pad should sit just below your hip bone, with the lower pads sitting just above your Achilles tendon, locking you in.
You can cross your arms over your chest in an X, or place them behind your head (whichever position you choose, be sure not to hunch your upper back). Roll your shoulders back and down, and brace your core. Lower your upper body toward the ground until your body comes into an inverted V. Now, squeeze your back muscles to bring your upper body back to its starting position, so your entire body forms a straight line. Be careful not to hyperextend your back.
If you’re looking to increase strength in your lower back, educate yourself on these common lower-back training mistakes:
When performing a lower-back exercise, it’s easy to hunch your back. If you have poor upper-back posture, you greatly increase your risk of injury.
Remember to roll your shoulders back and down during any back exercise, and always squeeze your core. In addition, performing upper-back exercises, such as face pulls, scapular retractions, and dumbbell shrugs will strengthen your upper-back muscles, preventing them from hunching.
Lifting with light weights and proper form is far more important than lifting heavy weights with horrible form.
Remember, lower-back injuries are one of the most common injuries in the weight room. The best injury-prevention step you can take is to perfect your form before loading the bar with weight.
You should warm up prior to any strength training session.
Start with a dynamic warm-up of high knees, glute kicks, and karaoke. Move into back stretches such as a cat-cow. Lastly, perform bodyweight versions of the above exercises, good mornings with a PVC pipe, or bodyweight squats and deadlifts.
When performing heavy lifts, such as deadlifts and squats, take 2-3 minutes between sets. This allows your muscles enough time to recover.
Your lower-back muscles are essential to your everyday life. You use your back muscles for daily tasks like picking up a laundry basket, swinging a baseball bat, and grabbing a grocery item off the high shelf. Your lower-back muscles support your body weight and balance your core, literally holding your body upright.
To help strengthen your back muscles, make lower-back workouts part of your regular fitness routine. Deadlifts, squats, and back extensions are just a few exercises that can help strengthen your lower back.
Lower-back pain is a common fitness injury, so there are a few precautions to take during lower-back workouts. Always warm up, start with lighter weights, and practice proper form. Lastly, be sure to recover with 100% Grass-Fed Whey Protein after your workout to help your muscles repair and regrow.