Building Your Lower Back Strength

Stongman Brian Shaw's top tips for increasing lower-back strength.
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“What’s the best way to increase lower-back strength?”

This is a question that I’m asked quite often. Fortunately, there are several great ways to do this. Outside of the major multijoint exercises that build tremendous core strength—such as deadlifts and squats—there are several great options to focus on in the gym. These include both isolation exercises that directly target the lower-back muscles and compound movements where the lower back contracts isometrically to stabilize the body.

But before we get into the what and how, let’s quickly go through an anatomy lesson on exactly what muscles you’re working when you train your lower back. The erector spinae are the powerful muscles that stabilize the lower back and allow you to perform extension exercises (when your spine bends backward). The gluteus maximus muscles are also involved in torso extension, but they’re primarily responsible for hip extension. The difference is the former occurs in a limited range of motion where only the vertebrae are moving, while the latter has a very long range of motion where the movement occurs mostly at the hip joints.

To get the most out of lower-back training, you must be conscious of the difference so you can perform both motions against resistance. This will strengthen your core muscles, as well as build power in the posterior chain (so the hip and back extensor muscles work together to generate maximum power).

Always try to use correct form on deadlifts and any other exercise that uses the lower back. Remember, there’s a line between increasing strength and risking injury! And the lower back isn’t an area where you want to suffer an injury.

45-DEGREE BACK RAISE

Doing this exercise correctly will really isolate your lower back, and it’ll pay of. Be sure to use a full range of motion, moving under control at all times. At the top, squeeze your erectors consciously before lowering back down. Use the amount of resistance necessary to perform 8–12 reps in strict fashion, moving to near failure. Complete three sets.

REVERSE HYPEREXTENSIONS

This exercise isn’t commonly done due to the fact that it’s hard to do without the correct piece of equipment. If you’re lucky enough to have a reverse hyperextension bench in your gym, use it. You’ll know it because it consists of a pad that’s horizontal to the floor that you lie on facedown. You then hang your legs off the edge of the bench with the strap around your feet. (Some have a roller pad that moves.) A big key to this exercise is to not use too much resistance. When the strap is around your feet it is easy to use the momentum of the weight to do the work. I like to avoid completely relaxing at the top of the movement and then let the weight pull my legs down into a stretched position before I engage my back muscles and raise my legs back to the top. The amount of blood that you’ll get into your lower back with this exercise will be incredible. Do it regularly and watch your lower-back strength increase. Again, I recommend using the amount of resistance necessary to perform 8–12 reps in strict fashion, moving to near failure. Complete three sets.

BARBELL ROWS

When done strictly with the upper body almost parallel to the floor, the lower back is required to stabilize during the entire set of reps. Be sure to utilize strict technique and don’t jerk up and down between reps. - FLEX 

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