Most back workouts focus on the major muscles of the back, such as the lats, traps, and rhomboids, which are primarily found in the mid back and upper back, respectively.
However, it is equally important to perform lower back workouts to strengthen the erector spinae muscle group, which plays a key role in supporting your spine.
The best lower back exercises will help develop muscular strength and endurance in these smaller muscles so that you are able to perform other upper-body and lower-body exercises safely.
But, what are the best lower back exercises? How should you structure workouts for lower back muscles?
In this article, we will provide step-by-step instructions for some of the best lower back exercises so that you can put together an effective lower back workout to build strength and endurance in the often overlooked lower back muscles:
- Bird Dog
- Trap Bar Deadlifts
- Kettlebell Swings
- Weighted Superman
- Stability Ball Back Extensions
- Side Plank
- Barbell Good Mornings
Let’s dive in!
The Ultimate Lower Back Workout
The erector spinae, which are the primary muscles in the lower back, are smaller and weaker than the larger back muscles.
As such, when doing lower back workouts, you may need to use lighter weights and do more reps and sets.
Aim for 3 sets of the following exercises, building up to 15-20 reps per set.
Here are some of the best exercises to add to your lower back workout routine:
#1: Bird Dog
Bird dog is a bodyweight core exercise that strengthens your erector spinae in the back, deep core muscles, and glutes.
As you get stronger, you can wear ankle weights and use light dumbbells in your hands to help build lower back strength.
Here are the steps to perform this one of our lower back exercises:
- Get in a tabletop position by kneeling on all fours with a flat back with wrists stacked underneath your shoulders and your knees stacked under your hips.
- Engage your core as you lift and extend your opposite arm and leg simultaneously. Reach your arm forward so that it’s straight and parallel to the floor in front of your head, and lift your leg straight back so that it’s also parallel to the floor.
- Return your hand and leg to the starting position, but before you drop them back down to the floor, bring them past neutral so that your elbow and knee touch together underneath your chest.
- Return to the starting position, moving slowly and deliberately.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
- Continue alternating sides.
#2: Trap Bar Deadlifts
You can use a standard barbell for deadlifts, but a trap bar allows you to use a neutral grip, which relieves stress on your upper body and allows you to lift more weight.
This can lead to bigger gains in strength and mass in the entire posterior chain.
The low back muscles have to contract to stabilize your spine as you perform a hip hinge.
Here are the steps for this lower back workout exercise:
- Stand inside the loaded trap bar with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointing straight ahead.
- Brace your core as you squat down and grasp the handles on either side of the trap bar.
- Activate your glutes and hamstrings to extend your hips and knees to stand upright, keeping your back straight.
- Slowly lower the bar down towards your ankles by sitting your hips back.
#3: Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings are a dynamic, metabolic, total-body exercise. While not necessarily an isolated lower back exercise, kettlebell swings are a great move to add to your lower body workouts because they still require plenty of activation of your erector spine in your lower back.
Much like the deadlift, when you perform a kettlebell swing, every single rep includes a hip hinge, which requires strong contractions from your lower back muscles to help stabilize your spine.
Plus, since kettlebell swings are performed rapidly and often for a longer period of time, this exercise is a good way to improve the endurance of your smaller lower back muscles.
In fact, studies have found that the kettlebell swing exercise is a highly effective movement for improving functional strength and decreasing the risk of low back pain.
As such, this is one of the most helpful exercises to add to your lower back workouts.
Here are the steps to perform this low back exercise:
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, gripping the handle of a moderately-heavy kettlebell with both hands. Your arms should be fully extended so the kettlebell is hanging down in front of your body.
- Keep your heels firmly planted on the floor and allow a gentle bend in your knees.
- Press through your heels and explode through your hips to drive the kettlebell upward until it’s roughly chest height and your arms are fully extended out in front of you. Make sure to engage your core and glutes.
- Control the kettlebell as it descends, loading your glutes and hamstrings. Allow the momentum to swing the kettlebell backward through the space between your legs.
- At the end of the arc of the swing, pop your hips forward again to drive the kettlebell back up to chest height.
#4: Weighted Superman
The superman is a bodyweight exercise for the lower back extensors (erector spinae).
As you get stronger, you can add weight to your upper and lower body in the form of ankle weights and a dumbbell or medicine ball, respectively.
Here are the steps for this one of our lower back weight exercises:
- Lie on your stomach with your arms extended overhead, holding onto a dumbbell or medicine ball between both hands.
- Squeeze your glutes and lower back muscles to raise your upper body, head, and chest along with your lower body so that only your stomach and the top of your hips stay on the ground. Keep your arms straight when you pick up and lift the weight.
- Hold the top position for 2-3 seconds and then lower back down.
#5: Stability Ball Back Extensions
If your gym doesn’t have a hyperextension machine, you can add this move to your lower back workouts.
Here are the steps:
- Place a stability ball to the side of a weight bench so that you can hold on to the legs of the bench.
- Lie on the ball facedown so that the ball is on your stomach and your hips are slightly off the ball.
- Keeping your legs straight, contract your glutes and lower back muscles to lift them off of the ball until they are as high as you can go with your glutes fully contracted.
- Slowly lower your legs back down, keeping them straight.
#6: Side Plank
The side plank is often included in core workouts or oblique workouts, but it is also a good exercise to include in your lower back workouts.
This exercise requires the muscles in your lower back to contract isometrically throughout the duration of the plank hold to help stabilize your spine and maintain proper posture against gravity.
The primary benefit of adding the side plank to your workouts for lower back is that the exercise helps strengthen your lower back muscles to resist lateral flexion rather than anterior flexion, which most lower back exercises focus on instead.
Here are the steps for how to perform this exercise in your lower back workouts:
- Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other.
- Push up and straighten the arm on the side of your body that is resting on the ground so that your whole body lifts up into the air. Your arm remains straight, your legs remain straight, and your feet stay stacked one on top of the other.
- Keep your hips in line with your body.
- Hold this position for 30-60 seconds.
#7: Barbell Good Mornings
The barbell good morning exercise is a fantastic posterior chain exercise that specifically targets the erector spinae in the lower back along with the glutes and hamstrings.
Start with a lighter weight until you have properly mastered the technique.
Here are the steps for this one of our lower back weight exercises:
- Place the barbell in the squat rack just below shoulder level.
- Unrack the barbell and lift it on your upper traps.
- Walk out of the squat rack a few steps so that you have enough room.
- Allow a slight bend in your knee as you hinge at your hips until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor.
- Engage your hamstrings and glutes to raise your body back up to the erect standing position.
- Carefully reset the position of your torso and hips to begin the next rep.
For more core workout ideas, check out our guide here.