How to Strengthen the Erector Spinae Muscles

erector spinae musclesNobody wants weak erector spinae muscles. Having a weak lower back not only makes everyday life harder, but hinders your progress in the gym as well. Not only does it limit what you can do on bigger exercises like squats or standing presses (because your lower back can’t provide support), but if your erector spinae muscles aren’t strong, you leave yourself open to injury. Here are some ways to increase lower back strength.

What are Erector Spinae Muscles?

For all intents and purposes, when you think “erector spinae muscles”, you can simply think “lower back”. While the thickest and biggest parts of these muscles are in the lower back, they actually tie in and run much further up. The iliocostalis runs up to your first rib, the longissimus runs up to your first rib and just under your occipital bone, and the spinalis runs up the spine. However, the middle to top portions of these muscles are largely covered by the lats and rhomboids.

How to Strengthen the Erector Spinae Muscles

If you want to strengthen the erector spinae muscles, the best place to start is with a good all-encompassing back workout consisting of compound exercises in both the vertical and horizontal planes. Beginning your workout with traditional stance deadlifts will get your lower back much stronger, as it is one of the main muscle groups targeted. After that, you should do several sets of pullups/pulldowns and rows.

Then you should move onto direct lower back work, the best choice being back extensions. Many will confuse back extensions with hyperextensions, but they are actually different exercises. Hyperextensions have you locking your lower body into bench such that your legs are horizontal and you bend forward at the waist until your torso points downward. You then contract your erector spinae muscles to bring your body straight.

In contrast, a back extensions bench will have your legs at an angle. This exercise is much more advantageous because the angle will also bring into play the glutes and hamstrings.

You want this because then everything in the area is working as one solid unit. This is how your lower back will work in everyday life (i.e. – your lower back will work in unison with the glutes and hamstrings). At the same time, this version allows you to add weight much more quickly and easily. This, in turn, lets you get stronger, faster.

What if You Don’t Have a Back Extensions Bench?

While back extensions are the best pick to strengthen the erector spinae muscles, your gym may not have one. If not, you can swap in the aforementioned hyperextensions instead. Other exercises you could do include stiff-legged deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts. The last two target primarily the hamstrings, but work the lower back quite a bit, too. Just be sure to keep a solid mind-muscle connection, as breaking form could lead to injury fairly easily.

A Sample Back Workout

Here’s a sample overall back workout that would be sure to make your lower back stronger:

  • Traditional stance deadlifts – 4 sets x 5-6 reps
  • Pullups – 3 x max
  • Bent barbell rows – 3-4 sets x 8-10 reps (will strengthen the lower back by stabilizing the upper body)
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts – 2 sets x 8-10 reps
  • Narrow, palms facing grip pulldowns – 3-4 sets x 8-10 reps
  • Low pulley rows – 3 sets x 8-10 reps
  • Back extensions – 3-4 sets x 8-10 reps

It doesn’t take anything complicated to make your lower back stronger. Start off with traditional stance deadlifts, add some pullups/pulldowns and rows, then finish off with direct work for the spinal erectors. Do this and you’ll greatly reduce the risk of injury – both in and out of the gym.