The erector spinae muscle group is possibly one of the most underrated parts of the human body, and many amateur athletes don’t pay anywhere near enough attention to these critical core muscles.
So, our team decided to spend a few days at the gym with a few other strength coaches to come up with a clear list of exercises that will help you strengthen the erector spinae and round up your core workouts.
I also had a physician provide some information on why these muscles are important, so let’s dive right in.
- Many people only focus on the conventional deadlift, but there are several other great erector spinae exercises that add variety to your workout.
- The erector spinae muscles run parallel to your spine from the top of your back to just above your buttocks.
- These muscles are part of your core, and training them has a direct impact on your posture as well as your ability to work on other body parts.
How Do You Get Bigger Spinal Erectors?
You get bigger spinal erectors by choosing one of around ten core workouts that fully engage this part of your core.
It often surprises people to hear that the erector spinae muscles in your back are actually part of your core muscles .
And that’s probably why so many people don’t do enough to strengthen this area.
I even asked about 30 bodybuilders at my gym, and the majority of them thought that their regular back exercises worked on them.
You’ll also find that targeting the erector spinae muscles will mainly require compound exercises . These involve multiple joints moving and multiple muscle groups being engaged.
And the important thing to keep in mind for such exercises is that a smooth and slow motion will achieve far greater results.
Best Erector Spinae Strengthening Exercises
Let me now introduce you to a set of exercises that our team picked as the most effective for erector spinae muscles. What I would suggest you do is choose three of these for each core or back workout day.
Also, make sure you switch them around a bit, as variety will go a long way to beat boredom.
1. Deadlifts (3 sets of 6 to 10 reps)
For most people that are relatively new to this exercise, I would recommend the conventional deadlift rather than a stiff leg deadlift.
This involves setting up a barbell right in front of you with feet shoulder-width apart. Then while slightly bending your knees, reach down to the barbell.
Pull the bar up until you’re standing tall, and then lower it down slowly while keeping your spine straight.
The stiff-legged deadlift involves doing the same but without the bend in your knees. These are a lot tougher on your lumbar spine, so I would suggest reducing the weight load.
2. Back Extensions (3 sets of 15 to 20 reps)
This is a great exercise that almost isolates your erector spinae, but you’ll also feel these add some strain to your glutes.
You’ll need a back extension machine for this, and I wouldn’t try to create something at home with chairs and weights.
There has been a significant increase in home gym workout injuries, and you don’t want to be one of those statistics .
For back extensions, you slowly lean forward so that your thighs rest on the pad.
Make sure that your feet are secure on the footplate, and then slowly lower your upper body down while keeping your spine straight.
As you pull back up, you should feel your erector spinae and glutes engaging.
Related: What is Back Hypertension?
3. Bent Over Rows (3 sets of 6 to 10 reps)
While seated rows specifically target the upper back, switching to using a dumbbell for a single-arm bent-over row will also engage the spinal erectors.
Place a reasonably heavy dumbbell on the floor, step forward with your left leg, and bend the knee.
Keep your shoulder parallel to the floor and reach for the dumbbell with your right hand.
You also need to concentrate on keeping a neutral spine while you pull the dumbbell up to your chest.
You should also feel this in your shoulder and arm muscles, but the more you concentrate on activating your erector spinae, the better the results will be.
Oh, and don’t forget to switch to the left arm.
4. Good Mornings (3 sets of 8 to 12 reps)
These are another great choice for spinal erector exercises, and they are a variation of a deadlift.
Some people find these easier, but you will be balancing a barbell on your shoulders during good mornings, which can take some getting used to.
The starting position of the good morning workout is with a barbell on your shoulder, like with a squat.
You then slowly bend forward at the hips until your body is parallel to the floor.
Then pull back up again with your legs straight, and you’ve completed your first good morning rep.
I recommend you start off with a lower weight load, as this movement takes some time to get the balance right.
5. Rack Pulls (3 sets of 6 to 10 reps)
For those that struggle with a Romanian deadlift or even a sumo deadlift, the rack pull can be a great alternative.
Rather than place the barbell on the ground, you set it up on a rack about a foot off the ground.
Start with your knees slightly bent and reach for the barbell. Engage your core and erector spinae and slowly stand upright.
From the upright position, slowly lower back down again and complete a full set with slow movements.
It’s also important to keep your spine in a neutral position, as you don’t want the rack deadlifts to increase pressure on your discs.
6. Bird Dogs (3 sets of 6 to 10 reps)
The bird dog is a type of pilates exercise that is great for the spinal erectors.
It’s an excellent choice if you don’t have weights at home or if you’ve recently had a back injury that requires strengthening the erector spinae.
Set yourself up with a exercise mat and get on your hands and knees.
Lift your right arm off the ground and stretch it out in front of you. At the same time, lift your left leg off the ground and hold the posture for a second or two.
Then lower back down again and switch to your right leg and left arm. As you get stronger, you should be able to increase your range of motion and hold the top of the movement for longer.
7. Superman (3 sets of 5 to 8 reps)
Here is another pilates exercise for the spinal erectors. Your starting position is to lie down on your stomach on a yoga mat.
Stretch out your arms in front of you so that your whole body is in a straight line, like superman flying.
Slowly raise your arms and legs off the ground, trying to focus on getting your thighs an inch or more in the air.
You’ll instantly feel this in your erector spinae and hold it for about five seconds before releasing it again.
It might sound like an easy erector spinae workout, but wait until you’ve done a few reps and your heart is pumping.
8. Standing Superman (3 sets of 6 to 10 reps)
If you struggle with the regular superman erector spinae exercise, then the standing superman might be a bit easier.
What you do is stand up straight with feet hip-width apart and lift one foot off the ground.
Slowly lift it up and behind you with a straight leg, and lean forward at the same time until your upper body is parallel to the ground.
Also, reach the opposite arm forward and hold the position for five seconds.
You will need to focus on your balance a bit, but it’s a great way to fully engage your erector spinae and hold the tension for longer .
“Time under tension (TUT) refers to the amount of time a muscle is held under tension or strain during an exercise set.”
- Gregory Minnis, DPT
9. Kettlebell Swings (3 sets of max reps)
The final one of our recommended erector spinae exercises is the good old-fashioned kettlebell swing.
Stand with your feet more than hip-width apart and place a heavy kettlebell between your legs.
Grip it with both hands and bend your knees slightly. Now, pull and swing it up above your head and let it swing back down between your legs.
During the upward movement, you can also thrust your hips forward and fully stretch out your spine.
I recommend doing as many reps as you can to really engage your erector spinae.
It’s also a great one to gradually get your heart rate up to maximum levels while trying to keep it there for as long as you can.
What Are The Erector Spinae Muscles?
The erector spinae muscles are a group of muscles that run parallel to your spine from the top of your buttocks to about the top of your back.
They are very long muscles, and there are three of them on each side of your spine .
The erector spinae are called:
The erector spinae plays a very critical role in keeping your upper body straight while sitting and standing.
“The function of the spinal erectors is to move the vertebral column. Bilateral contraction of these muscles extends the spine, while unilateral contraction causes lateral flexion.”
- Jana Vasković, MD
The interesting thing is how these back muscles work not only to support your whole upper body but also to provide a strong foundation for a wide range of other exercises.
See, when your erector spinae are strong, they provide a huge amount of support and stability for the spine .
And that stability will mean you can do heavier training for your upper back, shoulders, and even legs.
You’ll be surprised how much easier it will be to squat a heavier load when your back doesn’t feel like it’s going to give way because your erector spinae aren’t strong enough.
How Often Should You Train These Muscles?
I recommend that you train the erector spinae muscles at least once a week.
You can choose to either do this as part of your workout day for back muscles or separately as part of a core workout session.
The great thing is that you probably only need to take three of the above exercises at a time into a workout plan.
And with the pilates style exercises, you could always do those a couple of times a week at home.
I often do them as part of a morning stretching routine where I combine some yoga and pilates to wake up my body before all the action starts.
Why Do These Muscles Get Weak?
The main reason the spinal erectors get weak is that people spend the majority of the day at a desk with poor posture.
It’s kind of like a vicious circle where bad posture weakens the erector spinae, and the weaker muscles further deteriorate the posture.
What also happens is that people develop erector spinae pain, which can further impact posture and strength.
It’s a serious downward spiral and one that chiropractors are very familiar with.
The sooner you can work on building up that strength, the more likely you are to avoid long-term pain and issues.
Do Deadlifts Work The Erector Spinae?
Yes, deadlifts work the erector spinae. Anything from sumo deadlifts to Romanian deadlifts can have a great impact on gradually strengthening these muscles. While they aren’t isolation exercises, they allow you to do compound movements with heavy weights.
What Happens When Your Erector Spinae Is Weak?
When your erector spinae is weak, you’ll find that your posture suffers while you’re sitting and standing. Weak erector spinae also have a negative impact on your ability to do other exercises like squats.
Transform Your Upper Body Workouts
Whether you just start off with good mornings and superman exercises, or you jump in with weight training at the gym, do your overall fitness a favor and add a few of the above workouts to your daily routine.
And if you want to be able to push yourself a little bit further, then I would recommend that you add a pre-workout to your supplement stack.
These are the ones we have tested with great success:
Order your first supply and see how big the difference will be.
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