best erector spinae exercises

13 Best Erector Spinae Exercises to Strengthen Your Entire Back

January 01, 2020

The erector spinae is not a muscle group that is often talked about when it comes to working out, however, it is undoubtedly one of the most important muscle groups in our entire body. It is one half of our core and more. If you aren’t doing exercises that hit the erector spinae and erector spinae specific exercises, you are creating a major weak link in your body.

erector spinae

In this article, we are going to cover what and where the erector spinae is, the anatomy of the erector spinae, the function and importance of the erector spinae, the best erector spinae exercises, and how you can incorporate erector spinae exercises into your workout program without needing to spend more time in the gym/working out.

What is the erector spinae?

erector spinae muscles

The erector spinae is a group of muscles and tendons that connect your entire back from your hips and sacrum (lower back/lumbar) to the base of your skull (cervical region). The muscles of your erector spinae line both sides of your spine and they are in charge of many functions, like lateral flexion and extension, and side-to-side rotation.

Your erector spinae is a vital part of your core, as it links to your abdominal and oblique muscles, which stabilizes and helps you move your entire upper body.

Note: Your erector spinae is also referred to as, sacrospinalis group of muscles, spinal erectors, and most commonly, your lower back muscles.

Where is the erector spinae?

where is the erector spinae

The muscles and tendons of your erector spinae are located on both sides of your vertebral column (the bony points of the spine), which runs from your sacral and lumbar (lower back) to your thoracic (middle back) to your cervical region (upper back and neck).

The erector spinae varies in size and structure at different points along your vertebral column.

At your sacral region, it is narrow and pointed, and tendinous in structure. These small fibers of the erector spinae connect to your iliac crest (top of your hips) and the sides of your sacrum. Some of the fibers actually extend to your gluteus maximus.

In your lumbar region, it is larger and thick in structure (this is the area that most people think of when discussing erector spinae exercises).

From there, the erector spinae divides into three columns. In this region, they gradually become smaller as they move up your spine, connecting into your vertebrae and ribs. It looks akin to branches on a tree.

Then, the erector spinae continues to ascend your spine until it inserts into the base of your skull.

All in all, this group of muscles covers a large area of your back. So you can discern how important the erector spinae is if you want to function at your best.

But before we go in-depth on the importance of your erector spinae, in terms of fitness, let’s take a look at the muscles that play the biggest role during workouts, sports and other activities.

Erector spinae muscles anatomy

erector spinae anatomy

The three main muscles of the erector spinae are:

  • Spinalis
  • Longissimus
  • Iliocostalis

Spinalis

The spinalis is the smallest muscle of the erector spinae, and the closest to the spine. It enables you to turn/rotate side to side and it is partly responsible for controlling your head when you look up.

Longissimus

This is the middle part of your erector spinae and the largest muscle. It enables you to bend to the side and extend your spine. It also helps turn your head side to side.

Iliocostalis

The Iliocostalis begins at the sacrum and it enables you to bend to the side and extend your spine.

Now, these three muscles can be subdivided into different insertions, but let’s not get too technical. The above is all you really need to know to understand how the exercises to come target your erector spinae.

Moreover, even though the three main muscles of the erector spinae work together to achieve certain functions, it is important to do various erector spinae exercises. That way you can have well rounded back strength and be ready for anything that comes your way.

What is the function of the erector spinae?

erector spinae function

As we now know, the erector spinae is formed by multiple muscles, which can also be subdivided, but as a whole, they have two major functions.

  1. The erector spinae straightens your back when you bend over and stand back up. This allows you to lift heavy loads off the ground.
  2. The erector spinae allows for lateral rotation of the spine (moving side to side). The three major muscles of the erector spinae, along with your lats, are activated and engaged during movements that twist your upper body.

Bonus: The erector spinae also helps turn your head side to side, which is why if you ever pull a muscle in your back, you will notice it hurts to turn or lift your head.

Now, let’s look at some more specific examples of the erector spinae’s functions and the importance of keeping it strong.

Importance of strengthening the erector spinae muscle

erector spinae core strength

Before you start training a muscle, it’s good to know the importance of that muscle (or muscle group). That way, you’ll fully understand the benefits you are reaping. This will help amplify the results.

Core

First, let’s make sure we understand that the erector spinae is part of your core…

When most people think “core”, they think abs, and maybe obliques too…however, your core is like a cylinder that wraps around your front and your back. So, as important as your abs and obliques are for many things in life, your erector spinae is equally as important. It is half of the puzzle to a strong core.

With a strong lower back comes some major benefits:

  1. Good Posture: Weak erector spinae often leads to posture problems. Your erector spinae is one of the most crucial components of having good posture. It allows you to be strong, stable, and aligned. Your core is the center of your universe, it is what links your upper body to your lower body. And the erector spinae makes up about half of your core. So, strong erector spinae will surely allow you to have good posture, and for the long run - Longevity is key, and as we all know, posture becomes worse as we get older. Get ahead of this by strengthening your erector spinae!
  2. Reduces Risk of Injury: Another one of the main issues with having weak erector spinae is risk of injury. Lower back pain and posture related issues (headaches, tension in the neck and shoulders, difficulty breathing, etc.) are often caused by weak erector spinae muscles. We all use our lower back on a daily basis, so having strong erector spinae is immensely important. That said, it is interesting how many people neglect the erector spinae, when it is arguably one of the most important muscles in our body (again, your core is the center of your universe!). All in all, having a bulletproof back is a must if you want to excel at LIFE.
  3. Stronger: The erector spinae is not exactly a mirror muscle, but that definitely doesn’t mean it should be neglected. Having strong erector spinae muscles makes you strong in all of your movements and exercises. With strong erector spinae muscles, you will squat heavier, deadlift heavier, and you will move and rotate with more power and explosion. So, although you won’t really see changes when training your erector spinae, you will SEE how you become stronger all around. And again, you will be much less likely to get injured when doing big lifts.

How do erector spinae muscles become weak?

how does the erector spinae become weak

Erector spinae becomes weak through overstretching…Now, you may be wondering, but I don’t even stretch my erector spinae! Well, through a sedentary lifestyle and prolonged periods of sitting, our heads and spines pull forward, which stretches/lengthens our erector spinae. Over time, this leads then to chronically lengthened erector spinae muscles.

This overstretching can also cause you lower back pain. The weakness and overstretching often feels like tightness, which is why many people feel the need to stretch their lower back. Although this will provide temporary relief. It is not the way to combat pain and tightness in your lower back. What you need to do is strengthen them!

Strengthen DON’T Stretch

should i stretch or strengthen my erector spinae muscles

When it comes to the erector spinae, there really is no need to stretch them. They are being stretched all day as we sit and bend our necks down at our phone or computer!

By stretching an already overstretched erector spinae, it creates a major weakness in the lower back.

What you want to do is strengthen them, which we are going to show you how just below.

TIP: One way to combat overstretching, which causes weakness in your lower back, is to always think about your posture. Sit tall and stand tall - Don’t slouch! Also, try not to bend your neck down too much. Keep your chin parallel with the ground….Yes, it can difficult at first, to constantly remind yourself to sit and stand tall, but over time it becomes natural.

How to strengthen erector spinae?

The best way to combat weakness of the erector spinae is straightforward - Erector Spinae strengthening exercises! The following exercises are the best erector spinae exercises you can do. We are sure many of them you already know too!

Best erector spinae strengthening exercises

We are going to break our exercises down into three categories:

  • Free weight exercises
  • Bodyweight exercises
  • Unconventional exercises

We will have a mix of compound exercises and erector spinae isolation exercises (as both will be useful for achieving overall strength and performance of the erector spinae.

Free weight erector spinae exercises

Let’s start with exercises that will not only strengthen your erector spinae, but will also strengthen multiple muscle groups - aka compound exercise.

These are Free Weight Exercises that we all know and love (if you don’t love them, it’s time to spark that romance!)

1. Deadlifts

best back exercises

The deadlift is the king of back exercises, and arguably all exercises. The deadlift is one of the true tests of overall strength. It is a must-do exercise for anyone who takes fitness seriously. Moreover, it is a go-to exercise for athletes, as it is a pure mass and strength builder.

Deadlifts are a compound exercise, so you will be working a lot of muscle groups. The deadlift works your entire posterior chain.

Starting from the top down, you will be working your entire back - so traps, rhomboids, lats, AND your erector spinae. Deadlifts will also work your abs, forearms, and even biceps. As for your lower body, it works your hamstrings and glutes, and as a secondary mover, your quads will also be engaged.

In terms of the erector spinae, the great thing about the deadlift is it works all of your erector spinae muscles, so it gets your lower back, mid back and upper back. Every fiber of your erector spinae is going to strengthen with this one! And of course your other back muscles too.

How to do a conventional deadlift:

You will want to have a loaded barbell for this as you want the barbell to be about 8 inches off the ground. Also, small 5 pound plates won’t be great either, unless they are the larger bumper plates used in Crossfit…The point is, if the barbell too low, you will likely round your back forward at the bottom portion of the lift. So, aim to keep it around 8 inches from the ground. You can use other objects to elevate it if your plates are high enough to achieve the ideal starting position.

  1. Put a loaded barbell on the floor. Stand with your feet hip width apart, neutral spine, feet straight forward. The bar should be directly over the middle of your foot.
  2. Squat down to grab the bar (one hand in and one out, or both in). Try to keep your body as upright as possible, and don’t round your lower/middle back forward. You will be leaning forward a bit, but your lower back should be straight, so if you put a pole on your back, your lumbar spine will align with your neck.
  3. Lift up, using your lower body, and once the bar passes your knees, you can start pulling with your back muscles while also thrusting your hips forward. So, essentially, the bottom portion of the movement is lower body focused, and the middle to top portion is back.
  4. At the top, squeeze your glutes and thrust your hips to a neutral position.
  5. From there, lower the bar down with the same form but in reverse. Don’t just drop it! If you do that, you are missing out on the eccentric portion of the movement, which is like throwing away half of the benefits you can gain from deadlifts.

Note: Although the deadlift is the BEST exercise for the erector spinae, it is also the riskiest. So, the risk to reward ratio is high. This means you need to be smart about attacking deadlifts. First, get the form down and go light, then slowly build up to heavier weights. This is how you can reduce risk of injury and maximize your gains. Moreover, lighter weight deadlifts will be effective for the erector spinae when first training, even if the light weight isn’t as effective for your hamstrings and glutes. This will allow your erector spinae to catch up, so when it’s time for heavy lifts, you can do them without fear of a lower back injury.

Moreover, if you were to have a rounded back on the lower portion of the lift, which sometimes happens when going extra heavy, strong erector spinae muscles will make the difference between being ok and being injured.

As this is a power movement, you will eventually want to train heavy. It’s not about high reps with deadlifts. Heavy (relatively to your strength) sets of 5 reps are perfect. But, if you are going light, you can up the repetitions.

Tip for Beginners:

A lot of people don’t realize how important the erector spinae muscle group is for deadlifts. It is often the main limiting factor. So, if deadlifts are very difficult for you, even at a light weight, try to do some other erector spinae specific exercises before jumping back into deadlifts. You will likely see a big difference in your deadlift game.

2. Rack Pulls

how to make erector spinae muscles stronger

Rack pulls will train your entire back, just as a deadlift does on the top portion of the lift. However, with a rack pull, since you don’t have to lift it off the ground (you are lifting from just above knee level), you can go heavier than you can with deadlifts. But your grip strength will have to be up to par.

The rack pull is a serious power movement, so you can really maximize muscle size and strength in your back. Every single erector spinae muscle will be engaged during this exercise, and with it being a heavy-centric exercise, you can really build incredible strength in your entire back.

Note: Heavy sets of 5 reps are all that is needed for best results.

What’s more, rack pulls are less risky, as you don’t need to bend down to pick up the weight. Most injuries caused by deadlifts are on the lowest portion of the lift, as people roll their back when letting the bar down to the ground and when first picking it up. This is due to hip mobility issues, not resetting properly with each rep, or simply going too heavy. 

The point is, in terms of specifically training the erector spinae muscles, the rewards far outweigh the risk compared to deadlifts. That said, don’t get the idea that rack pulls are great and deadlifts are too risky. Both are important exercises to incorporate into your training. Deadlifts build total body posterior strength, rack pulls build back strength…However, if we had to choose between the two, we’d choose deadlifts every time because big compound movements are always the best for overall fitness…Thankfully, though, we don’t have to choose only one…You can make time for both! Add rack pulls into your workout every other workout or every so often, and do deadlifts every week!

How to do rack pulls?

  1. Using a squat rack, set the barbell on the side bars of the rack or the safety bars. The barbell should be at knee level (or just above). You want to be able to grab it by slightly bending your knees and tilting your hips back.
  2. Grab the barbell with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
  3. Pull the barbell up by pushing through your heels and using all of your back muscles. The path of the barbell will be pretty much straight up, not diagonal towards you. Towards the top, thrust your hips forward and contract your glutes and hamstrings. Keep everything completely tight (especially your core) once you are fully standing tall.
  4. Pause, then lower the barbell back down until it touches the rack. Don’t just drop it. The negative part of the movement is equally as important.
  5. Repeat

All in all, rack pulls are a total back exercise, yet it is also very erector spinae specific. If you are really trying to hone in on your erector spinae muscles, this is the best exercise you can do. Just prepare to have your grip strength tested, as to go heavy (like you should with this exercise), your grip will need to keep up. 

3. Stiff-legged Deadlifts

what is the erector spinae

Stiff legged deadlifts are fantastic for posterior chain development. It is a variation of the conventional deadlift and another go-to on leg day. It won’t be as taxing on your body as a conventional deadlift, and you will want to do higher reps, in the 8-12 rep range, but you will still want to go heavy enough where those 8-12 reps are challenging.

You can do stiff-legged deadlifts and deadlifts on the same day or do stiff-legged deads on leg day and deadlifts on back day.

The main muscles being worked during stiff-legged deadlifts are your hamstrings, glutes and erector spinae, but you will also be hitting your upper back and forearms as well.

You might be thinking, it’s similar to a deadlift, why do both? Well, here’s the difference…

With stiff-legged deadlifts, there is much more emphasis on the hamstrings than the back.

As for your erector spinae, the meaty part, which is in your lower back, is going to be doing the brunt of the work as well. It is a terrific exercise to strengthen your erector spinae, and it is quite a bit less risky than a conventional deadlift as it is easier to maintain a posterior pelvic tilt when you aren’t squatting down to the floor like you are with a deadlift.

So, although stiff-legged deadlifts work a lot of the same muscles as a deadlift, you shouldn’t replace them with deadlifts, which unfortunately a lot of people do. Deadlifts are going to be the testosterone releaser that really hammers your whole body. They simply aren’t the same, even though they are very similar in nature.

How to do the Stiff-Legged Deadlift

  1. Put a loaded barbell on the floor. Stand with your feet hip width apart, neutral spine, feet straight forward. The bar should be directly over the middle of your foot.
  2. Squat down to grab the bar (one hand in and one out, or both in). Try to keep your body as upright as possible, and NO bend in your back. You will be leaning forward a bit, but your lower back should be straight, so if you put a pole on your back, it would be touching your entire back from the neck down.
  3. Lift up, using your lower body, and once the bar passes your knees, you can start pulling with your back muscles. This way, your back won’t round forward.
  4. Once you are standing erect, thrust your hips forward so your glutes are squeezed tight. (The first rep will be the same as a deadlift as you need to get the barbell off the floor - from here, there is a difference).
  5. Lower the bar back down while maintaining a slight bend in your knee and using a posterior pelvic tilt. Stop once the bar reaches about mid-shin. Your back will be parallel with the floor (or almost). Then contract your glutes and hamstrings and push through your hips as you stand tall. Then repeat from step 4.
  6. After your desired rep count, slowly lower the barbell back down to the floor using the same form as a deadlift.

Things to keep in mind:

You won’t be lowering your body down with your legs, you will be using your upper body, so your legs will be stiff the entire time. Hence the name. That said, you legs will not be completely straight, you should have a bend in your knee as you lower the weight down, and you won’t be bringing the barbell down to the ground, you will be stopping a little below the knees (you can go as low as the middle of your shins). As you perform the negative part of the movement, you will feel a great stretch in your hamstrings.

Also, keep your entire core tight the whole movement (as you should with pretty much every exercise)

4. Good Mornings

best erector spinae strengthening exercises

Good Mornings are another posterior chain exercise with an emphasis on the erector spinae. The focus of the movement is on the hamstrings, glutes, and erector spinae.

As with deadlifts, Good Mornings need to be performed with good form or it can be easy to injure the lower back. You’ll be in a vulnerable position as you bend your upper body forward. It’s important that you maintain a posterior tilt and you keep your knees bent as you bend forward. Also, you will want to keep your shoulder blades retracted and your chest up. That way you can’t round your back forward. Spinal protection should be of the utmost importance.

Although you can use a Smith Machine for this movement, we highly recommend using a barbell, as a Smith machine will restrict your range of motion.

Also, you will want to start light when first learning Good Mornings…That said, you should never go too heavy when it comes to Good Mornings, even when you are experienced. This exercise requires very strict and controlled movement and it provides the best results with lower weights and higher volume.

How to do a good morning

  1. Using a squat rack, unrack the barbell on your traps, like you would for a low bar squat.
  2. Bend your knees while leaning your torso over until your upper body is (almost) parallel to the floor. Use a posterior pelvic tilt as you lower your body to the floor, as to keep your back from rolling forward. Your knees should have a slight bend, but you won’t squat down. It is similar to a stiff legged deadlift.
  3. At the bottom of the movement, lift your torso back up to an upright position by contracting your glutes and hamstrings. Your erector spinae will be the major stabilizer of this movement, and it will be tested big time.

Banded Good Mornings:

How do erector spinae muscles become weak?

You can also use a resistance band for this exercise, which will pretty much eliminate any chance of injury, and it will be equally as effective since you won’t be going heavy anyway. Bands are much easier on your joints. It is a good exercise for any fitness level, but Banded Good Mornings are especially great for beginners who simply aren’t ready for Good Mornings with a loaded barbell. And Banded Good Mornings will be much more effective than a barbell without any plates on it.

5. Bent Over Rows

what does the erector spinae do

Bent over rows are going to work your erector spinae in an isometric fashion. The will be no movement in your erector spinae during the main part of the movement, but they will be fully engaged, as they will be keeping you in the proper position.

You will be using a barbell for this exercise. However, dumbbells work well too. This movement should be slow and controlled, although you could use more explosive force to pull the bar towards your body on the concentric phase. On the eccentric phase (negative phase), always lower the bar slowly, as to maintain the posterior tilt, which is what is protecting your spine from rounding forward.

How to do the bent-over row

  1. Put a loaded barbell on the floor and stand with your feet slightly more than hip width apart.
  2. Using deadlift form, bend down and grab the barbell with a shoulder-width grip.
  3. Bring the barbell up to about knee level, keep your knees bent and your back straight and about 45 degrees above parallel with the floor.
  4. Pull the barbell up to about midway between your navel and sternum.
  5. Pause, then slowly lower the barbell back down while keeping your same position.
  6. Once your arms are fully extended, row the barbell back up, and continue this for the desired reps.
  7. When you finish your reps, extend your arms down and move into a deadlift position to place the barbell on the ground.

You will have a slight bend in your knee and a posterior pelvic tilt during this movement. Keep your shoulders back and your chest out. Moreover, when getting in and out of this exercise, never arch your back. Get into the bent-over position just like you would a convention deadlift, don’t just pick the weights up off the floor carelessly. 

Bodyweight Erector Spinae Exercises

The following bodyweight erector spinae exercises will train your erector spinae muscles in a completely different manner. These are great as accessory work for those who powerlift and bodybuilding, and they are great for those who train calisthenics or bodyweight only.

6. Back Extensions

best lower back exercises

Back extensions are a lower spinal erector exercise. So, it will mainly work your lower back. It is arguably the best isolation exercise for the erector spinae.

Although we have this as a bodyweight exercise, and your body weight should be enough to work your erector spinae effectively. You can add weight once a 15 rep range becomes too easy. You can add weight by holding a weighted plate or dumbbell at your chest.

How to do the back extension:

  1. Position yourself on the back extension machine so your feet are secured in place. Your hips should be just barely above the padding. Keep your torso upright.
  2. Then, cross your arms on your chest.
  3. Now, lower your torso down until it’s just below parallel to the floor.
  4. Then, squeeze your glutes on the way back up and stop when your body is in line with your legs.

For this exercise, retract your shoulder blades and keep your chest up. You never want to round your back forward. Your spine will be rigid the entire movement.

Moreover, never hyperextend your back. Once your spine is aligned with your legs, lower back down. As you lower down, stop when your spine is parallel with the floor. If you hyperextend or go too low, you will be at risk of injury.

7. Glute Bridge

how to strengthen erector spinae muscles

The Glute Bridge is a good isometric exercise for the hamstrings and erector spinae. When you get into the glute bridge you will be using your hamstrings and erector spinae to hold the position.

Since your lower back will be one of the main focuses during this exercise, you can expect some good strength improvements with this one. The glute bridge will also greatly help with improving posture and lower back pain.

So, after a long day of sitting, instead of stretching your lower back, get into the glute bridge!

How to do a glute bridge:

  1. Lay on the ground with your back to the floor.
  2. Put the soles of your feet to the floor, with your knees bent at about 45 degrees.
  3. Raise your hips up to the sky while keeping your feet completely on the floor.
  4. Squeeze your glutes, quads, hamstrings and keep your core tight. If your hips start to fall to the ground, attempt to push them back up into position by squeezing your glutes, hamstrings and core.
  5. Hold this position for a set count of 30-60+ seconds.
8. Bird Dog

good exercises for the erector spinae

The bird dog is a great exercise to tone and strengthen your entire core, which includes your erector spinae, of course!

How to do a bird dog:

  1. Get down to the floor on your hands and knees.
  2. Your hands should be stacked directly under your shoulders and your knees at the same width of your hands and directly under your hips.
  3. Raise up your right hand so that your thumb is pointing to the sky and your arm is perfectly straight forward and parallel with the floor,
  4. At the same time, raise your leg on the opposite side of your arm so that it is straight and parallel to the floor. So if your right arm is raised, your left leg should be raised.
  5. Hold this position for 2-3 seconds while keeping completely tight , then alternate sides.
  6. Repeat this for a total of 8-12 times.
9. Prone Superman

What is the function of the erector spinae

The prone superman strengthens muscles along your entire spine. So that means your entire erector spinae will be engaged on this one.

How to do a prone superman:

  1. Lie face down with your chest, stomach and quads touching the ground. Your hands should be straight out in front of you, like superman flying through the sky.
  2. In a smooth and slow motion, raise both arms and legs off the ground. Use your back muscles to achieve this position, not your legs and arm muscles.
  3. Your stomach should be the only point of your body touching the ground.
  4. Hold this position for 2-5 seconds, then slowly lower back to the starting position and repeat.
  5. Do this 8-12 times for one set.

To make this erector spinae exercise more comfortable, do it on a rug or place a folded towel underneath you.

10. Standing Superman (aka Standing Bird Dog)

erector spinae strengthening exercises

This is a great dynamic erector spinae isometric exercise that also improves balance. The Standing Superman is very effective because it hits all of the musculature running up and down your spine.

Focus on your mind to muscle connection, really try to keep your erector spinae tight the entire time you are holding the position. This is how you will fully engage your back muscles, thus making this exercise super effective.

How to do a standing superman:

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart, neutral spine.
  2. Slowly lean forward as you extend your right leg straight behind you until it is parallel with the ground. Your body should also be parallel with the ground and in line with your leg.
  3. At the same time, raise your left arm until it is straight in front of you. Your palms should be facing straight down and your bicep will be running along your ear.
  4. Keep your eyes focused on the ground, this will help you keep balance.
  5. Hold this position for a count of 5 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
  6. Do this movement, alternating sides each time, for 8-12 reps.

Tip for beginners:

As this exercise is especially tough for beginners due to the balance and mobility needed to achieve the position, keep a chair in front of you so you can place your palm on it. This will greatly help you keep balance, allowing your to focus on engaging your erector spinae muscles.

***The above four erector spinae exercises are great for those who have pain in their lower back from sitting all day. Instead of stretching, do those four bodyweight exercises!***

11. Roman Chair Glute-Ham Raise

good lower back exercises

Although this exercise only has glutes and hamstrings in the name, it is also a fantastic exercise that heavily relies on the erector spinae. It’s going to work your lower back, which is the largest portions of your erector spinae.

You will need a roman chair to do this exercise, which most gyms have.

How to do a Roman Chair Glute Ham Raise:

  1. Place your feet on the platform of the roman chair, your shins and knees should be pressed up against to the pad. Your quads will be above the pad.
  2. Cross your arms over your chest, with each hand touching your front delts.
  3. Bend forward until your upper legs and body are parallel with the floor. Your legs and body should be perfectly aligned. Keep your hamstrings, glutes and core super tight to achieve this.
  4. Return to the top position and pause for a second then repeat for 8-10 reps.

To make this already difficult exercise even more difficult, hold a weight at your chest level (like you would with a back extension).

Unconventional Erector Spinae Exercises

The following exercises are unconventional as they employ different equipment and movement patterns than conventional training. These are dynamic exercises that are going to train your erector spinae in an explosive and dynamic way…

12. Kettlebell Swings

strengthen erector spinae muscles

The kettlebell swing is a total body exercise that burns tons of calories. It is an explosive exercise, so you will be moving with explosive force, not slowly. Nevertheless, you should be in complete control of your form.

Kettlebell swings work your hamstrings, glutes, back, shoulders and forearms. Your erector spinae will be fully engaged for the entire movement. It is like the hinge of a door, allowing you to maintain proper form. Again, being that this is an explosive exercise, your erector spinae will be training for explosive power. This is a great exercise for athletes, as they need to move with explosive power without comprising their lower back. So this will strengthen your back in a very dynamic way.

How to do a kettlebell swing:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Bend over to grab the kettlebell with both hands on the handle. Use a posterior pelvic tilt and bend your knees slightly to get into position, like you would a stiff legged deadlift.
  3. Using explosive force of your hips, swing the kettlebell up to shoulder level, while keeping your arms straight.
  4. In the same motion, swing it back down until it passes through your legs, then using explosive hip force, thrust it back through your legs and up to your shoulder level again. Your back should never round forward.
  5. Repeat this for 12-20 reps.
13. Steel Mace 360s and 10-to-2s

steel mace back

For those who aren’t familiar with steel maces, these are going to be mind-blowing exercises. We put these two together as they are similar in nature and they go hand-in-hand.

Steel mace 360s and 10-to-2s are going to train your entire upper body, but the main focus is going to be your core and grip strength. You can read all about the benefits and muscles work for steel mace 360s and 10-to-2s here, as there are many - we go in-depth in that article. For the sake of this post, let’s just talk in terms of the erector spinae.

Steel mace 360s and 10-to-2s are special in that they are both rotational and anti-rotational. You will need to turn at the spine slightly as you swing the mace around you, but you will also need to keep your hips, core and spine tight to maintain control at different points of the movement.

Rotation - As you swing the mace around your back and to your front side, you will be using torque, which builds rotational strength through the core. 

Anti-rotation (core stability) - When the mace is swinging along your backside and once it passes over to your front, you will need anti-rotation strength (core stability) to not let it pull you or lean to the side. This will train your hips and your entire core, as stability involves all of the muscles in your hips, glutes and core (abs, obliques, and erector spinae).

How to do a steel mace 360:

  1. Stack your hands near your navel and start with the mace at vertical front. Feet hip-to-shoulder width apart; neutral spine.
  2. Swing the mace over your shoulder at the 10 or the 2 (depending on how your hands are stacked - with hands right over left you should swing to your left; left over right means you swing to your right). Keep your ribs tucked, don’t flare your elbows and your hands as low as possible behind your head on the back part of the swing.
  3. When the mace reaches the opposite side pull it over your shoulder at a diagonal angle, use the momentum (yet keep control) and torque to bring it back to the starting position.
  4. 1-second pause, keep tight, then repeat.

Tip for beginners: Choke up on the mace if it’s too heavy or if you want to practice the movement before lowering your hands to the bottom of the mace handle.

How to do a steel mace 10-to-2:

  1. Feet hip-to-shoulder width apart; neutral spine.
  2. Keep your hands stacked and at your navel. Try to keep your hands as far down the mace handle as possible - the higher you place your hand up the handle the easier it will be.
  3. Move the mace from the 10 to 2 o’clock position using a diagonal pull over.
  4. Keep your eye on the ball and the mace vertical and close to your body (without touching your body).

Tip for performing these exercises with good form:

  • Keep your eye on the head of the mace as much as possible! It helps coordination and balance.
  • Remember, you can always make a movement (progressive ones too) easier by choking up on the handle.
  • Hands closer to the head of the mace = EASY.
  • Hands farther from the head of the mace = HARD.
  • Remember it's also about momentum. Let the mace do the work on the back side of the swing, and don't give the mace the death grip. Let your shoulders be relaxed on the back portion of the swing, but always keep your core tight. 
  • Always bring your hands down to your navel on the front side of the swing. When your stacked hands meet your belly button, pause, then continue your swing. Your hands should not be swinging from your chest height.

Overall, this is an amazing exercise for those who want to train their erector spinae for the true demands of life, which involves twisting and turning. It will allow you to accelerate and decelerate in different directions with more force and with less chance of injury, as most injuries is sports and life happen when you are moving and twisting and turning at the same time. This is the best exercise you can do for your erector spinae in terms of rotational and anti-rotational strength.

Steel Mace 360 and 10-to-2 Practice Moves

Steel Mace Basics

Steel Mace 360 and 10-to-2 Muscles Worked

importance of the erector spinae

The Erector Spinae Consists of Mainly Slow Twitch Muscles

It should be noted that the erector spinae muscles are almost entirely made up of slow-twitch fibers. This means they are made for endurance and they will be hard to grow in size. They will, however, become stronger.

That said, if you want to see your erector spinae muscles grow, moderate to high reps and sustained time under tension is the best way for erector spinae hypertrophy. If you are a bodybuilder or physique model, training you erector spinae like this can lead to a very well-developed set of spinal extensors, which will instantly set you apart on stage.

How to incorporate erector spinae exercises into your training regimen

It won’t be difficult or time consuming to work in erector spinae exercises to your current training schedule. All you have to do is incorporate the compound movements into your split and add one or two of the bodyweight or unconventional exercises at the end of your workout.

The unconventional exercises we listed will also be great for burning fat!

Examples:

For example, on back day, make sure you do deadlifts and bent over rows. Then at the end of the workout, do some back extensions and supermans. You can superset those for 3 sets of 10-15 reps. That’s all it takes!

For leg day, do stiff-legged deadlifts and good morning instead of ham curls on a machine (only do ham curls if you have time) and you will be working your hamstrings in the most effective way possible, while also hitting your erector spinae to great effect too. Then do a quick finisher of kettlebell swings.
On chest or shoulder day, do some 360s and 10 to 2s to finish off your workout. Don’t forget the importance of rotational work!

And that’s really it. All you have to do is train smart. Fewer isolation exercises and more compound movements for the majority of your workouts and you will be able to train all your muscles, and to a greater effect. You really don’t need to spend more time in the gym to train your erector spinae.

Sample Training Split:

Your split should look something like this:

Day 1: Legs (and Lower Back)
Day 2: Shoulders/Arms
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: Back
Day 5: Chest
Day 6: Rest
REPEAT

Cardio/HIIT and Core should be done at least two days a week. You can do those on rest days or at the end of your workout as a finisher. This is a great time to do the free weight and unconventional exercises we discussed.

Sample Leg Day Workout (that will hit your erector spine too)

Exercise 1: Squats (erector spinae will be worked) - 4 sets of 5-8 reps
Exercise 2: Stiff Legged Deadlifts (erector spinae will be worked) - 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Exercise 3: Split Squats - 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Exercise 4: Good mornings - 3 sets of 8 reps
Exercise 5: Leg Press - 3 sets of 8 reps

That’s it! Hit a core finisher after and you are done! Train heavy, relatively speaking, and you will become a beast with a strong lower back.

Sample Back Day Workout:

Exercise 1: Pull ups - 4 sets of max reps
Exercise 2: Deadlifts - 4 sets of 5 reps
Exercise 3: Rack Pulls - 3 sets of 5 reps
Exercise 4: Bent over rows - 3 sets of 8 reps
Exercise 5: Back extensions x Supermans - 3 sets of 10 reps (each)

Hit a quick HIIT finisher after and done!

Final Note

Building a strong set of erector spinae muscles doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated. If you train smart, you will be able to train all of your muscles effectively and efficiently.

Also, remember, there is no special stretch that is going to alleviate erector spinae pain. What you need is to strengthen them. So, don’t wait to create a strong back. Start doing erector spinae exercises now! After some time, you may realize that your erector spinae muscles were your weak link. Your posture will get better, your lower back pain will be alleviated, you will surely get stronger in all your big compound lifts, and if you are an athlete you will be able to move more explosively with less chance of injury. That’s a certified quadruple win!



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