The 11 Greatest Lower Back Exercises Of All Time!


lower back exercises

The lower back is one of the most important muscle groups in the entire body. It is the key to throwing around heavy weights in exercises like the squat and deadlift. If you want to build a big, strong lower back then I recommend you start using the 11 greatest lower back exercises of all time!

Introduction

  • Lower Back Exercise #11: Seated Barbell Good Mornings
  • Lower Back Exercise #10: Standing Barbell Good Mornings
  • Lower Back Exercise #9: Safety Squat Bar Good Mornings
  • Lower Back Exercise #8: 90 Degree Back Extensions
  • Lower Back Exercise #7: 45 Degree Back Extensions
  • Lower Back Exercise #6: Reverse Hyperextensions
  • Lower Back Exercise #5: T-bar Rows
  • Lower Back Exercise #4: Dead Stop Barbell Rows
  • Lower Back Exercise #3: Romanian Deadlifts
  • Lower Back Exercise #2: Conventional Deadlifts
  • Lower Back Exercise #1: Snatch Grip Deadlifts

In this comprehensive guide you will learn the 11 greatest lower back exercises of all time.

The lower back is easily one of the most important muscle groups for anyone who is serious about getting bigger and stronger. Powerlifters and strongman competitors care about their lower back strength because it plays a critical role in many of the competition lifts such as the squat, deadlift, farmer’s walk and super yolk.

Of course a strong lower back is also incredibly important for serious bodybuilders. Dorian Yates and Ronnie Coleman were known for their unbelievable lower back development on the bodybuilding stage. When they turned around it was “game over” for their competition.

Besides, having a strong lower back will help you to rep out heavy weights in the big lower body exercises such as squats and deadlifts.

In this guide I will teach you the best exercises to use for strengthening your lower back. All of the best lower back exercises fall into one of four main categories:

  1. Good mornings
  2. Back extensions
  3. Rows
  4. Deadlifts 

Each of these exercises has their own advantages and disadvantages. For example deadlifts may be the most effective lower back exercise that you can perform but they are also the most difficult to recover from.

In my experience you will get better results if you use a combination of these 4 different types of lower back exercises rather than just 1. That way you can get the benefits of each of them but without any of the drawbacks. Don’t worry, I will also teach you some of the best ways to incorporate these exercises into your long-term programming.

Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program.

Now let’s get down to business…

Lower Back Exercise #11: Seated Barbell Good Mornings

Good mornings are definitely one of the best types of exercises that you can use to train the lower back. They were used extensively by the Westside Barbell powerlifting club back in the 1990s and they are still very effective today.

There are many different types of good mornings that you can perform. The seated barbell good morning is not the most popular exercise but it is still very effective for strengthening the lower back. Many of the world’s best strength coaches including Charles Poliquin and Christian Thibaudeau are big believers in this exercise.

The seated good morning is performed just like a regular standing barbell good morning. The biggest difference is you will perform the seated good morning while you are sitting down.

There are a few advantages to the seated good morning that you should know about. It actually does a better job of isolating the lower back and the spinal erectors than the standing good morning. This is because the seated good morning prevents you from using your hamstrings and glutes to move the weight.

Your lower back has to work overtime to push your body out of the bottom position in this exercise.

In my experience one of the best ways to use the seated good morning is as part of a giant set for your posterior chain. This is an awesome way to add muscle mass to your glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors as well as increasing your overall strength and work capacity in the spinal erectors.

Here is a sample routine you may want to try. Check it out:

Posterior Chain Giant Set Routine

  • A1: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed in), 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Seated good morning, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Snatch grip Romanian deadlift, 4 x 12-15, 3/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A4: 45 degree back extension (holding DB at chest), 4 x 12-15, 2/0/1/1, 240 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise A4.t)

This is an extremely effective routine for adding muscle mass to your posterior chain. The idea behind the routine is you are pre-fatiguing your hamstrings with the lying leg curls. Then you are performing 3 back-to-back movements targeting your posterior chain.

Because your hamstrings are already pre-fatigued your lower back and spinal erectors will have to work even harder than normal to move the load. This type of routine works AWESOME at the beginning of a long training cycle where you are trying to hit a personal best in the deadlift.

Lower Back Exercise #10: Standing Barbell Good Mornings

The standing barbell good morning is another extremely effective exercise for targeting your posterior chain. This exercise was popularized by Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell training club.

Back in the 1990s Louie Simmons used to have his powerlifting team perform some type of good morning at least 70% of the time on their heavy lower body workouts. Nowadays Louie Simmons has his athletes perform good mornings less often but they are still a fantastic exercise for strengthening your lower back. 

One of the great things about the standing barbell good morning is that it acts as a form of “chaos training” for the squat and the deadlift.

In an ideal world your exercise technique would be absolutely perfect every time you performed a squat or deadlift. In reality most people have sets where their technique is less than perfect. One of the most common mistakes is letting the bar drift too far out in front of you on both squats and deadlifts.

The good morning is perfect for chaos training because it mimics a situation where the bar is moving too far out in front of you! If your lower back is strong enough then you can actually “save” these squats and deadlifts where your form is not perfect.

You should still strive to perform all of your reps with perfect form, but it is nice knowing that you can save these misgrooved lifts without risking injury if your lower back is strong enough.

If you are worried about hurting your lower back with regular good mornings then you may want to try good mornings from pins. For example:

The main difference is that you are starting the good mornings in the bottom position rather than the top. This version of the exercise might be a little bit safer because you don’t have to worry about slowing down the weight in the bottom position. You just let the barbell hit the pins, wait a second or two and then start your next rep.

In my experience most trainees do best training the good morning in the 5-15 rep range. This exercise can be performed in either accumulation or intensification phases as long as you stick to the appropriate rep ranges.

Lower Back Exercise #9: Safety Squat Bar Good Mornings

Safety squat bar good mornings are the king of good mornings for strengthening your lower back!  I’m going to have a hard time containing my enthusiasm for this exercise. I absolutely LOVE the safety squat bar good morning! This is easily one of the most effective exercises that you can perform with the safety squat bar. 

There are a few reasons why safety squat bar good mornings work your lower back so much harder than regular good mornings.

The biggest reason is that the bar is bent so the center of mass is further out in front of you! This means that the bar is actively trying to tip you forward so that you face-plant into the ground! This makes your lower back work much harder than normal.

Actually the safety squat bar good morning “feels” a lot like a conventional deadlift. It is the only good morning variation that will get your spinal erectors sore all the way from your lower back to the base of your skull!

Many world-class powerlifters have used the safety squat bar good morning as a core part of their squat and deadlift programs. For example here is powerlifting legend Dan Greene working up to some ridiculous weights on this exercise:

Dan may be using an incredible amount of weight but his technique is absolutely perfect. Now that’s how you build up a strong lower back! You may not be able to use as much weight as him on this exercise but I highly recommend you adopt his superior form and make it your own.

There are many ways that you can structure a workout with safety squat bar good mornings. For inspiration here is a squat / deadlift accessory workout taken directly from the “Lexen Xtreme” powerlifting team’s training log. Check it out:

Lexen Xtreme Squat / Deadlift Accessory Day

  • A1: Chain suspended safety squat bar good morning, 3 x 5, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Belt squat, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet dorsiflexed / pointing straight), 5 x 10-15, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: 45 degree back extension (holding DB at chest), 5 x 10-15, 2/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest
  • C3: Forward sled drags, 5 x 100 feet, 180 seconds rest

In case you were wondering the Lexen Xtreme powerlifting team trains using conjugate periodization. Their workouts are set up in a very similar way to the Westside Barbell training club.

One of the big differences is that they have one “heavy” squat / deadlift day where they perform their speed work and/or their heavy max effort work. Usually this falls on a Saturday.

Earlier in the week they have a dedicated squat / deadlift accessory day where they perform various exercises like good mornings, belt squats, back extensions, sled drags etc.

There are many different ways that you can incorporate safety squat good mornings into your training program but using them on a dedicated squat / deadlift accessory day is a great option!

Lower Back Exercise #8: 90 Degree Back Extensions

Back extensions are easily one of the best exercises that you can perform for your lower back. One of the things that I really like about back extensions is they keep your lower back strong AND healthy.

In the bottom position of any type of back extension exercise you get a traction force on your lower back. This just means that your lower back is decompressing as the spine bones are being pulled away from each other.

This is the opposite of an exercise like back squats where the barbell is compressing your lower back or forcing your spine bones into each other!

If you perform a lot of squats and deadlifts then it is a GREAT idea to also perform some back extensions to keep your lower back healthy. There are three main types of back extensions:

  • 90 degree back extensions
  • 45 degree back extensions
  • Reverse hyperextensions

Let’s kick our discussion off with 90 degree back extensions. Here is another video of this exercise:

This is probably one of the most difficult lower back exercises that you can perform. One of the things I really like about the 90 degree back extension is that it overloads the shortened (top) position of the strength curve.

Most compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts do the opposite: they overload the bottom position of the strength curve where your trunk is flexed. The 90 degree back extension is therefore awesome for making sure your lower back is strong from all joint angles.

Because you are primarily overloading the top position of the exercise I strongly recommend you experiment with isometric pauses in the top position. For example, performing sets on a 2/0/1/2 tempo (2 second eccentric phase, no pause in the bottom position, 1 second concentric phase, 2 second pause in the top position) would be a great place to start.

At first you may find that your bodyweight is challenging enough on this exercise. However, your strength should quickly progress to the point where you need to add additional loads to continue progressing.

Here are some of the most effective ways to load this exercise:

Option #1: Holding A Dumbbell At Your Chest

This is the simplest way to add weight to this exercise. You just hold a dumbbell at your chest as you perform the exercise. If you are just starting to add weight to 90 degree back extensions then this can be a great option.

One of the downsides to this loading variation is that it is difficult to hold really heavy dumbbells at your chest as you perform this exercise. For example it really isn’t practical to try and hold a 50-100 pound dumbbell at your chest on this movement!

As you get stronger you may want to try one of the following variations where you load the exercise with a barbell.

Option #2: Holding A Barbell With A Snatch Grip

This is an awesome way to load the 90 degree back extension. You just hold a barbell in front of you as you perform the movement.

I recommend you hold the barbell with a snatch grip so that you can use a longer range of motion on the exercise. If you use a shoulder-width grip then the barbell will hit the ground before you reach the bottom position of the movement.

Remember, the very bottom position of this exercise is great for decompressing your spine! You WANT to go down all the way on this exercise! If you are really strong then I recommend you load the barbell with 25 pound plates rather than 45 pound plates. This will help you to maximize the range of motion of the exercise.

Option #3: Holding A Barbell On Your Back

Now we’re talking! This is THE most effective way to add weight to the 90 degree back extension. You simply hold a barbell on your upper traps just like you would during a regular back squat.

Holding a barbell on your back makes this exercise extremely difficult to perform. Trust me, performing this variation with an empty 45 pound barbell is MUCH harder than holding a 45 pound dumbbell at your chest.

You may recognize Dorian Yates in the video. Notice how Dorian is taking a nice long pause in the top position of this exercise. This is not required but in my opinion it is a great way to make this exercise even more effective. Here is a video of the Olympic Weightlifting superstar Dmitry Klokov performing this exercise:

Dmitry likes to perform this exercise in a more dynamic manner without any pauses. I tend to prefer the version with a pause at the top but both styles work very well. Dmitry thinks that this is one of the best lower back accessory exercises that you can perform and I have to agree.

No, the 90 degree back extension will never replace things like deadlifts and heavy barbell rowing movements for developing your lower back. However, it is an AWESOME exercise to strengthen and rehabilitate your back at the same time.

Lower Back Exercise #7: 45 Degree Back Extensions

The 45 degree back extension is another fantastic exercise for the lower back.

In my opinion this exercise is just as effective as the 90 degree back extension. Both of these exercises do an awesome job of decompressing the lumbar spine and keeping your lower back healthy over the long-run. This is very important if you like to lift heavy weights on squats and deadlifts.

The obvious difference between these two exercises is the angle of your legs as you perform the movement. The 45 degree back extension is hardest right in the middle of the movement when your upper body is parallel to the ground.

It is very hard to overload this point in the lower back strength curve using any other exercise so this is a very valuable exercise. This exercise is definitely a lot easier to perform than the 90 degree back extension. Most of you reading this will need to add extra weight to the exercise to make it more challenging. 

Don’t worry – I have you covered! Here are five of the most effective ways to increase the load on this exercise. They are ranked in increasing order of effectiveness so the most challenging versions are saved for last.

Option #1: Holding A Dumbbell At Your Chest

This is the easiest way to add weight to the 45 degree back extension machine. You just pick up a dumbbell and hold it at your chest as you perform the movement.

This variation tends to work well for beginner and intermediate level trainees who are not super strong (at least not yet!). If you are stupid strong then you may have a hard time holding really heavy dumbbells at your chest for this movement

Option #2: Holding A Barbell On Your Back

This is another variation that you may want to try. It is similar to the 90 degree back extension variation where you hold a barbell on your back. Again I really like this variation for trainees who are not super strong yet as it does a great job of overloading your lower back.

If you have “mutant strength” as Stan Efferding says then you should probably avoid this variation as well. The problem is it might not be very safe to load up this exercise with a ton of weight. It can also be very challenging to get the barbell positioned on your back when you are using 100-200+ pounds.

Option #3: Holding A Barbell With A Snatch Grip

Now we’re talking! This is easily one of my favourite ways to make this exercise more challenging. You just grab a barbell with a snatch grip and perform the exercise like normal.

This variation overloads your lower back in a very unique way because the center of gravity is way down below your body. It feels sort of like a deadlift the first time you try it. T

he biggest advantage of this exercise variation is there is no limit to how much weight you can use on it. I have seen powerlifters use 300-400+ pounds on this exercise so get to work! This is definitely one of the best lower back accessory exercises that you can perform.

If you are really strong then I recommend you use lifting straps so that your grip does not become a limiting factor.

Option #4: Accentuated Eccentrics With Dumbbells

If you are a long-time reader of Revolutionary Program Design then you probably already know how much I like eccentric training. In my opinion eccentric training is the single best training method for boosting strength in advanced trainees.

I am such a huge fan of eccentric training that I published the 2 most important eccentric training articles available anywhere in the world:

Fortunately there is a very simple way to use eccentric training on the 45 degree back extension. You just hold a pair of dumbbells close to your chest on the way up and straighten your arms out in front of you on the way down.

The weight “feels” heavier on the way down because the leverages are much more difficult. If you perform this exercise correctly then the eccentric or lowering portion of the exercise will actually feel harder than the concentric or lifting portion!

For this exercise I recommend you use moderate rep ranges and a slower eccentric tempo. For example 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps with a 3-5 second eccentric phase on each rep would be perfect. The only problem with this exercise is you need very strong lower traps to hold the dumbbells out in front of you.

If you have a hard time with this then start training your lower traps!

Option #5: Band resistance

In my opinion this is the KING of 45 degree back extensions! I first learned about this exercise from Bret Contreras, AKA “The Glute Guy.” Brett believes this is an incredible exercise for your lower back and I agree 100%.

The bands make the exercise hard when your upper body is parallel to the ground and at the top position when your back is perfectly straight. The feeling on your lower back as you perform this exercise is just incredible!

I recommend you start with a red mini-band and progress to a monster-mini band over time as you get stronger. Another option is to use some band tension and hold a dumbbell at your chest. Brett Contreras is a big fan of this approach.

If you are worried about the band hurting your skin then you can place a towel on your beck before you perform the exercise. I find that lower reps work great on this exercise because the bands fatigue your lower back so quickly. For example you might want to try 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps with a 3/0/X/1 tempo.

Lower Back Exercise #6: Reverse Hyperextensions

The reverse hyperextension was invented by the powerlifting guru Louie Simmons in the 1970s. Louie broke his back while training for a powerlifting meet. His doctors wanted to fuse his lumbar vertebrae together and said that he would never walk again.

Louie agreed to the surgery and accepted the fact that hat he would never walk again. JUST KIDDING! Louie said F#CK THAT! and invented the reverse hyperextension to rehabilitate his lower back.

How effective was the reverse hyperextension for Louie Simmons? I’ll answer that with a story.

Louie was coaching a powerlifter on the squat and the powerlifter said “why should I listen to you, old man? You’ll never have 800 pounds on your back ever again.” Louie instantly came out of powerlifting retirement and became the oldest man in history to squat 900 pounds in competition.

The reverse hyperextension was Louie’s secret weapon for making this happen. The reverse hyperextension is so effective because it provides traction to the lumbar spine as you are strengthening it. In the bottom position of the exercise the space the lumbar vertebrae decompress and spinal fluid rejuvenates the entire area.

The 45 and 90 degree back extensions are also great for decompressing the lower back but the reverse hyperextension is far more effective for this purpose.

The biggest drawback of this exercise is that only the most hardcore of powerlifting gyms will be equipped with one. They are very expensive and most commercial gyms don’t carry them. However, if your gym does have one then I recommend you make it a staple accessory exercise for training the posterior chain. You won’t regret it!

Lower Back Exercise #5: T-bar Rows

Now we’re getting to the really heavy compound lifts: rows and deadlifts! It may seem a little strange to see rowing exercises included in a list of the 9 best lower back exercises of all time. Most rowing exercises are not particularly good at stimulating strength gains in the lower back. However, there are two big exceptions:

  • T-bar rows
  • Barbell rows

Both of these rowing movements work extremely well for strengthening your lower back so they definitely belong on the list of the 11 greatest lower back exercises! Let’s start by discussing the t-bar row.

In order to make the t-bar row an effective lower back exercise you have to use a little bit of cheating or “body English” during the set. I want you to start the movement almost like you are doing a deadlift. You only start pulling back with your elbows after the bar has gained some momentum.

In my opinion Dusty Hanshaw has absolutely perfect form on t-bar rows. Here is another video of him demonstrating this movement:

If you watch closely you will see that Dusty Hanshaw initiates the movement with his lower back. He only starts to pull back with his elbows once the bar has picked up some momentum. Then at the top of the movement he performs an isometric contraction with his lower back as he fully contracts his upper back.

This places an incredible training stimulus on the lower back. Dusty never performs any lower back accessory exercises such as back extensions in his training. Instead he relies on deadlifts and heavy rowing variations such as t-bar rows to build up his lower back strength.

As they say, you can’t argue with results!

I have to warn you that the t-bar row is one of the more dangerous exercises. The center of mass of the exercise is way out in front of your body so you have to be absolutely perfect with your exercise form. Let’s take a look at some different styles of t-bar rowing to make sure you understand how to perform it as a lower back exercise.

Here is Troponin Nutrition’s Justin Harris giving a perfect t-bar row demonstration: 

If you watch closely you will see that Justin performs a mini-deadlifting motion to get the bar moving. He’s only doing this for a few inches but it’s definitely there. Then after the bar has gained some momentum he starts pulling his elbows back to get a huge contraction in his upper back.

This is great for overloading BOTH the lower back and the upper back all at the same time. I can’t get enough of this stuff!

If you are an extremely advanced lifter then it is possible to perform t-bar rows with a heavy amount of cheating. I don’t necessarily recommend heavy cheating on the t-bar row as the risk of injury is higher but it can work incredibly well for building a bigger, stronger lower back.

Just take a look at this video of Ronnie Coleman:

Ronnie Coleman is t-bar rowing 9 plates – wow!! The amount of overload Ronnie is placing on his lower and upper back in this video is just unbelievable. I recommend most trainees copy the form of Dusty Hanshaw in the above videos.

If you are going to model your form after Ronnie Coleman then you have to be very, very careful to stay as “tight” as possible during the set. In other words make sure your lower back is at least a little bit arched and that the weight does not get too far out in front of you at any time.

If you can perform t-bar rows like Ronnie while staying safe then your lower back strength will shoot through the roof!

Lower Back Exercise #4: Dead Stop Barbell Rows

The barbell dead stop row is the absolute king of rowing exercises for strengthening your lower back and the rest of your backside. In fact I believe the barbell dead stop row is even more effective than the t-bar row for most trainees.

I want you to take another look at the above video. The 4x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw gives a perfect demonstration of the barbell dead stop row.

There are actually two seperate parts to this movement. The start of the movement is performed almost exactly like a deadlift. You want to deadlift the bar as hard as possible until it is just below your knees. Then when the bar is approaching your knees you initiate the rowing part of the movement by pulling your elbows back.

The main benefit of this exercise is you get to row a weight that is WAY heavier than normal! If you control the weight on the way back down then you are actually performing eccentric training for both your lower and upper back.

This is an unbelievably effective exercise for building strength in your backside. In fact, the deadlift world record holder Cailer Woolam calls cheating barbell rows his #1 accessory exercise for building a huge deadlift.

The other advantage of this exercise is that it is MUCH safer than regular barbell rows. With regular barbell rows you have to slow the bar down and then reverse it in the bottom position. This is very hard on your lower back and not in a good way! It is rare to see someone perform regular barbell rows with heavy weight and strict form.

The only person I can think of that uses picture-perfect form on regular barbell rows is Ronnie Coleman. For example:

If you can maintain ultra-strict form like Ronnie Coleman then the regular barbell row can be a great lower back and upper back exercise. However, for most trainees the barbell dead stop row is a better choice. It will let you handle more weight AND lower your risk of injury.

If you are going to use heavy rowing exercises such as barbell dead stop rows and t-bar rows in your training then you have to be very careful with how you structure your workouts. These exercises are very tough on your lower back. The most important thing is to make sure your lower back has enough rest over the course of the week.

Some trainees find that they cannot perform heavy squats or deadlifts the day after they perform t-bar rows or barbell dead stop rows. If this describes you then just be careful when it comes to designing your overall program.

Heavy barbell rows are a great exercise but you don’t want them to interfere with your other lower body exercises.

Lower Back Exercise #3: Romanian Deadlifts

Now it’s time to talk about the king of lower back exercises: the deadlift! There are many types of deadlifts that you can perform in the gym. In my opinion these are the most effective deadlifts for building the lower back:

  • The Romanian deadlift
  • The conventional deadlift
  • The snatch grip deadlift

Let’s kick things off with a very under-rated deadlifting exercise, the Romanian deadlift (also called the stiff-legged deadlift). The Romanian deadlift primarily works the hamstrings but it also works the lower back very hard.

Dorian Yates is giving a picture-perfect demonstration of this exercise in the above video.

It is very important that you keep a strong arch in your lower and middle back when performing Romanian deadlifts. This will limit the amount of weight you can lift but it will work your lower back MUCH harder.

One of the great things about the Romanian deadlift is that it is not nearly as taxing on the central nervous system as other types of deadlifts. This means you can include this exercise in your training programs without hurting your recovery ability.

One of the best ways to make this exercise more challenging is to use band tension. For example here is Josh Bryant coaching a couple of bodybuilders through this awesome exercise:

Normally the Romanian deadlift is hardest at the bottom position and easiest at the top position. With the bands the exercise is hard at the bottom AND at the top! The bands are literally pulling you down faster than the speed of gravity which places a huge overload on your lower back.

As a general rule of thumb I recommend you perform Romanian deadlifts for slightly higher rep ranges. Sets of 6-15 reps tend to work great on this exercise. You can’t perform super low reps on the Romanian deadlift but I can’t think of any other drawbacks to it. It is simply fantastic for building a big, strong lower back!

Lower Back Exercise #2: Conventional Deadlifts

Now let’s talk about what most people consider the king of lower back exercises: the conventional deadlift!

The conventional deadlift is an extremely important exercise and should be used by most trainees in some fashion regardless of their goals. After all, what could be more effective for building a thick, strong lower back than lifting a heavy object off the ground?

One of the downsides to the conventional deadlift is that it can be very taxing on your central nervous system. Many people find that they cannot perform heavy conventional deadlifts more than once every 1-2 weeks or they just cannot recover.

Fortunately there are a few different ways to modify this exercise to make it easier to recover from. The rack pull is a variation of the conventional deadlift where the bar is elevated a few inches off the ground in a power rack. For example:

The rack pull can be a very effective exercise to strengthen your lower back without burning out your central nervous system. The most taxing part of the conventional deadlift tends to be the very bottom of the movement so eliminating that part of the movement makes sense if you are worried about your recovery.

The Westside Barbell powerlifting club performs some type of rack pull almost every month to build up their conventional deadlifting strength. Many bodybuilding coaches such as John Meadows also frequently use rack pulls in their clients’ training programs because it is much easier to recover from than a full range of motion deadlift.

Another great variation of the deadlift is the deficit deadlift. The idea is simple: you stand on a 2-4 inch platform and deadlift the weight up. Powerlifters such as Cailer Woolam believe you can make this exercise even more effective by adding band tension to it. Check it out;

The deficit deadlift against bands is such an awesome exercise for your lower back because it overloads the bottom AND the top of the exercise! The deficit makes the start of the movement much more challenging than normal. After all, you are starting a good 2-4 inches lower than you normally would. However, the top of the movement is also much harder because that is where the band tension really kicks in!

This exercise is so effective that Cailer has called it his #1 deadlift exercise for building up his competition stance deadlift. I highly recommend you give this exercise a shot. I think you will be surprised at how effective it can be for increasing the strength of your lower back.

Out of all the barbell exercises the deadlift is the one that seems to respond best to band tension. I don’t have any scientific studies to back this up but my experience in working with scores of athletes has proven to me that banded deadlifts are just an unbelievable all-around exercise.

Lower Back Exercise #1: Snatch Grip Deadlifts

Now it’s time to talk about the king of all lower back exercises: the snatch grip deadlift! The snatch grip deadlift is simply unbeatable for building a big, strong lower back!

The main difference between a snatch grip deadlift and a conventional deadlift is that you grip the bar with a very wide grip. You want to go as wide as you can without your hands slipping. And yes, using lifting straps is allowed on this exercise!

The ultra-wide snatch grip does many things. First of all it forces you to bring yourself lower to the ground before starting the lift. This significantly increases the range of motion of the exercise so it “feels” like you are performing a deficit deadlift.

The snatch grip also puts you in a much more mechanically challenging position. This forces all of your muscles to work much harder but your lower back, upper back and hamstrings have to work especially hard.

 The snatch grip deadlift is like the conventional deadlift on steroids!

If you are a powerlifter or strongman competitor peaking for competition then you should focus on the conventional deadlift (or sumo deadlift if that’s your thing). However, if you don’t have a competition coming up then you will increase the strength of your lower back faster by focusing on the snatch grip deadlift.

There are many different variations of this exercise that you can use. Let’s take a look at some of the most effective ones.

Option #1: Snatch Grip Rack Deadlift

This is a very useful variation of the snatch grip deadlift. Many elite powerlifters have used this as a deadlift accessory exercise because the overall range of motion is very similar to a conventional deadlift.

Overall this partial range of motion deadlift variation doesn’t train the lower back quite as hard as the snatch grip deadlift from the floor. However, it does hit your upper back very hard including your lats, traps and spinal erectors. 

Option #2: Deficit Snatch Grip Deadlift

The deficit snatch grip deadlift is probably the single best exercise you can perform for strengthening your lower back. The range of motion is enormous on this exercise because of the ultra-wide grip and the deficit. In fact the starting position of this exercise is so deep that it almost feels like you are performing a back squat!

The extra range is extremely useful for training not only the lower back but also your hamstring and the stubborn vastus medialis muscle of the quadriceps. The Canadian strength coach Charles Poliquin called this the single most bang-for-your-buck exercise that you can perform in the gym.

Here is what Charles has to say about this exercise:

“If you told me you were going to jail and only had a barbell and didn’t want to get raped in the showers and could only do one exercise to put mass and strength on, then I’d tell you to do the snatch deadlift on a platform.”

Option #3: Eccentric-Only Snatch Grip Deadlifts

If you are one of those creative lifters who likes to try out new training methods in the gym then you MUST try the eccentric-only snatch grip deadlift! Eccentric deadlifts have a long history in the iron game.

Bob Peoples was performing supra-maximal eccentric deadlifts way back in the 1940s! He used a tractor to lift the weight up to lockout and then slowly lowered the weight back down all by himself. In 1946 deadlifted an unbelievable 720 pounds at a bodyweight of just 178 pounds. Talk about incredible!

If you want to boost your lower back strength as fast as humanly possible then eccentric-only deadlifts are one of the best ways to do it.

To perform the eccentric-only snatch grip deadlift you will need two well-trained spotters. They are going to stand on either side of the barbell. During the concentric or lifting phase of the exercise they will help you lift the weight all the way to lockout. Then on the way down you will lower the weight all by yourself.

I recommend you use an explosive concentric or lifting phase and an 8-10 second eccentric or lowering phase. These slow eccentric reps are unbelievably effective for building strength and muscle mass.

Conclusion

lower back exercises

If you want to get as big and strong as possible then you must pick the right exercises to train your lower back! After all, the lower back plays a critical role in many of the big compound exercises.

The best exercises for training the lower back include different types of good mornings, back extensions, rows and deadlifts. In my experience some unconventional exercises such as safety squat bar good mornings, barbell dead stop rows and snatch grip deadlifts work especially well for training the lower back. I

f you want to get the most out of your training then I strongly recommend you start using some of the lower back exercises from this article. Training the lower back is hard work but the results are worth the effort!

“The more you’re obsessed by something, the better chance you have of achieving it.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen

I am the creator and owner of Revolutionary Program Design. I help advanced athletes take their training to the next level and achieve results they never imagined possible.

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