Spinal Erector Exercises | The Ultimate Guide!


Are you curious about the best spinal erector exercises?

Do you wonder how to train the spinal erectors for size and strength?

Then you’ve come to the right place.

In this comprehensive guide, I will show you how to use the best spinal erector exercises to take your physique to the next level!

Introduction

  • Part 1: Deadlifts
  • Part 2: Barbell Rows
  • Part 3: Back Extensions
  • Part 4: Reverse Hyper Extensions
  • Part 5: Good Mornings

The spinal erectors are a group of long muscles on your upper and lower back. These muscles start at your lower back, and run all the way up to the back of your neck!

The spinal erectors are extremely important for bodybuilders AND powerlifters. Bodybuilders need to train the spinal erectors, as they make your back appear thicker and more powerful.

Just think of Ronnie Coleman or Dorian Yates hitting a back pose!

Powerlifters also need strong spinal erectors, as they play a huge role in the squat and deadlift. In fact, the spinal erectors might be the single most important muscle group for competitive powerlifters! 

So how do you train the spinal erectors for size and strength?

The best spinal erector exercises include deadlifts, good mornings, back extensions, reverse hyperextensions, and barbell rows. All of these exercises train the spinal erectors through a full range of motion, which is critical for building muscle mass and strength.

All of these exercises have their own advantages and disadvantages. Throughout this guide, I will show you how to use different variations of these exercises depending on your goal.

For example, if you are a bodybuilder, then exercises like rack pulls and barbell rows are ideal. They let you train the spinal erectors (plus the rest of your upper back) without overtraining your lower back.

On the other hand, if you are a serious powerlifter, then you may get better results from full range of motion deadlifts, plus different spinal erector accessory exercises like back extensions and reverse hyperextensions.

Now let’s take a closer look at the top 5 best spinal erector exercises!

Part 1: Deadlifts

Deadlifts are the absolute king of spinal erector exercises. No other exercise even comes close!

Deadlifts are so effective because they train the spinal erectors through a full range of motion. They also let you lift relatively heavy weights, and they place a huge emphasis on the lower AND upper portions of the spinal erectors.

The truth is, there are many different deadlift variations you can use in your training. Here are some of your best options:

The Best Deadlift Variations For Training The Spinal Erectors

  • Option #1: Conventional Deadlifts
  • Option #2: Sumo Deadlifts
  • Option #3: Rack Deadlifts
  • Option #4: Deficit Deadlifts
  • Option #5: Romanian Deadlifts
  • Option #6: Snatch Grip Deadlifts
  • Option #7: Deadlifts Against Bands

Let’s take a closer look at each of these variations.

Option #1: Conventional Deadlifts

Conventional deadlifts are BY FAR the most popular deadlifting variation in the world.

Performing a conventional deadlift is extremely simple: you bend down, grab the barbell, and stand up with it!

Conventional deadlifts are great because they train the spinal erectors through a full range of motion. In my experience, conventional deadlifts work awesome for powerlifters, and beginner bodybuilders.

Powerlifters love conventional deadlfits because they are one of the competition lifts. You can’t be a powerlifter if you don’t perform the deadlift!

Powerlifters usually perform the deadlift for sets of 1-5 reps, as high-rep deadlifts are very difficult to recover from.

Conventional deadlifts also work great for beginner bodybuilders.

Most beginners see rapid size / strength gains on the deadlift. However, most advanced bodybuilders avoid the conventional deadlift.

Many advanced bodybuilders find the conventional deadlift is too difficult to recover from, and puts too much stress on their lower back.

If you are a bodybuilder, then other deadlift variations like the rack pull or Romanian deadlift may be a better choice for training the spinal erectors.

Option #2: Sumo Deadlifts

The sump deadlift is probably the second most popular deadlift variation in the world.

The sumo deadlift puts more stress on the quads, glutes, and hips than the conventional deadlift. It also places less emphasis on the spinal erectors.

If your primary goal is to train the spinal erectors (such as the upper and lower back), then the conventional deadlift is probably a better choice. However, many powerlifters believe the sumo deadlift is a great exercise for building the conventional deadlift.

For example, the world-class powerlifter Matt Wenning loves using the sumo deadlift in his strength training programs.

He believes it is safer than the conventional deadlift, and just as effective.

Option #3: Rack Pulls

Rack pulls are an EXCELLENT exercise for training the spinal erectors, or erector spinae.

The main difference between a rack pull and a conventional deadlift is the starting position. With the rack pull, the barbell is elevated several inches higher at the start.

This reduces the stress on your lower back, and increases the stress on your middle and upper back muscles.

Powerlifters like rack pulls because they let you train the deadlift with a heavier than normal weight. However, rack pulls are especially effective for bodybuilders.

Many bodybuilders find rack pulls put more stress on the middle and upper spinal erectors, while being much easier to recover from.

Talk about a win-win situation!

Of course, rack pulls are also excellent for building the upper traps.

Option #4: Deficit Deadlifts

Deficit deadlifts are a very popular exercise with world-class powerlifters.

To perform a deficit deadlift, you must stand on top of a 1-4 inch platform.  This increases the range of motion of the exercise, and forces you to “squat down” more in the starting position.

Deficit deadlifts are great for training the spinal erectors through a large range of motion. They place more emphasis on the lower back, and are great for building strength in the bottom part of the deadlift.

Many powerlifters use the deficit deadlift to improve their strength off the ground on the regular deadlift.

Unfortunately, the deficit deadlift is not the best choice for bodybuilders. For advanced bodybuilders, it places a ton of stress on the lower back, and is very difficult to recover from.

Option #5: Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts are BY FAR one of the most popular deadlift variations for bodybuilders.

The Romanian deadlift is basically a stiff-legged deadlift. You keep your legs relatively straight throughout the exercise. You also have to keep your lower back arched, and push your butt back behind you in the bottom position.

If yo perform the Romanian deadlift correctly, you will feel a HUGE stretch in your hamstrings in the bottom position.

The Romanian deadlift is used by bodybuilders to train their hamstrings. However, it does a great job of training the lower back, plus the rest of the spinal erectors.

Many bodybuilders find the Romanian deadlift is easier to recover from than regular conventional deadlifts, as you cannot use as much weight on this variation.

Option #6: Snatch Grip Deadlifts

Snatch grip deadlifts are another FANTASTIC exercise for training the spinal erectors. In fact, the legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin believes that snatch grip deadlifts are the #1 exercise in the world for training the spinal erectors! Talk about an endorsement!

So what makes the snatch grip deadlift so good for building size and strength?

The snatch grip deadlift is performed with an extremely wide grip. This increases the range of motion of the exercise, as you have to squat down more in the starting position to grab the barbell.

The snatch grip deadlift is almost like a deficit deadlift.

You cannot use as much weight on this variation. However, the stress on your muscles (including your upper and lower back) is INSANE!

I highly recommend this exercise for bodybuilders AND powerlifters!

Option #7: Deadlifts Against Bands

I’ve saved the best for last!

In my experience, performing deadlifts against bands is THE FASTEST way to build big, strong spinal erectors!

Here is a video of me demonstrating snatch grip rack deadlifts against bands:

The resistance bands make the exercise feel heavier at the top, and lighter at the bottom. They also increase the eccentric stress on your muscles throughout the entire range of motion of the exercise.

Many powerlifting coaches like Louie Simmons use rack deadlifts against bands as a core part of their training program. However, in my experience they also work AWESOME for bodybuilders looking to build bigger spinal erectors.

You can also use bands on other variations of the deadlift, such as the Romanian deadlift.

In my opinion, banded deadlifts are the absolute fastest way to build bigger, stronger spinal erectors. I highly recommend you give them a shot!

Part 2: Barbell Rows

Heavy barbell rows are simply FANTASTIC for building the spinal erectors.

Some bodybuilders and powerlifters avoid heavy barbell rows, as they can be difficult to recover from. This is a fair point.

However, if you feel comfortable performing them, heavy barbell rows are one of THE fastest ways to build the spinal erectors.

Here are some of your best options:

The Best Rowing Variations For Training The Spinal Erectors

  • Option #1: Barbell Rows
  • Option #2: Barbell Dead-Stop Rows
  • Option #3: T-Bar Rows
  • Option #4: Smith Machine Rows

Let’s take a closer look at each of these options.

Option #1: Barbell Rows

Barbell rows are one of the classic “mass-building” exercises for the upper back.

This exercise works all of the muscles of the upper back, including the spinal erectors!

Many bodybuilders and powerlifters get good results performing this exercise with some cheating, or “body English.”

Using a little bit of cheating lets you overload your upper back muscles with a heavier than normal weight. In other words, it acts as a form of eccentric training.

Bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman used heavy barbell rows to build the lower back, plus the rest of the spinal erectors. On the other hand, world-record holding powerlifters like Cailer Woolam use the barbell row as an accessory exercise for the deadlift.

Not everyone can recover from heavy barbell rows. However, for many lifters, they are a fantastic spinal erector exercise.

Option #2: Barbell Dead-Stop Rows

This is another awesome variation of the classic barbell row, as demonstrated by the 4x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw.

The main difference with this variation, is you pause the bar on the ground in between each rep.

The start of this exercise is exactly like the conventional deadlift. However, once the bar gets close to your knees, you rapidly row the barbell into your stomach.

The barbell dead stop row is easier to execute than a regular barbell row, as you get to re-set your form in between each rep. It also puts a little less stress on your lower back in the bottom position of the exercise.

If the regular barbell row is too touch on your lower back, then I highly recommend you try the barbell dead stop row!

Option #3: T-Bar Rows

The t-bar row is another FANTASTIC exercise for training the spinal erectors, aka the erector spinae.

In this video, Dusty Hanshaw gives a picture-perfect demonstration the t-bar row. The key to performing this exercise is to use a V-handle attachment, and to row the weight into your stomach without standing up too much.

The t-bar row works more than just the spinal erectors: it is also great for the traps, rhomboids, rear delts, and lats.

This exercise is primarily used by bodybuilders. In fact, I’ve almost never seen a powerlifter perform this movement.

If you are an advanced bodybuilder, then performing this exercise for sets of 8-15 reps can be a great way to beef up your backside.

Option #4: Smith Machine Rows

Smith machine rows are another fantastic rowing exercise for advanced bodybuilders.

In this video, IFBB pro Dusty Hanshaw is rowing 5 plates per side on the smith machine!

Just like the t-bar row, this exercise is great for targeting the spinal erectors, traps, rhomboids, rear delts, and lats. In other words, it targets every muscle in your upper and lower back!

Part 3: Back Extensions

Back extensions are one of the best lower back accessory exercises that you can perform.

Back extensions primarily target the lower spinal erectors, although your middle and upper spinal erectors will receive some stimulation as well.

Back extensions also decompress your lower back, which is important if you perform a lot of heavy squats and deadlifts in your training.

Here are some of the best back extension variations you can try:

The Best Back Extension Variations For Training The Spinal Erectors

  • Option #1: The 45 Degree Back Extension
  • Option #2: 90 Degree Back Extension

Let’s take a closer look at each of these variations.

Option #1: 45 Degree Back Extensions

The 45 degree back extension is a FANTASTIC exercise for training the lower back, or the lower spinal erectors.

All you have to do is position yourself in the 45 degree back extension machine, lower your upper body down to the ground, and then lift your upper body back up using your lower back.

The 45 degree back extension is a great choice for bodybuilders and powerlifters. If you are an advanced trainee, then you will probably need to add some extra resistance to make the exercise harder.

Here are some of the best ways to add weight to this exercise:

  • Option #1: Holding a dumbbell at your chest
  • Option #2: Holding a barbell at arms length
  • Option #3: Holding a barbell on your back
  • Option #4: Looping a resistance band around your neck

In my experience, adding band tension to this exercise is an AMAZING way to train the spinal erectors. Here is a video of me demonstrating this exercise:

To perform the 45 degree back extension with bands, you loop bands under the bottom of the machine, and then over your upper back / neck.

I recommend holding a small towel on your neck, and looping the bands over the towel. Otherwise, the bands may irritate your skin.

The bands make the exercise WAY harder in the top part of the movement.

Your lower spinal erectors will be on fire after just one set!

Variation #2: 90 Degree Back Extensions

The 90 degree back extension is another FANTASTIC exercise for training your lower back muscles.

Unlike the 45 degree back extension, this exercise is hardest in the very top of the movement when your upper body is parallel to the ground.

For most people, just using your bodyweight will be challenging enough. However, more advanced bodybuilders and powerlifters may need to add extra resistance to make the exercise more challenging.

Here are some of your best options:

  • Option #1: Holding a dumbbell at your chest
  • Option #2: Holding a barbell at arms length
  • Option #3: Holding a barbell on your back
  • Option #4: Looping a resistance band around your neck

In my experience, holding a barbell on top of your upper back is the BEST way to add weight to this exercise.

For example, here is 6x Mr. Olympia winner Dorian Yates demonstrating this technique:

Talk about an intense set!

I recommend just starting out with the empty 45 pound barbell on this exercise. That should be challenging enough for most trainees. Over time, you can add extra weight to the barbell to make it more challenging.

The 45 and 90 degree back extensions are two of the best spinal erector accessory exercises that you can perform.

I highly recommend you give them a shot!

Part 4: Reverse Hyper Extensions

The reverse hyperextension was invented by Louie Simmons in the 1970s.

Today, it is one of THE best lower back / spinal erector accessory exercises that you can perform in the gym.

Many powerlifters believe that this is the #1 lower back exercise in the world!

Of course, the reverse hyperextension is not just for powerlifters. Many legendary bodybuilding coaches like John Meadows have also used it in their training, with exceptional results.

Most powerlifters perform 3-4 sets of 8-20 reps on this exercise. All you have to do is lay down, and start swinging your legs back!

Unfortunately, most gyms do not have access to a reverse hyperextension machine. However, if you are lucky enough to have access to one, then you have to start using it!

It is simply a phenomenal exercise for your hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors.

Part 5: Good Mornings

Good mornings are another excellent exercise for training the spinal erectors.

Many powerlifting programs like The Westside Barbell Training Program use good mornings as a key spinal erector accessory exercise.

If you are serious about improving your powerlifting total, then here are 3 of the best good morning variations you can try:

The Best Good Morning Variations For Training The Spinal Erectors

  • Option #1: Standing Good Mornings
  • Option #2: Seated Good Mornings
  • Option #3: Safety Squat Bar Good Mornings

Let’s take a closer look at each of these variations.

Option #1: Standing Good Mornings

This is the classic way to perform the barbell good morning.

First, you stand upright with a barbell resting on your back. Then, you lower down until your torso is almost parallel with the ground, and then stand back up.

The barbell good morning is a great accessory exercise for the squat and deadlift. It trains the spinal erectors through a relatively large range of motion, and acts as a form of “chaos training.”

If you are strong on the good morning, then you will be better at finishing the squat and deadlift – even when you get out of position, and use sloppy technique.

The good morning can be very hard on the lumbar spine, so most people perform this exercise for higher reps.

However, the Westside crew performs the good morning for sets of 1-3 reps, so there is more than 1 way to skin a cat.

Option #2: Seated Good Mornings

Seated good mornings are another great variation that you can try.

This variation does a better job of isolating the lower back and spinal erectors. The legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin liked to use this variation at the start of 12-week training cycles to condition the lower back.

I wouldn’t perform this exercise for low reps. However, it is a great high-rep accessory exercise that you can use in your training program.

Option #3: Safety Squat Bar Good Mornings

Now we’re getting to the good stuff!

The safety squat bar good morning is my absolute FAVORITE good morning variation. This exercise puts more stress on your upper and lower spinal erectors than the regular good morning.

It’s also easier on your lumbar spine than the regular good morning.

Many elite powerlifters like Dan Greene have used the safety squat bar good morning as a core part of their training program.

If you only want to use one good morning variation in your workout program, then let it be the safety squat bar good morning!

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Conclusion | The Best Spinal Erector Exercises!

The spinal erectors are one of the most important muscle groups to train.

They play a huge role in heavy compound exercises like the squat and deadlift. They also make the upper back appear “thicker,” and give you the “look of power” that every bodybuilder wants.

In this guide, I showed you a total of 17 exercises that you can use to train the spinal erectors. We covered different variations of the deadlift, barbell row, back extension, reverse hyperextension, and good morning.

No matter what your goal is, I am confident these exercises will work AWESOME for you!

So what are you waiting for? Start using these 17 spinal erector exercises and take your training to the next level!

All I know is that the first step is to create a vision, because when you see the vision – the beautiful vision – that creates the want power.

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

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

What's going on! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen, I'm the creator of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to take your training to the next level, then you've come to the right place... My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world!

2 thoughts on “Spinal Erector Exercises | The Ultimate Guide!

  1. what is the period of this revolutionary program should a person of a slim body make a plan to achieve ?

  2. Hi Chris!

    I’m not quite sure what you’re asking here – could you please rephrase your question for me? It’s probably just something that I’m missing.

    From what I can gather, it sounds like you are curious about how long it would take for a thinner individual to develop a pair of muscular spinal erectors. In my experience these muscles respond very rapidly if you train them correctly. I have seen many individuals pack on upwards of 10-15 lbs in a 12-week period where we specialized on developing the spinal erectors and the lower back musculature.

    You can always shoot me an email at [email protected] if you have a really specific question you want to ask in private or if you are interested in working with me directly.

    I hope this helps!
    -Mike

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