While most people focus on big muscle groups like their chest, biceps, or quadriceps, they often forget to target their lower back. Lower back training is crucial for good posture, better performance, and general fitness.
In this article, I have shared the five suitable barbell exercises for lower back that can help you maximize your strength and mobility.
A study has shown that by strengthening the low back muscles, you can reduce the risk of injuries1Carpenter DM, Nelson BW. Low back strengthening for the prevention and treatment of low back pain. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Jan;31(1):18-24. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199901000-00005. PMID: 9927005. So it would be great to have some bodyweight or weighted lower back workouts in your training program.
Who Can Do Lower Back Barbell Exercises?
Those who want to build up their spinal strength can do the lower back exercises with barbell. Besides strengthening your posterior chain muscles, these workouts can also improve your squat and deadlift performance.
Note: These are not suitable for all, particularly beginners and people with back pain. So it would be best to consult your physician before you do them.
The Best Barbell Exercises for Lower Back
- Barbell Good Morning
- Barbell Partial Deadlift
- Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Barbell Lower Back Extension
- Barbell Hip Thrust
You can do these workouts to increase your lower back strength as well as you can add them to your strength-training routine to boost your overall performance and results.
Note: These exercises are primarily for strengthening purposes, not for treating lower back pain or injury.
1. Barbell Good Morning
It also helps you improve your big lifts, such as deadlifts and squats, and minimize the risk of hamstring injuries2 Vigotsky AD, Harper EN, Ryan DR, Contreras B. Effects of load on good morning kinematics and EMG activity. PeerJ. 2015 Jan 6;3:e708. doi: 10.7717/peerj.708. PMID: 25653899; PMCID: PMC4304869.
Let’s see how you can do barbell Good Morning step-by-step:
- Place the barbell on the back of your shoulder and stand upright with your back straight and feet shoulder-width apart. That’s the starting position.
- Pushing your hips back, slowly bend your torso forward without bending your knees until your chest is parallel to the floor.
- Pause for a moment, and then extending your hips return your torso to the start. That’s one rep.
- Perform three sets of six to eight reps.
Can beginners do this exercise? Yes! They can do it without a barbell.
When should you perform Good Morning? You can perform barbell Good Morning on any day you like, before and after your big lifts.
2. Barbell Partial Deadlift
The partial deadlift is an excellent exercise to strengthen your entire back muscles, including the lower back.
It puts less stress on your lumbar spine because of the limited range of motion and helps you isolate only back muscles.
The partial deadlift will also help you scale up your strength for doing different deadlift variations.
Steps to perform a barbell partial deadlift:
- Put the appropriate weight into the barbell and place it on the chest press bench or an elevated object.
- Stand upright in the standard deadlift stance close to the bar.
- Bending your hips and knees, lower yourself enough to grab the bar with an overhand or alternate grip, hands shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms straight, core tight, and maintain a neutral spine position.
- Lift the bar off the bench until your hips are extended forward.
- Pause for a moment and return the barbell to the starting position.
- Shoot for three sets of six to eight reps.
You can also do a partial deadlift on a rack pull or smith machine.
3. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
The single-leg RDL is an excellent exercise to improve balance while strengthening your hamstring, lower back, and glute muscles.
However, it is an advanced movement that requires you to hold your entire body weight as well as barbell weight on just one leg. It may be challenging at first, but you’ll be able to do it effectively with practice.
How to do it:
- Holding a bar with an overhand grip, stand upright in a hip-width stance.
- Lowering the bar down, raise your right leg behind you until your torso is parallel to the floor.
- Hold in that position for a couple of seconds, then reverse the movement to complete your first repetition.
- Do each rep slowly and in a controlled manner.
You can also perform the single-leg deadlift with dumbbells and kettlebells.
4. Barbell Lower Back Extension
The back extension or hyperextension is an isolation workout that helps strengthen and tone lower back muscles. Various athletes, powerlifters, Crossfitters, and bodybuilders do back extension to enhance their erector spinae strength. However, you need a hyperextension machine to perform this movement.
You can perform barbell back extension in a couple of ways, like placing the bar on the back of your shoulder or holding it with straight arms directly below your chest. You can see how to do them in the following videos.
5. Barbell Hip Thrust
The hip thrust is primarily a glute workout but also engages erector spinae and hamstrings.3 Neto WK, Vieira TL, Gama EF. Barbell Hip Thrust, Muscular Activation and Performance: A Systematic Review. J Sports Sci Med. 2019 Jun 1;18(2):198-206. PMID: 31191088; PMCID: PMC6544005 Developing powerful glutes can provide stability to your lower back and helps take the stress off the spine during compound movements, such as the deadlift and squat.4 Build Strong Glutes and a Pain-free Lower Back by Justin Price – American Council of Exercise (ACE) So it can be a good addition to barbell lower back exercises.
How to do it:
- Place a loaded bar on your hips and position your upper back on a flat bench.
- Keep your feet firmly on the ground and lower your hips downward.
- Brace your core by keeping your abdominal muscles tight.
- Contracting your glutes and hamstring, thrust your hips upward as high as possible.
- Pause for a moment, then return your hips to the lower position. That’s one rep.
- You can use a sponge pad to put the bar on your hips.
While most people focus on big muscle groups like their chest, biceps, or quadriceps, they often forget to target their lower back. The lower back is a crucial muscle group that enhances your overall performance, from lifting weight to running faster.
You can do the above lower back barbell exercises once a week to develop strength but avoid them if you have pain or injury.
A barbell is an excellent piece of equipment to use for weight training. However, improper placement is a common cause of back pain and injuries. So try to perform each exercise with proper form to avoid lower back injuries with the barbell.
Besides barbell workouts, you can also do some bodyweight movements, such as bird dog, superman, cat-cow pose, sphinx, and cobra pose to improve your spine health and treat low back pain.
You can also perform specific abs exercises that are less taxing on your spine. A solid core provides stability to your spine, maximizes performance, and minimizes the risk of injuries.
- 1Carpenter DM, Nelson BW. Low back strengthening for the prevention and treatment of low back pain. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Jan;31(1):18-24. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199901000-00005. PMID: 9927005
- 2Vigotsky AD, Harper EN, Ryan DR, Contreras B. Effects of load on good morning kinematics and EMG activity. PeerJ. 2015 Jan 6;3:e708. doi: 10.7717/peerj.708. PMID: 25653899; PMCID: PMC4304869
- 3Neto WK, Vieira TL, Gama EF. Barbell Hip Thrust, Muscular Activation and Performance: A Systematic Review. J Sports Sci Med. 2019 Jun 1;18(2):198-206. PMID: 31191088; PMCID: PMC6544005
- 4Build Strong Glutes and a Pain-free Lower Back by Justin Price – American Council of Exercise (ACE)