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December 11, 2021 9 min read
Back extensions are well-known for building low back strength and they can also bolster your leg day and glute routine. But what if you don’t have a roman chair or back extension machine?
We've got good news!
There are plenty of variations and alternative exercises that will help you target your neck, back, hips, and legs just like back extensions without the expensive machinery. Read on to find out how back extensions work and the best variations for performing this exercise at home.
For the uninitiated, back extensions with a machine or Roman chair are exercises performed with leg movement totally restricted. The main movement is a forward bend at the waist all the way forward and then a reverse movement back to the starting position. These machines have bars with cushions at the lower end that go against the back of the leg. Another larger cushion holds the front of the body just beneath hip level so the user can bend forward over the top of it.
Judging by its name, you’d think this is strictly a back exercise. While it is true that your back does a substantial amount of the work during the second half of this exercise, your lower body and core also kick in to lift the weight of your upper body.The back extension works the following muscles and muscle groups:
These two deep back muscles share responsibility with the rotatores for stabilizing the vertebral column and maintaining posture.
They also play a role in proprioception, also known as kinesthesia, which is our sense of body position and self-movement. In addition to helping us balance, these two deep back muscles also help us move without having to consciously think about it first. The semispinalis is located on the upper back part of your neck near the spine while the multifidus stretches over the entire length of your spine.
Both located on the superficial (top muscle layer) on your neck, these two muscles flex, support, rotate, and move your neck from side to side. During a back extension, these muscles work hard to keep your head and neck in the same place.
The erector spinae are on either side of the spine and run the entire length of the back. Their job is to rotate the torso and straighten the spine. In addition to back extensions, squats and hip hinge exercises like good mornings activate the erector spinae.
These are two of the human body’s primary hip extensors. They power common movements like running, jumping, sitting, standing, and climbing the stairs. Anything you do that propels the body up and/or forward involves the glutes and hamstrings. As you can see, the majority of the muscles targeted by back extensions are in your neck and spine.
While the glutes and hamstrings are also activated, they aren’t the main players and back extensions are far from being the only exercises for hamstrings or glutes.
We can comfortably count back extensions as primarily a back exercise with secondary lower-body benefits.
There is some evidence that such lumbar stabilization exercises could help reduce lower back pain.
When looking for alternative back extension exercises that can be done at home, it’s vital to find exercises that can target all these same muscles if we’re to hope for similar benefits.
Although these exercises aren’t exactly the same as back extensions, they will allow you to target the same muscles in your home workout. Some of them do so by putting you through a similar motion to a back extension with a back extension bench while others have a different movement pattern.
In any case, use these back extension alternatives to strengthen your neck, spine, and posterior chain with little to no workout equipment.
Electromyographic analysis showed that front planks with hip extensions provoked 106% of the maximal voluntary muscle contraction (MVIC) of the gluteus maximus.
Pair that with the core workout and the rigid placement of the spine and you have a perfect bodyweight replacement for back extensions. What you’ll need: Nothing! You can use resistance bands around your legs or hold a weight plate or lightweight dumbbell on your back to make the exercise more difficult, but neither is necessary.
How to do front plank hip extensions:
The starting position might be a bit uncomfortable, but that’s another benefit of being able to do this exercise from the comfort of your own home gym. Plus, it focuses on extending through the range of motion of your lower back muscles.
Try some of our CHARGED-AF pre-workout for more focus to help maintain your position during the superman exercise.
What you’ll need: We highly recommend a yoga mat for this one unless you’re going to run through your reps in a carpeted room. Many people also wear a loop resistance band around their calves to get a better workout out of this move.
How to do the superman exercise:
Remember that this is a core exercise that aims to build strength in the muscles that help raise your chest and thighs off the floor. If you can’t get them off the ground that high or have trouble keeping them in place, that just means your core needs some work. Keep at these superman exercises and try the T-boosters and lean muscle builders in our MASS STACK and you’ll build up muscles to hold that superman pose for longer.
Although it requires a bit of setting up, this reverse hyperextension is a great glute exercise as well as a fair workout for the hamstrings and lower back. The key to the exercise is to extend your legs slightly further than your torso height.
That’s why it's called hyperextension.
What you’ll need: If you don’t have a flat bench available, find a small sturdy table or bench with enough room for your upper body. Find a cushion for your stomach as well if your chosen surface is uncomfortable otherwise. Wear a resistance band around your thighs to give the hip extensors a greater workout.
How to do reverse hyperextensions at home:
Targeting your lower back with these stability ball extensions will put you at a lower risk of injury and help give you the room to work at your own pace. If you have back issues or haven’t been exercising those muscle groups much, a stability ball is a great help.
What you’ll need: a stability ball or medicine ball and a flat wall you can place your feet against.
How to do stability ball back extensions:
Some people build their own devices for this exercise, but you might be able to find a suitable piece of furniture like a couch or footstool that works just as well. As you can tell from the name, your glutes and hamstrings are targeted here. Your lower back muscles and erector spinae are as well.
What you’ll need: A low horizontal bar that you can slide your feet under. It has to be strong enough to keep your legs in place while you lift your upper body on the strength of your hip extensors and the muscles of your lower back. Padding for your knees will probably be helpful as well.
How to do DIY glute ham raises:
The banded version of this classic bodybuilding move will save you money on a barbell and still give your glutes, hamstrings, lower back muscles, lats, and core a stellar workout. Your risk of injury is significantly reduced and you’ll be able to do these banded deadlifts pretty much wherever you want.
What you’ll need: a loop resistance band or a tube resistance band with a low anchor point.
How to do resistance band deadlifts:
Kettlebell swings may seem like a strange back extension variation, but since they’re such a stellar workout for the entire posterior chain, it makes some sense. The extension comes in about halfway through the move when the kettlebell is swung out in front of you - don’t overdo it, but remember that that is the part that will help work your lower back and hip extensors.
What you’ll need: A kettlebell and plenty of room.
How to do kettlebell swings:
Back extensions are a great exercise whether you just want a bit more flexibility or you’re training for more difficult strength training moves like deadlifts and squats.
Even if you can’t make it to the gym, you can include some of the back extension variations in this guide in your home workout routine to get the same benefits in your lower back, hip extensors, and core.