A few weeks back we talked about the Spinal Erectors and why they’re important. (Refresh your memory HERE) Here are 5 exercises that are great for building up strength and endurance in this muscle group.
There are a few ways to adjust most of these exercises. For posture, you’ll want to focus on endurance of the muscle group as well as strength, whereas if you simply want to improve something like your maximal deadlift, you’ll want to focus on maximal strength. When doing hyperextensions, I like to pause at the top of the movement for a couple of reasons:
- Working on the endurance of the spinal erectors
- To prevent literal hyperextension of the back – we do not want to exaggerate the lumbar curve too much, and when simply going for reps there is a tendency to jerk up too high and compact the vertebrae. When there is a pause at the top it promotes a more controlled movement.
Pause at the top of the movement for 5 to 10 seconds – you will most certainly feel the burn after a few repetitions! There are also several ways to progress this exercise:
- Hold a dumbbell, kettlebell, plate, or any other heavy object to increase the resistance.
- Hold at the top for a longer period of time.
- Use different hand placements. To begin, start with your hands crossed over your chest, then progress to a “W” shape, then finally to a “Y” (arms straight in front of you).
Above performed with the “W” hand progression: You only want to go to where you have a neutral spine, not a hyperextended one.
Rack Pulls and Conventional Deadlifts
Spinal erectors play a BIG part in conventional deadlift form. In fact, the role of your back extensors is one of the big things that differentiate a ‘deadlift’ movement from a ‘squat’ movement (though there are certainly other differences). If you look at the post about the muscle group (linked at the top of this page), there are 2 pictures of deadlifting – 1 person using the spinal erectors and 1 who is not. It’s apparent just from looking at the two pictures side-by-side that a conventional (narrow-stance) deadlift really hits all of the muscles of the back when performed correctly.
Rack Pulls follow this as well, with the added benefit of being able to load the bar with more resistance, due to the bar’s position higher off the ground. When performing rack pulls, generally you want to make sure the bar rests below your knees at the start, so adjust the squat rack or boxes accordingly.
The beginning and middle positions of a Rack Pull. To complete the movement, squeeze your glutes and stand completely upright.
Deadlifts are a fairly complex exercise that I could write an entire post about on its own, so I’ll probably just do that soon and link back to here!
After you get the hang of keeping your chest up, you won’t want to crane your neck as much as I did in this picture, especially if you already experience neck pain.
This is an exercise to be performed in a controlled manner, taking each rep slowly. There are a lot of ways to look like you’re performing a Good Morning correctly, but there are a few points you need to check off in your head to be sure to get the most out of every rep:
- Keep your chest up!! This will be the most important part of making sure your spinal erectors are being fully recruited, as well as preventing the bar from sliding up your neck.
- Sit your hips back as far as they can go. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings – keep pushing those hips back until you can’t anymore.
- Only SLIGHTLY bend at the knees. You just want to softly unlock them, nothing more.
I like using the Superman exercise as another way to train endurance for long-term postural improvement. I tend to do these in a similar manner to the hyperextensions mentioned above – with a brief hold at the top.
The key things you want to think about with Supermans are to make sure your shoulders are not pinched up by your ears, but instead pull your shoulder blades down like you’re going to tuck them into your back pocket. This will get additional recruitment of posterior muscles, such as your rhomboids and lats:
Above, shoulders are close to my ears, indicating that I do not have my scapula retracted.
When I retract the scapula, my shoulders move down and away from my ears.
There are a few different ways to utilize this exercise:
- For slow and controlled reps.
- With a 5-10 second pause at the top for moderate reps.
- For holding time, similar to a plank
Which way you choose to perform them will depend on your goals and your progression stage.
Whether your goal is better posture, decrease in back pain or a stronger deadlift, including some spinal erector work can benefit you. Give some of these a try – you may find yourself standing a little taller!
B.S. , NASM-CPT