Back extensions can be a great exercise but not everyone can or wants to do them. Discover some exercise alternatives with similar effects.
Some of the main benefits of back extensions are that they help you strengthen your lower back, glutes, hamstring, and core muscles. In turn, this leads to a variety of other positive health effects.
Even though there are ways to do back extensions at home you may not enjoy this exercise or want an alternative for any other reason. In any case, this list of exercises can help you work out some or all of the same muscles.
Many of these back extension alternatives are typically done at the gym but you could also use resistance bands for a few of them.
For the superman exercise and any other back extension alternatives that take place on the floor, it can be helpful to invest in something like a yoga mat. Especially if you have no other soft surface to do the exercise on.
That aside, take the following steps to do a superman exercise repetition:
- Lie down on your stomach on the floor with your arms stretched forward and your legs stretched backward so that your body is in one straight line.
- Move your arms and legs upward. Your weight will rest on your hips. Keep looking downward during the movement.
- Hold this position for a few seconds.
- Move back into starting position in a controlled motion.
The superman is basically a back extension on the floor which means it works similar muscles.
A downside of the superman exercise is that your range of motion is very small so it is not the perfect substitute for regular back extensions.
Additionally, many people will find the hyperextension (bending your spine farther than a straight line) uncomfortable.
2. Good mornings
Take the following steps to do a good morning with a barbell:
- Find a squat rack and place the barbell at about chest height. Add the desired number of weight plates. If there are any safety bars adjust them to the right height.
- Stand under the barbell, push your shoulders up so that the barbell rests on your higher back, and hold it there with your hands.
- Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room to squat. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Tilt your upper body forward as far as is comfortable with a good posture (but not farther than a horizontal line). At the same time bend your knees a small amount.
- Return to the position in step 3 in a controlled motion.
- Rerack the barbell after your desired number of repetitions.
The good morning may look similar to a back squat but you go a lot less through your knees. This makes it so you focus more on the lower back training and less on your leg muscles.
As long as you implement the right technique, the different muscle engagement makes good mornings a great alternative to back extensions.
3. Reverse back extensions
There are specific gym machines for reverse back extensions but these are not that popular. Chances are you will have to use a weight bench or a stability ball instead.
Take the following steps to do a reverse back extension with a weight bench:
- Lie on your stomach on the weight bench and move back until your hip is able to bend freely. You likely have to hold the weight bench with your hands for balance. Keep your body in one straight line for now.
- Slowly move your legs downward until your feet touch the ground while keeping your back straight. Keep your legs stretched.
- Move your legs up until your body is in a straight line.
The main downside of reverse back extensions is that your range of motion is usually smaller unless you find a better surface or machine than a weight bench or stability ball.
4. Hip thrusts
Hip thrusts are similar to glute bridges but instead of doing them on the ground, you will need a bench or any other stable object of the right height. Take the following steps to do a hip thrust:
- Sit right in front of the bench or other object you will use with your back slightly over the edge. Make sure the object is stable. Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width in a position where your knees will be at a 90-degree angle in the next step. You can hold weights at hip height if you want to.
- Move up your hips until your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Slowly lower your body again.
Hip thrusts are a great back extension alternative if you want to focus more on your glute, also known as your butt, muscles.
5. Resistance band back extensions
While a back extension machine can definitely be useful, not everyone has one of these available.
It may not be as effective as the real version but you can also do a similar movement with resistance bands which are elastic cords.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do a resistance band back extension:
- Anchor your resistance bands somewhere at around hip height.
- Hold the resistance bands in your hands and face the anchor. Bend forward while keeping your back straight, the bending movement needs to come from your hips. Take a few steps back until you feel the desired resistance and let your arms get pulled forward. Put one foot slightly forward and the other slightly backward to brace against the resistance.
- Slowly move your upper body up until your body is in one straight line.
- Move back into the position in step 3 in a controlled motion. It is again really important that the bending comes from your hips and that your back stays in a straight line.
A downside of this exercise is that you need resistance bands and that you need to anchor them somewhere in a safe way.
The upsides are that good resistance bands are relatively inexpensive and that you can do this exercise at home without having to invest in a gym subscription.
6. Romanian deadlifts
For the next exercise, you likely need external weights, preferably a barbell. You can also use other free weights and even resistance bands.
As an example, take the following steps to do a Romanian deadlift with a barbell:
- Set up a rack with a barbell at a height just below where your barbell is if you stand up straight with the barbell in your hands. Add the desired number of weight plates.
- Grab the barbell with a pronated grip which means with your hand palms pointing downward/backward. Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room for the exercise. Stand up with your feet at more or less shoulder width and your knees slightly bent.
- Slightly tilt your upper body forward as far as you can without bending your back or knees or until the bar is right below knee height. The weight plates should not hit the ground.
- Slowly move back into the position of step 2.
Good technique is important in any exercise to avoid injuries but especially so for Romanian deadlifts. Before trying to deadlift the heaviest weights it is smart to improve your technique first by starting with light or no weights at all.
The Romanian deadlift focuses less on your leg muscles compared to the regular deadlift.
The regular deadlift engages your glutes and lower back muscles a good amount too. However, Romanian deadlifts are an alternative that comes closer to engaging your muscles similar to back extensions.
7. Bird dogs
Take the following steps to do a bird dog:
- Start with your face facing the floor with your hands on the ground, your arms stretched, and your knees on the ground.
- Stretch one leg and raise it until it is in a straight line with your body. At the same time stretch the arm of the opposite side and raise it until it is in a straight line with your body. So if you choose your right leg, raise your left arm at the same time.
- Lower the raised leg and raised arm again in a controlled motion to starting position.
- Repeat with your other leg and your other arm.
The bird dog exercise is an exercise that engages a wide variety of muscles including your lower back and glutes which makes it a decent back extension alternative.
For more lower back and glute muscle gains, you want to add resistance to your leg movement. You can do this with the help of resistance bands or a pair of ankle weights.
This will be needed to reach the same levels of resistance as the back extension.
8. Cable pull-throughs
For cable pull-throughs, you preferably want a cable machine with a double-rope handle. You can also use resistance bands and anchor them close to the ground.
Take the following steps to do a cable pull-through:
- Set the cable machine as close to the ground as possible.
- Stand right next to the cable machine with your back toward it. Grab the double rope handle through your legs so that the cable goes through your legs and take a step forward.
- Bend your knees slightly and bend your upper body forward as far as you can without bending your back.
- Slowly move up your upper body until you stand up straight. Keep your back straight and your arms pointing downward. Make sure you don’t hunch your shoulders.
- Alternate between the positions in steps 3 and 4.
The benefit of using a cable machine is that it is relatively easy to add more weight. You simply have to set the machine at a heavier resistance.
That being said, both the cable and resistance band variations make great back extension alternatives.
9. Kettlebell swings
Kettlebells are versatile pieces of fitness equipment. You can even use them for an exercise like the kettlebell swing that can serve as a back extension alternative.
Take the followings steps to do a kettlebell swing:
- Stand up straight with your arms stretched and one kettlebell in your two hands.
- Bend through your knees and move the kettlebell backward a small amount to initiate the full swings. Keep your back and shoulders straight throughout the exercise.
- Swing the kettlebell forward until your arms are about horizontally at shoulder height. Stretch your legs throughout this swing.
- Swing the kettlebell downward and backward between your legs as far as you safely can.
- Alternate between the positions in steps 3 and 4.
Before increasing the weight of your kettlebell make sure you can do a swing with the right technique with lighter kettlebells.
10. Glute ham raises
For this next exercise, you need a glute-ham raise bench. This is a lower back gym machine where you can secure your feet behind two pads and rest your hips on a rounded pad.
Because of this rounded pad, you can also fold your knees.
Take the following steps to do a glute-ham raise:
- Adjust the settings on the bench for your body proportions.
- Take place on the glute-ham raise bench facing downwards with your hips on the rouned pad and your feet behind the foot support. Make sure your ankle and hips are in a stable position and let your upper body hang downwards.
- Slowly raise your upper body until it is in a straight line with your legs. Keep your back straight throughout the exercise.
- Fold your knees until your upper body is in an upward position or until further would be unstable.
- Stretch your knees again.
- Lower your upper body in a controlled motion until it is in the position of step 2.
Because folding your knees is part of the movement you also engage your hamstrings extra in a different way than with back extensions.
If the bodyweight glute-ham raise is not challenging enough you can hold extra weights like a weight plate, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.
11. Kneeling back extension
For the kneeling back you don’t necessarily need any equipment but you like want something soft to put under your knees for comfort. Something as simple as a rolled-up yoga mat can be a good choice.
Take the following steps to do a kneeling back extension:
- Sit on your knees with your back straight up. Keep your hands against your chest throughout the exercise.
- Slowly bend forward as far as you can without bending your back or falling forward. Your hip does the bending, not your back.
- Move back into starting position in a controlled motion.
The main benefit of the kneeling back extension is that you need no equipment to do it. In turn, this means that this exercise is a back extension alternative you can do basically anywhere including at home.
The downside is that your range of motion is relatively small. Holding extra external weights like a dumbbell is also likely not an option due to balance reasons.