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Back extensions are a popular lower back exercise to do at home or in the gym. Find out what equipment you need and what options you have.
Back extensions are an exercise where you fold your body at the hips and then raise and lower your upper body while keeping your back straight. This movement engages lower back, glute, and hamstring muscles.
In theory, you could do a form of back extension while standing up but in reality, you will spend more time focusing on balance than training your muscles.
If that is your goal it is likely smarter to use some type of equipment to put your hips on and clamp your legs behind. This one back extension equipment type will already be enough for resistance training beginners to build some muscle.
Individuals more experienced with lower back muscle resistance training may need a second category of back extension equipment. By making back extensions harder with external weights you can build more muscle for longer.
In both categories, there are a variety of options with each their advantages and disadvantages.
Types of back extension support
The first and most essential back extension equipment category is something to put your hips on and clamp your legs behind. Without one of these, it would become a lot harder to do a good back extension.
1. Back extension machine
There is a gym machine/bench made exactly for the back extension exercise. This back extension machine is a steel set up with a place you can anchor your legs behind and a pad to lean on with your hips.
If you take place in it and keep your body straight you are at about 45 degrees to the ground. After that, you can raise and lower your upper body while keeping your back straight to do the back extension exercise on this piece of fitness equipment.
An advantage of the back extension machine is that is perfect for the exercise with the same name. Besides that this equipment generally lasts a long time without really losing its value.
A potential downside is that back extension machines can require a decent initial investment for a relatively narrow use. One way to resolve this is to get a multi-functional weight bench with a back extension machine included.
2. Roman chair
The roman chair is a type of fitness equipment that comes down to two pads, one elevated to lean on with your hip/back/upper legs, and one closer to the ground to keep your feet in place. Generally at least one of the two pads is adjustable.
One thing you can use the roman chair for is the back extension. You can set up the pads similar to a back extension machine or do back extensions with your legs horizontally anchored.
A benefit of this back extension equipment is that you can use it for a variety of roman chair exercises instead of serving only one purpose. Besides that, roman chairs also generally last a long time and retain a lot of their value.
One potential downside is that roman chairs still require a decent investment.
3. Exercise ball
An exercise ball, also known as a stability or yoga ball, is a soft elastic ball that can be used to improve multiple fitness components. You can even do back extensions at home or in the gym with it.
To do an exercise ball back extension safely you want to search for something you can anchor your heels behind. You can even use a wall for this.
After that put the stability ball below your hips so you can bend your body down about 45 degrees and extend it back up into a straight line. The angle is similar to a back extension machine.
One of the advantages of the stability ball is that it is a fitness tool that can be used for many purposes. There are many stability ball exercises for a wide variety of muscles. It is also a relatively inexpensive piece of equipment.
A downside is that it is just not as convenient to do a back extension on an exercise ball compared to some of the previous equipment options. The exercise ball is also not great for doing back extensions with heavy weights. It will also likely not last as long as the steel options.
Types of weighted back extensions
The way you build muscle in places like your lower back is by straining and damaging your muscles. This may seem counterintuitive but this makes it so your body starts processes to repair them and build a little extra to be better prepared for similar efforts in the future.
Generally the more weight you have to move, the easier it becomes to strain your muscles enough for muscle growth in a short amount of time.
Resistance training beginners and possibly intermediates can build a nice amount of muscle mass with bodyweight-only back extensions.
However, at some point, you may need to do back extensions with extra resistance to keep seeing a lot of muscle gain. Doing weighted back extensions at the right points in your training journey can also speed up progress compared to doing the bodyweight variation over and over.
4. Weight plate
Weight plates are plates made of heavy material, usually used for making a barbell heavier. Due to their form, they are convenient to hold against your chest without having to use your grip muscles.
If your grip muscles fatigue when doing back extensions with other equipment options, and even if they don’t, a weight plate may be a good alternative.
A benefit of weight plates is that you can also use them to make a barbell heavier when doing other exercises. Besides that, weight plates are versatile, last a long time, and generally don’t lose a lot of their value over time.
A potential downside of weight plates is that they require a relatively high initial investment.
A barbell is a long bar that can hold weight plates. It is one of the most popular equipment options to add resistance to a wide variety of exercises. This includes the back extension exercise.
Simply load the barbell with the desired number of weight plates, put it below the hip support of choice, and pick it up at the bottom of the movement.
Besides its versatility, another benefit of a barbell is that it generally lasts an extremely long time. One investment can potentially improve your workouts for many years and potentially even decades. On top of that, a barbell does not really lose its value a lot.
This means that if you decide to stop using the barbell you can likely sell it for a very similar price as what you put into it.
A potential downside is that a barbell, especially with extra weight plates, often requires a relatively bigger investment compared to more short term functional fitness equipment.
There are workout sandbags that can be used as a piece of back extension equipment. Similar to a weight plate you can clamp a workout sandbag against your chest. A sandbag is likely the more comfortable option.
Something even more unique is that you can drop most sandbags without a problem.
This makes it a good equipment option to do back extension drop sets. A set where you do repetitions until failure with the sandbag, then drop it and continue with bodyweight back extension repetitions.
Additionally, sandbags can be used as resistance in a variety of other strength training exercises. A sandbag alternative with similar benefits when it comes to back extensions is a medicine ball.
A dumbbell is a type of fitness equipment that is basically a handle with a weight on each side. Back extensions are one of the many exercises dumbbells can be used in as equipment to make the exercise more challenging.
Some benefits of dumbbells include that they last a very long time without much reduction in value, you can use them in other exercises, they are very versatile, and they have a relatively high weight ceiling.
A potential disadvantage is that dumbbells often require a slightly bigger investment. Another potential downside of dumbbells as a back extension equipment option is that your grip muscles may fatigue faster than your lower back.