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If your goal is to build a thicker back with lots of detail, then you need to concentrate on erector spinae exercises.
Your erector spinae muscles are a group of muscles that support your spinal column and help you to maintain a good posture.
They start at the base of the skull and run vertically down the length of your spine.
Most back exercises tend to focus on different muscle groups, namely the lats, traps, and rhomboids.
Recommended Reading – 9 Best Middle Back Exercises At Home To Help Build Strength
However, erector spinae exercises can help to improve poor posture and relieve lower back pain.
What’s more, as they’re superficial muscles, meaning they sit just beneath the skin, when they’re well-developed they can make your back look so much more impressive.
In this article, we’ll recommend some exercises to help you strengthen and develop your spinal erectors leading to a healthy back that looks fantastic.
Erector Spinae Exercises For Overall Back Development
Below are some of the best erector spinae exercises which involve increased activation of these muscles.
If you have any pre-existing back issues or have suffered from any lower back injuries, it’s a good idea to seek the advice from a personal trainer before attempting any of the following exercises.
The deadlift is likely the best exercise to build a strong erector spinae.
For someone who performs heavy deadlifts on a regular basis, it’s very easy to see how well-developed the spinal erectors are as they look much thicker when compared to someone who doesn’t deadlift.
As it’s a compound exercise, it’s going to work many muscles across your body but is particularly good for recruiting your lower back muscles and building thick spinal erectors.
There are a few deadlift variations, like the stiff-leg deadlift, but it’s the conventional deadlift favoured by powerlifters that’s going to tax the erector spinae more.
Deadlifting is more technically challenging when compared to other back exercises and strict form is necessary to prevent injury.
With proper form, you want to increase the weight and keep the reps low to a range of around 5 to 10.
2. Good Mornings
While usually performed on leg day to work the hamstrings, good mornings are a great exercise for increasing muscle hypertrophy to the erector spinae.
This is because they act as static stabilizers meaning that they work hard to support and stabilize the back while under load.
When doing the good morning exercise, it’s important to keep your middle back in a neutral position and shoulder blades retracted.
This increases stimulus to the spinal extensors helping with muscle growth.
Also, brace your abdominal muscles for extra stability.
The superman is a bodyweight exercise that involves lifting and extending your upper body against gravity thereby recruiting the erector spinae muscles along with your other back and core muscles.
As you don’t need any equipment and its low impact, it’s a great option for doing at home.
The exercise is very easy to do, simply lie face down in a prone position with your legs and arms outstretched, this is the starting position.
Then simultaneously lift your chest, arms, and legs off the ground while keeping your gaze down to maintain a neutral spine.
Then just hold this position for a few seconds and repeat.
As you lift your upper body, the erector spinae muscles contract to help extend the vertebral column.
This action is responsible for the lifting of the chest and upper body.
For extra recruitment of your back muscles, try squeezing your glutes.
4. Bird Dog
The Bird Dog exercise is another body weight exercise that, as well as recruiting the erector spinae, targets the core, back, and hips.
It’s effective for working the erector spinae as it involves extending your limbs away from the center of the body which helps to challenge the muscles responsible for maintaining spinal stability.
It needs to be done slowly and with control and is also a great way of improving core stability.
To do it, get yourself into a tabletop position making sure your hands are under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
Extend your right arm straight out in front of and at the same time extend your left leg.
Both limbs should be straight and parallel to the floor.
In this position, your erector spinae will be challenged to help provide stability to your spine.
Hold it for a few seconds then lower back to the start and do the same again but with the opposite arm and leg.
The cobra exercise is a yoga pose that primarily targets the muscles in the back, especially your erector spinae.
It’s more of a stretch than a strengthening exercise but it’s worth doing as it’s a great way of alleviating aches and pains to your lower back.
This popular yoga position will also help to improve the flexibility and mobility of your spine while stretching out your abdominals and hip flexors.
As you get into the post with your chest up, your erector spinae will contract (along with your shoulders and arms) to extend your spine and help you maintain the stretch.
To do the cobra you should lie face down and rest your forehead on the ground while placing your arms to your sides and elbows bent to around 90 degrees.
Now press up, lifting your head, chest and abdominals away from the floor while extending your elbows as far as you find comfortable.
For a gentler variation, you could try keeping your palms and forearms flat on the floor.
6. Reverse Hyper
The reverse hyper is one of the best exercises for building a strong lower back and recruiting the muscles of your posterior chain.
This includes your erector spinae along with your hamstrings (biceps femoris) and gluteus maxiumus.
When compared to using a back extension machine, studies have shown that there is less lumbar flexion and more hip motion which in turns places less stress on the lumbar spine.
However, activation of the erector spinae remains the same between both exercises.
There are several ways of using a reverse hyper machine giving you plenty of versatility.
You can perform the movement unilaterally, bilaterally or increase tension by adding resistance bands.
You can start out with just bodyweight and then start to increase tension on the muscles by adding some weight.
7. T Bar Row
The T-bar row is another one of our favorite spinal erector exercises.
When you do this exercise to a full range of motion it’s a great dynamic movement that will not only increase the thickness of your erector spinae but it will also help to improve strength and flexibility to your entire back.
A great tip when performing the t bar row is to allow your upper back to go into flexion at the bottom of the movement.
This means you’ll want to let your chest and shoulders round forward.
As you pull the barbell towards you, keep your chest high and squeeze your shoulder blades together for maximum muscle engagement.
8. Zercher Carry
If you’ve heard of the zercher squat, then you’ll be familiar with how to hold the barbell during this exercise.
It’s a great way of taxing the erector spinae muscles due to how you hold the bar.
Aside from working your back muscles, it’s also going to improve your cardiovascular strength.
It’s a bit like the farmer’s walk but instead of having a weight load distributed to either side of your body, it’s held up towards your chest.
This pulls your body forward causing your spinal erectors to contract to keep your back straight and posture upright.
To do it, you’ll need to unrack a barbell (ideally from a power rack) and allow it to rest in the crooks of your elbows.
Holding it securely to your chest and keeping your core tight, simply walk with it.
Don’t allow your shoulders to roll forward but equally, ensure your spine doesn’t go into extension either.
Try it without any plates to begin with and add some weight as it becomes easier.
Anatomy Of Erector Spinae Group
As we mentioned, your erector spinae run down the sides of your spine and work together to help you maintain an upright position.
They’re also the primary muscles responsible for lumbar extension, which is to bend backward at the spine.
When you have weak erector spinae this can lead to low back pain and poor posture.
Your spinal erectors, also known as the paraspinals, originate as one muscle but comprise of three sets of muscles and each of these is further divided into three parts.
These are known as the thoracic, cervical, and capitis.
The spinalis muscle is the smallest of the erector spinae group and assists in extending and laterally flexing your spine.
The longissimus is the largest spinal erector muscle and sits between the other two.
It helps in extending and laterally flexing the spine, as well as rotating your head and neck.
The Iliocostalis is the most lateral of the erector spinae group and inserts onto angles of ribs.
It helps to extend and laterally flex your spine.
Some of the erector spinae exercises we’ve recommended can be quite taxing on the muscles so it’s important to monitor fatigue levels, so you avoid overtraining.
Your spinal extensors are involved to some extent in many everyday muscles so can recover quickly.
A good way to ensure you don’t overwork them is to keep tabs on your progress with reps and form.
For example, if you often perform deadlifts when strength training but find that your form is declining along with the number of reps you can usually do, this could be a sign that your spinal erectors need more rest and recovery time.
With regular training of your erector spinae you can increase their overall strength and flexibility which can lead to better posture and ease of undertaking everyday movements that involve bending, lifting, and twisting.