Why Barbell Back Extensions Should Be a Staple Lower Body Assistance Lift in Your Program (2016)
Back extensions are one of those exercises that get no love. This infamous posterior chain exercise usually gets thrown in the end of a back or lower body workout and it seems like not many people give it any second thought. By that I mean that most people don’t really take the exercise seriously and start loading up some weight, the most you would typically see would be someone hold a 25lb plate on their chest, but what about when you could do back extensions with a 45lb plate on your chest or two, what then?
THE BARBELL BACK EXTENSION
The back extension is a controversial name because technically it should be called the hip extension, but nonetheless it is a great exercise for hitting the posterior chain hard. I found that most strong lifters who knew the importance of this lift did a lot of back extensions with a barbell for higher reps whether it was on the 45 degree back or horizontal back extension bench. Aside from Deadlifts, this is one of the best exercises out there if you want to get a thick and meaty lower back, thick hammies and solid glutes. As a side bonus, the calves also get a bit of work with this exercise as well, but there are many more benefits.
HOW I LIKE TO PROGRAM BARBELL BACK EXTENSIONS
There are hundreds of ways to program the barbell back extension, but I am personally a big advocate of doing this exercise later on in the workout for higher reps (10-30). Some more advanced lifters like to do these for lower repetitions and that’s perfectly fine, but I usually like to stick to lower reps on RDL’s and other Deadlift variations with reps of 3-8 and I use higher reps as I get more and more into the workout in order to hit as many rep ranges and muscle fibers as possible. Some workouts I will do horizontal back extensions or 45 degree back extensions with a barbell and other workouts I will only pick one of the two. I even go through phases every now and then where I would do them unilaterally. If you have those big back extension benches that allow you to use a sumo stance then consider yourself lucky because those are a great exercise as well, but if you don’t then its not the end of the world either.
5 REASONS WHY BARBELL BACK EXTENSIONS SHOULD BE A STAPLE IN YOUR PROGRAM
1) ONE OF THE BEST LOWER BACK EXERCISES AND POSTERIOR CHAIN LIFTS
I honestly think that barbell back extensions are just as good for lower back hypertrophy than conventional Deadlifts are, but you could still do both. It is a great lift for the hamstrings because at the bottom of the lift they are in a fully stretched position which is good because the exercise allows you to get a nice range of motion. The glutes are also in a stretched position as well at the bottom of the lift and they get hit hard with this movement as well, make it a staple.
2) THEY SPARE THE SPINE
The back extension with a barbell done correctly is a great exercise for the lower back and the posterior chain, but one of the big benefits is that they tend to be easier on the lower back than Deadlifts and one of the main reasons for this is because you can’t handle as much weight.
3) THEY CAN HELP IMPROVE YOUR DEADLIFT NUMBERS
Pete Rubbish once said in an interview that if he could only pick one Deadlift assistance exercise then he would pick the barbell back extension without a doubt and it honestly is a great exercise for building your Deadlift because it replicates the movement to a certain degree in the sense that you are holding the barbel in your hands so your grip is also getting some work in as well if you use a double overhand grip. If you have been following Pete for a while then you know that he has tried many exercises under the sun to try to improve his Deadlift numbers such as Hip Thrusts, Heavy Band GHR’s with other exercises of that nature and he recently concluded that none of those lifts helped him as much as the barbel back extension did. This makes sense because if you look at the Deadlift and the barbel back extension there is a similar movement pattern and you are also holding a barbel too so the exercise has more carryover.
What happens when your Deadlift numbers go up? You will be able to row more weight too so doing barbell back extensions fixes the weakest link in the chain and down the line it will make your whole back bigger as a whole.
4) THE ADDED BENEFIT OF EXTRA BACK WORK
I really like the fact that the barbell back extension helps train your grip a bit while simultaneously hitting the back as well which isn’t a bad thing either because the upper back could always some extra work because its a weakness for most people. This basically means that the barbell back extension is like a Deadlift that is just less stressful and easier to recover from in a way. Since this exercise is less stressful on the CNS than Deadlifts, you could do it 2-3x per week and not have any problems in most cases if you program it properly.
5) INSANE PUMPS
The lower back, glute and hamstring pumps that I get from barbell back extensions are honestly the best! I do get some decent pumps from certain Deadlift variations, but I normally don’t do that many reps on Deadlift variation work, but with the back extensions I will usually do around 15 reps so I get a lot of blood into that area and it feels good. I am also a big believer in doing a lot of different rep ranges on this exercise so I might do a set of 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and then I might even finish off with a set of 50 but without any weights to get as much blood as possible in that area and get better pumps.
With all of these benefits it is hard to skip out on the barbell back extension and its countless variations. Make this exercise a staple in your program along with all of its other variations, the rewards outweigh the benefits, you won’t be disappointed.