Total body fitness involves learning to work all the muscle groups in your body. For that to happen, you need to know the location of different muscle groups, what those muscles do, and the benefits that come with the right exercises focused on the right areas.
Today, we focus on the erector spinae muscles of the lower back.
The erector spinae muscles are the large and disorganized muscle group that runs vertically on each side of your spine.
These muscles are approximately one hand’s width from your spinous process; they work as a group, and together form an elite group of muscles that not only extends but also stabilizes your entire vertebral column and the craniocervical region.
So, whether you are looking to strengthen your back or you are interested in having one of those backs regarded as the strongest road map backs, the content we will be sharing here will help you attain your goals as you learn more about your body.
Men and women have different workout goals, and some sounds rather ridiculous, but at the end of the day, you will be focused on looking for the best workout for the perfect body.
If you have been working your chest, abs, arms, legs, you might want to work the back too for your dream body.
The erector spinae muscles represent some of the most important muscles you should be targeting, not only for aesthetics but also for a boost of your upper body strength.
More about the erector spinae
The erector spinae muscles also come in handy in keeping the spine erect, bending it when necessary, and these muscles also allow for the twisting of the spine. With all that’s at stake, you need to work on keeping these muscles strong and in good shape.
If you are going all out in the gym with weight training and the toughest of the strength training, resistance, and core exercises, you must prioritize these muscles.
Weak erector spinae would make it harder for weightlifting, for example, and you with weak erector spinae, the risk of injury is significantly high, and your progress and performance will also suffer a great deal.
As you can imagine, to improve the strength and the performance of these muscles, you need to find the perfect exercises that will target these muscles specifically.
These are the exercises that will ensure the maximum size of the muscles, as well as high strength gains.
You also need to bear in mind that the exercises you choose should minimize the Erector Spinae pain in different movements, and that means that you need to use the right technique for the exercises you settle on.
Before we look at the best exercises for the erector spinae muscles,
let’s look at the structure and the functions of the erector spinae.
Erector Spinae – Muscle Structure and Function
To reiterate what we mentioned above, understanding how a group of muscle functions is essential and before you train any muscle like some beast, you must understand all about the muscle group, what it can and what it cannot do, and how you will be able to reap the maximum benefits from training that muscle group.
Structure of the Erector Spinae Muscles
Erector Spinae (also called the sacrospinalis muscle group, the spinal erectors, or the lower back muscles) refers to the group of muscles and also the tendons that connect your back all the way from the hips at the Iliac Crest and Sacrum areas/ lower back to the base of the skull or the cervical region.
They are also called the ES muscles, and they line both sides of the spine. You need these ES muscles for lateral extension, side-by-side rotation, and flexion.
The erector spinae is also an important part of your core because it links to your oblique and the abdominal muscles, resulting in a higher level of stabilization and ease moving your whole upper body.
That said, the ES muscles are made of three other muscles – Spinalis, longissimus, and the iliocostalis.
Spinalis is the smallest of these muscles, and it sits in your medial region. The Spinalis muscles are responsible for the spine’s lateral flexion. The spinalis make it possible for you to look up and turn your head sideways.
Longissimus is the intermediate and also the largest of these muscles, and it extends all the way down to your spine. This muscle helps you turn your head sideways
Iliocostalis is the other muscle in the erector Spinae muscle group. This muscle originates from your sacrum, and it’s responsible for the lateral flexing and the extension of the spine.
But this is not the only breakdown of the Erector Spinae muscles. There are many other insertions for each of the three ES muscle subgroups. These insertions include:
- Spinalis inserts – they include the spinalis cervicis, spinalis capitis, and the spinalis thoracis.
- Longissimus Inserts – longissimus cervicis, longissimus capitis, and you also have the spinalis thoracis inserts
- Iliocostalis Inserts -Iliocostalis cervicis, iliocostalis capitis, and iliocostalis thoracis.
These insertions work with the muscles together and to different extents in a bid to ensure that the muscles perform their functions as necessary. If you are performing the Romanian deadlifts or the back extensions, these muscles will do all the hard work for you.
Knowledge of the ES muscles is important because you get to train the right muscles and avoid pain or injuries.
Location of the Erector Spinae
Your ES muscles and the subsequent tendons are located on either side of the vertebral column. It is larger and thicker in your lumbar region, and narrower/ pointed at the sacral region.
The narrow end is also tendinous. The smaller fibers at the narrow and pointed end are the ones that will connect to your iliac crest (the top of the hips), as well as the sides of the sacrum.
A few of these fibers will extend down to your gluteus maximus.
In discussions around the erector spinae muscles like this one, we will focus on the muscle fibers and the tendons around the lumbar region.
Functions of the Erector Spinae
- The ES straightens your entire back, whether you are bending over or standing back up. These are the muscles that make it possible for you to lift heavy loads off the ground with ease.
- The ES muscles are also crucial for the lateral rotation of your spine, aka, side to side movement. For these lateral movements, all the three major ES muscles (mentioned above) are engaged and activated.
- These ES muscles are also crucial for the side to side movement of your head. It is the reason why you will be in pain when moving your head if you pull a muscle in your back.
Importance of Strengthening the Erector Spinae Muscles
ES is part of your core – We have been made to believe that the core is only made of the abs, and maybe the obliques, but that is not completely true. Think of your core as a cylinder wrapping all-around your front and the back.
It is made of the obliques, the abs, and the erector spinae. Together, all these muscles do the following:
Ensure that you have a good posture – what you may not know is that the biggest cause of poor posture is a weakening erector spinae, and since this group of muscles make half your core, you need the ES to be strong for a strong, aligned and a stable posture.
They lower your risk of injuries – the biggest reason for lower back pain or posture issues is a weak erector spinae.
By strengthening the ES muscle group, the risk of back injuries, neck and shoulder tension, headaches, and breathing difficulties will become a thing of the past.
They will make you stronger – though not the biggest mirror muscle for body strength, the ES muscle group will make it easy for you to do heavier squats, deadlifts, and you will be able to rotate and move with more vigor.
Things that weaken the Erector Spinae
Overstretching – you overstretch your erector spinae when you sit for prolonged periods of time, especially if you sit with your head and the spine pulled forward.
As a result of the overstretching, the ES muscles weaken, and you and you will experience lower back pain.
To correct the problem, lengthen the back don’t strengthen. If you stretch an already overstretched erector spinae muscle, you will only cause more problems, specifically, further weakening of the lower back.
How then do you stop all these issues? Simple – work on your posture. A good posture goes a long way in ending your lower back problems. So, don’t slouch – sit and stand tall.
And don’t bend your neck down too much.
Now that we have all the basics of the erector spinae muscles covered, which are the best exercises for the erector spinae muscles?
The best Exercises for Erector Spinae
These exercises are grouped into three:
- Free weight Exercises
- Bodyweight Exercises
- Unconventional Exercises
Free Weight Exercises for ES
#1 Rack Pulls
If you have been working hard at the gym for some time, the rack pulls must have been on top of your mind for the best Erector Spinae muscles’ development and strength.
The reason for this is that the rack pull engages your entire back, and it works all the ES muscles. Being a power movement exercise, it is a necessary one when it comes to having a strong erector spinae.
Just make sure that your core is tight when doing the rack pulls – you use a lot of your back when lifting the weights.
The other reason for the popularity of the rack pulls is that they work your entire back, and unlike the deadlifts, the rack pull makes it possible for you to lift heavier weights since you will not be lifting the weights from the ground.
This exercise will also maximize your muscle size.
Even though the risk of injury is low with the rack pulls, you only need 5 reps of the heavy sets for great results.
How to do rack pulls
- Set your barbell low on the rack, at about the knee level
- Position your body low, keeping the knees bent and the back straight.
- Grab your barbell in a slight wider-than-the-shoulder-width grip.
- Pull up the barbell while pushing up through the heels, all the way up until you are almost 100% erect. Thrust forward your hips, contracting your hamstrings and the glutes.
- Lowe the barbell all the way down until it’s touching the rack
- Repeat about 5 times.
#2 Romanian Deadlifts
Even though deadlifts come with a risk of injury, they are the most popular exercise for the back. The Romanian deadlifts are particularly popular for the development and strengthening of the posterior chain.
As a variation of the standard deadlift, this exercise is not very taxing on your body. Note that unlike the standard deadlifts, the Romanian deadlift doesn’t require the lowering of the barbell too low in the negative rep, and instead, you will be stopping just short, in the middle of your lower leg, keeping the momentum going.
How to do the Romanian Deadlift
- Place your loaded barbell on the floor then stand so that your chins touch the barbell
- Bend over, grab the barbell in a grip that’s slightly wider than your shoulder width, keep your knees bent and then keep the back straight all the way.
- Lift your barbel with the leg as you push through your heels until you stand at an almost erect position then thrust your hips forward in the lift for a complete and efficient movement.
- Slowly lower your barbell down until it reaches your mid, lower leg. The barbell shouldn’t touch the floor.
#3 Deadlifts (Standard/ Conventional)
Deadlifts are the best exercises for back and lower body exercises.
The deadlift is quite the mass builder, that works the erector spinae muscles and the rest of your back, including the lats, traps, and the rhomboids.
Beware, however, that conventional deadlifts come with a high potential of injury, which is why you need to follow the steps below carefully:
How to do a deadlift
- Place your loaded barbell on the floor then stand so that the shins touch the barbell
- Bend the knees, keeping the back straight as you grab the barbell in a slightly wider-than-shoulder-width grip.
- Push through using your legs and also through the heels, lifting the barbell to a standing position then thrust the hips forward to complete that lift.
- Lower the barbell down until it’s touching the floor.
#4 Glute-Ham Raise
This exercise works your glutes, but also engages the erector spinae muscles to a large extent, hence the ideal exercises for strengthening and building muscle.
The glute-ham raise will also target the lower spinae erectors of your back since the back extension creates some resistance at the top of your torso.
How to do a Glute-Ham Raise
- Position yourself correctly on the glute-ham raise machine so that you have your feet secured well on the platform with the bottom of the squads on the padding.
- Lower your torso until it’s parallel with the floor, keeping your legs extended and the shoulder blades held back and all the way down with your chest in an upright position.
- Flex the glutes and the hamstring the lift up your torso. Make use of the ES muscles to make the moves well. Remember that you need to be in an upright position on your machine.
#5 Good Mornings
Good mornings are the best exercises for the erector spinae muscles, and they have been designed specifically for these muscles because for you to perform the exercise, you will have to make use of the erector spinae muscles.
So, if you need a good all-rounded posterior chain workout, the Good Mornings are a good bet for you. Note, however, that despite the excellence of this workout, you need to protect your spine by keeping your knees bent and the butt out.
Since the Smith machine would limit your range of motion, it’s best to make use of the free weight barbell for Good Mornings.
However, if you choose to make use of the Smith machine, you must maintain proper form and also find the ideal range of motion.
How to do Good Mornings
- Unrack the barbell on the traps as you would if doing squats
- Bend the knees along with the torso until parallel to the floor. In this part of the exercise, you have to stick out your butt.
- Next up, contract your hamstrings and the glutes as you lift up your torso into an upright position.
- Repeat these movements.
#6 Bent Over Rows
These bent over rows will work your erector spinae isometrically, and though the ES muscles will be fully engaged, they will not move.
How to do Bent Over Rows
- Place your loaded barbell on the floor then stand the feet so that they are slightly wider than they are hip-width apart.
- In the deadlift form, bend down then grab the barbell in a shoulder-width grip
- Bring up the barbell to your knee level, keeping the knees bent and the back straight at a 45-degree angle above and parallel to the floor.
- Pull the barbell to midway between the sternum and the navel and pause.
- Then, slowly lower your barbell down, keeping your arms in the same position.
- Once you have your arms in a fully extended position, row your barbell back. Then repeat.
- In the last rep, extend your arms all the way down then move into the deadlift position for you to place the barbell on the ground.
#7 Back Extensions
The back extension is the perfect bodyweight back exercise. It has been around forever, and it’s effective in strengthening the lower back.
Just know that you need to exercise caution with this exercise because you will be handling heavy weights that are supported by your posture and the torso.
The reason why we recommend the back extensions is because they target your lower spinal erectors.
This exercise involves the placement of resistance loads at the center of your back. Don’t hyperextend the back when doing this exercise.
How to do the Back Extensions
- Position your body on the back extension machine with feet safely secured in place. Place your hips barely above the padding and keep your torso upright.
- Cross your arms around the chest, then lower your torso all the way down until it’s parallel to the floor.
- Squeeze your glutes coming back up and only stop when upright. Again, be careful not to hyperextend the back.
#8 Bird Dog
The bird dog will strengthen and tone every bit of your core, including the erector spinae.
How to do the Bird Dog
- Get down on your knees and hands, your hands stacked right under the shoulders and the knees the same width as your hands, and under the hips
- Raise your right hand, thumb pointing to the roof and arm perfectly straight, forward, and also parallel to the floor. Raise your left leg at the same time, keeping your arm straight and parallel to the floor. Hold for 2 or 3 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times.
#9 Glute Bridge
This is an effective isometric exercise that works both the erector spinae and the hamstrings – you use these muscles to hold the bridge position.
With the glute bridge, you will experience significant strengthening of your back, less lower back pain, and an improvement of your posture.
How to the Glute Bridge
- Lie down with your back on the floor
- Place the soles of your feet on the floor and bend your knees at 45 degrees
- Raise hips off the floor with the feet planted on the floor
- Squeeze your quads, glutes, and the hamstrings, while keeping the core tight. Keep pushing the hips up if they start falling towards the ground – squeezing the core, hamstrings and the glutes will help you stay in that bridge position. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
Unconventional Erector Spinae Exercises
These exercises are regarded as unconventional because they make use of the different movement patterns and equipment other than what you’d find in conventional training.
#10 Kettlebell Swings
This is a whole-body exercise that will burn tons of calories while strengthening your erector spinae muscles. The exercise is quite explosive, and you need to be in full control for the best results and to prevent injury.
The kettlebell swings work the glutes, hamstrings, back, forearms, back, and shoulders, and the ES muscles will be fully engaged in the exercise.
How to do Kettlebell Swings
- Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart
- Bend over, grab your kettlebell with both hands at its handle, then use the posterior pelvic tilt to bend your knees slightly and to get in position, as you would when doing the stiff-legged deadlift.
- Then, make use of all the explosive power of your hips to swing the kettlebell all the way up to the shoulder level, keeping the arms straight. In this position, swing the kettlebell all the way down until the kettlebell passes between the legs. Once again, make use of the explosive hip force to thrust the kettlebell all the way back up to the shoulder level. Don’t move your back or let it round forward. Repeat 12-20 times.
Other unconventional exercises
- Steel Mace 360s/ 10-2s
Your journey to a strong and impressive set of erector spinae muscles doesn’t have to be too hard or complicated, and thanks to the exercises recommended above, you will be on your way to a strong back and well-sculpted ES muscles.
But these exercises are not all you could use to build stronger erector spinae muscles, especially if you are a bodybuilder.
The IFBB Pro Bodybuilder designed by Ben Pakulski, would be a good addition to your workout regimen.
Keep in mind that the back you desire is made in the kitchen, too, so you should eat all the right foods and maybe incorporate some more protein sources for those muscle gains.
Don’t forget to work the other muscle groups, and rest.