10 Best Back Extension Alternatives (At Home Substitutes)

Back extensions are an excellent exercise for training your back muscles, and once you get used to this challenging movement, they will become a crucial part of your “back day” routine.

But what if you want to do them at home, or you don't have the back extension bench readily available at your gym?

Don't fret; we have you covered. In this article, we will look at the best back extension alternatives, how to do them, and why.

1. Bird Dog

A popular bodyweight exercise, meaning you can do it without any equipment, almost anywhere, the bird dog is a great alternative to back extensions. It strengthens the core, abs, lower back, and glutes; nearly all of the muscles the back extension trains. All you really need is a mat, and we recommend you add it to either your back day routine or your core day routine.

How to perform this exercise:

To perform the bird dog, find a space where you have enough room to extend your arm and leg outwards without obstruction. Grab a mat and get into a position where your hands are under your shoulders, your knees at hip-width apart. Inhale and brace your core. 

Now point one arm directly in front of you and send your opposite leg out directly behind you. Keep a strong core and hold this position for a few seconds before returning to the starting position in a slow controlled manner. Repeat on the other side for a single rep. 

Garage Gym Pro Tips!

Try to hold the position as long as you can and slowly lower your leg and arm back to the floor. This will put more focus on the eccentric part of the exercise.

Bird Dog exercise

2. Resistance Band Deadlifts 

Most people have heard of the deadlift. It's commonly known as the "king of all exercises and lifts," after all. It burns huge amounts of calories, promotes explosive power, and can be used to build mass and strength like no other exercise.

Luckily, you don't need a barbell to take advantage of this awesome move. Instead, if you have a resistance band, you can do a variation called the resistance band deadlift from the comfort of your home gym or even while traveling on the fly. 

How to perform this exercise:

To perform this move, grab your resistance band in each hand and step onto the band in the middle with your feet at shoulder-width distance. Keep your toes pointing forwards and brace your core. Make sure your chest is raised. 

Now bend your knees a tiny bit and pull your hips back without lowering below your knees. This is your starting position. Next, you need to tense your glutes and drive them forwards without allowing yourself to lean back. Hold this position for a second before returning to the starting position. 

Garage Gym Pro Tips!

Focus on squeezing your glutes at the top of this exercise. Also, remember to return to the starting position slowly.

Related Article - 8 Best Resistance Bands For Home Gyms

resistance band deadlifts

3. Extension on a Stability Ball 

The stability ball extension is extremely similar to the regular back extension and will help you strengthen all of the same muscles. To do one, you simply need a stability or yoga ball. This requires some practice, but once you have it down, they are pretty easy to do. 

How to perform this exercise:

For your starting position, you need a fully inflated ball. Lean over and lie in a prone position across the top of the ball. Try and keep your hands shoulder-width apart and your feet hip-width apart. 

Next, you need to exhale slowly and contract your core and abs. Drag yourself forwards slightly, so your hips are over the top of the ball, pressing your legs together. Lift both your legs until they are in line with your body. Inhale slowly, lowering your legs back to the original position. 

Garage Gym Pro Tips!

If you are struggling to balance on the stability ball, try moving forward and placing your hands in front of you to improve balance.

stability ball back extension

4. Romanian Deadlift (RDLs)

One of the most famous and most popular variants of the deadlift is the Romanian deadlift. The main purpose of this variation is to increase the focus on your legs and glutes and reduce the focus on your lower back. Don't mistake us, though. You will still hit your back hard with this movement, so it is perfect as an alternative to back extensions. 

How to perform this exercise:

Begin this lift with the barbell in your hands, as opposed to the regular starting position for deadlift, with the bar on the floor. Grab the bar in a comfortable grip. Many people use a mixed grip: one hand forward, one hand upside down. Make sure your grip is around shoulder width. 

Now, lower the bar by slightly bending your knees and pivoting at your hips with your back in a straight, secure position. Next, tilt your hips forward until you feel a strain and stretch in your hamstrings. This usually happens when you get just past your knees for most people. 

Hold here for a second before driving your hips in a forward motion, using your hamstrings to power the barbell back up to the starting position. 

Garage Gym Pro Tips!

This movement is a classic for a good reason. It works your entire body but focuses on your posterior chain. Make sure you have the form down before moving the weight up.

Learn More - Romanian Deadlift Vs Regular Deadlift

romanian deadlifts

5. Stiff-Legged Deadlift

The stiff-legged deadlift is the rival to the Romanian deadlift. They utilize almost identical muscles, and both switch the focus to the legs and away from the lower back. 

How to perform this exercise:

To do this lift, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell with your palms facing you or an overhand grip. Slightly bend the knees, aiming to keep this bend all the way through the lift.  

Bend at your hips, lower the barbell and keep your back as straight as possible. Lower until you feel strain in your glutes and hamstrings before raising to the original position. 

Garage Gym Pro Tips!

For this exercise, lower the bar towards the ground until you feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings. Explode back up into the starting position.

Read Also - Romanian Deadlift Vs Stiff Leg Deadlift

stiff leg deadlift with barbell

6. Reverse Hyperextension 

When it comes to targeting your posterior chain, you will commonly see people doing Romanian deadlifts and regular deadlifts as their main go-to's. While there is no problem with this, adding more varied exercises can help shock the body into growth and make your workouts less mundane. 

One of our favorite alternatives to the back extension is the exotic reverse hyperextension. This is an exercise that originated in the powerlifting world and has gained popularity for the ability to boost strength and conditioning in the back. 

How to perform this exercise:

One of the only downsides to this exercise is that it is best done on a specialized hyperextension bench. If you have one, great! Here is how to perform them. 

Start by lying face down on the machine. Keep your chest and stomach on the bench with your hips off the bench, allowing them a full range of motion. Next, let your legs hang down and keep your body in a stable position by bracing your abs and holding the handles. 

Now, lift your legs by contracting your posterior chain, glutes, and hamstrings. When your legs reach parallel to the floor, hold for a second before lowering them down for a rep. 

Garage Gym Pro Tips!

This exercise is best for either the beginning or the end of your workout. At the beginning, it acts as a fantastic warm up. But, at the end of your session, you'll be feeling the burn.

Find Out More - Reverse Hyper Alternatives To Try Out!

reverse hyperextension

7. Good Mornings 

They may look scary, but when done correctly, with proper form, Good Mornings are incredibly effective in strengthening stabilizer muscles in the back and building strength.

With their snapping motion, you will really need to work on your spinal alignment here, and we recommend that you stretch thoroughly beforehand. If you want to improve your lower back and core in a way that is hard to beat, here is how to do them. 

How to perform this exercise:

To start your Good Morning, stand with your feet at a shoulder-width apart, placing your hands behind your head as upright as possible. Take a deep breath in, bracing your core and retracting your scapulae. Now hinge forwards, using your hips, and lean forwards until you feel a burn in your hamstrings. Now reverse the movement to return to standing. 

Garage Gym Pro Tips!

This movement can be tough for beginners because it involves the hip hinge movement. Perfect your form before adding weight plates to the bar.

Learn More About - How Good Mornings & Deadlifts Differ

good mornings with barbell

8. Superman 

The Superman is a great exercise, as silly or awesome as it sounds. It can be done at all fitness levels and fosters strength and conditioning throughout much of the posterior chain. You will feel activation in your glutes, hamstrings, and abs. 

How to perform this exercise:

Lie down on your stomach and place your arms ahead of you and your legs straight behind. Now, ensuring your head remains in a neutral position, one where you aren't looking up, lift your arms and legs off the floor roughly around 5-6 inches. Engage your core and abs and pull your shoulder blades together. 

If possible, try to bring your stomach slightly off the floor for the perfect form, emulating the man of steel himself, Superman! 

Garage Gym Pro Tips!

This exercise is simple and easy for beginners. It is also an excellent workout for people with back injuries as it doesn't require any weights.

Related Article - 11 Best Gym Mats For Bodyweight Exercises

superman exercise

9. Swimmers 

Once you feel comfortable with Supermans and want to try a more dynamic movement, you might upgrade to swimmers. These have more varied movements and can be quite challenging for those who have not already strengthened their stabilizer muscles and lower back to an intermediate level. 

How to perform this exercise:

Start in the same position as the Superman, face down on the floor, arms and legs extended in front and behind. Now lift your arms and legs off the floor, like you are doing a Superman, contracting your core, glutes, and shoulders. 

To progress into swimmers, lift your right arm and left leg approximately 12 inches from the floor. Bring them down while simultaneously raising the left arm and right leg as if you were swimming.

Be careful not to lift your legs too high as it can cause you to lose stability in your spine and overarch.

Garage Gym Pro Tips!

This is another great bodyweight movement to incorporate into your routine. Try super setting this with regular superman exercises mentioned above. With enough intensity, it can double as a cardio workout.

swimmers exercise

10. Cable Pull-Through 

If you want an excellent compound lift to use as a back extension alternative, the cable pull-through is one to consider. This move is seen as one of the best precursor exercises for those that want to go on to do heavy deadlifting. 

To do one, you will need a cable machine that allows you to adjust the height of the pulleys.

Required Equipment - Best Cable Crossover Machines

How to perform this exercise:

Start by setting up the cable machine so that the pulleys are on the lowest setting. Face away from the machine, grabbing the rope in between your legs, and take a few steps forward. 

Keep your posture straightened, feet hip-width apart, and bend your knees slightly. Keep your chin tucked in like you are squeezing an apple against your chest. Push into the floor with your heels and toes to grip and brace. 

Now hinge forward until you feel the back of your legs engage and stretch. Keep your shins upright and your body at a 45-degree angle. Push your feet into the floor, standing up while squeezing your glutes and allowing your hips to move forward. As you do this, allow your arms to go long and finish in an upright position.  

Garage Gym Pro Tips!

While this exercise might look a little awkward in the gym, it's a fantastic alternative for working your glutes.

cable pull throughs

Benefits Of Back Extension Exercises 

Training your back provides numerous benefits. Strengthening the muscles around the spine grants you support. This prevents you from injuring yourself in simple ways. We have all done it -- reached down to pick up a pen and twang… pain. Well, a strong back means a sturdy spine, which means less injury. 

Training your back also grants you strength in your lifts and everyday life. Picking up heavy objects, lifting heavy weights, and straightening and lengthening your posture: all of these will be easier with the addition of a simple back day routine once a week. 

Back extensions, sometimes called hyperextensions, are a great way to start training those muscles that you have abused all your life. This exercise doesn't just improve your back strength and stability; it also works your glutes, hips, and shoulders. They also relieve back pain.


Common Mistakes When Doing Back Extensions 

Back extensions are one of those exercises that, when done incorrectly, have a high chance of causing injury. Here are the common mistakes we see when people perform them.

Fast or Jerky Motion 

When people add too much weight to their lifts, their movements become fast and jerky. This is because it allows them to lift weight they wouldn't be able to lift with the correct form. Don't be that guy; stick to weights you can perform with perfect form.

Over Extension 

Another common mistake we see is people extending way too far. This is called overextension. Keep your movements controlled and perform reps correctly, and you will get the results you want faster and with a lower chance of injury.

Excessive Weight 

The only thing that using too much weight will get you is poor form and injuries. Stick to weights you can perform all of your reps with, without breaking form.


What Muscles Do Back Extension Alternatives Work?

Latissimus Dorsi 

The primary muscle worked is the Latissimus Dorsi, most known as the lats. This large muscle covers almost all of your back, with the exception of the trapezius, or traps. In terms of its functionality, the lats allow for movement in the shoulders, rotation of the arms, extension of the arms, and most importantly, stabilizes the spine during movement. It also has a small job in the respiratory system, helping you breathe. 

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Erector Spinae  

This group of muscles extends up your back, up your spine, on either side of the vertebral column. They provide a massive level of support to your spinal column and are immensely important if you want to avoid injury, day-to-day back pain, and injury proneness.

Its functions are to straighten your back, keep posture, and provide side to side rotation, the most common cause of back injury. 

Hips 

While the main focus of back extensions, is as you have probably guessed, to work the back muscles above, they also work secondary muscles. One of these is your hip flexors, the muscles that give you a range of motion in your hips. These muscles are crucial for a stable core and will be instrumental in other lifts like the deadlift and squat. 

Hamstrings 

Part of your posterior chain, muscles that connect your upper body to your lower body, people are often ignorant of the hamstrings' importance to your back. Often people with back pains and poor mobility in their back, find more relief in training and stretching their hamstrings than they do in training their back.

Glutes  

Your Gluteus Maximus is the largest muscle in the human body and is found at the top of your legs and makes up most of your butt, in layman's terms. It enables you to stay upright, and without it, we wouldn't be able to walk or stand. 


Common Back Extension Questions

Are back extensions safe?  

When performed correctly and avoiding the mistakes above, back extensions are relatively safe. The only exception is if you have back injuries or problems. In these cases, it's best to err on the side of caution. 

How do I make my back extensions harder? 

Many experienced lifters increase the difficulty of their back extensions by holding a weight plate during the exercise. 

Can back extensions replace deadlifts? 

Back extensions are more of a supporting exercise and cant replace a crucial compound lift like the deadlift. Utilize them both for the best results. 


Conclusion

Now you have a list of alternatives to the humble back extension, back day should never be boring again. Remember, lift with good form, breathe correctly, and don't be a hero when lifting with your back; you only have one spine.  

Paul J