Do Back Extensions Help Deadlifts? (Yes, Here’s How)

The back extension exercise targets the spinal extensors, glutes, and hamstrings, which are important muscles in the deadlift.

The back and hip muscles are heavily engaged in the deadlifts and training these muscles will be an important part of increasing the deadlifts.

The back extension is known to target the back and hip muscles, and are included in many deadlift specialization programs.

So, do back extensions help deadlifts? Yes, back extensions help deadlifts. The back extension exercise targets the spinal extensors, glutes, and hamstrings, which are important muscles in the deadlift, especially in the lock-out phase. If you struggle in the deadlift lockout, doing back extension may help you overcome this weakness.

In this article, we will go through what the back extension exercise does, how it helps the deadlifts, and how to integrate it within our training to get the most out of it for deadlift performance.

How Do Back Extensions Help Deadlifts? 4 Ways

Here are the 4 ways that back extensions help deadlifts:

  • Increases muscle mass and strength for stabilizer muscles
  • Improves work capacity for posterior chain muscles
  • Helps with your ability to brace the torso
  • Improve mid-range to lockout strength

Increases Muscle Mass and Strength for Stabilizer Muscles

Back extensions are useful for training the spinal extensors and hamstrings. These muscles play a stabilizing role for the pelvis during the deadlift.  

If the pelvis can be in the most optimal position throughout each stage of the pull, without it tucking or rounding, then the glutes and hip adductors can maximally recruit. 

 In the absence of a stable pelvis, the glutes and hip adductors need to work a lot harder than they otherwise would need to.

So by increasing the muscle mass and strength of the spinal erectors and hamstrings (by using the back extension), other muscle groups in the deadlift are able to do their job properly, which can contribute to a more efficient movement.  

Improves Work Capacity for Posterior Chain Muscles

Back extensions are normally performed with light or low loads and high repetitions. This can increase muscular endurance for the lower back, glutes and hamstrings.

When certain muscle groups have the ability to perform a lot of work over multiple sets and reps, it can improve how efficiently the muscles operate in two ways: 

First, it leads to an increase in muscle mass.  By increasing muscle mass it allows your body to produce more force under maximal loads.  This is why you see ‘bigger individuals’ lift more than ‘smaller individuals’ on average.

Second, it creates the ability for your muscles to handle a lot of muscular stress.  This is important since when muscles fatigue, your technique degrades.  So by building the work capacity of your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, it ensures you’re able to perform quality sets and reps without technical breakdown.  

Helps With Your Ability To Brace the Torso

Bracing involves engaging many muscles around the torso in order to protect the spine during the deadlift.  Bracing your core prior to starting the deadlift is a key technical component to ensure the back doesn’t round throughout the range of motion.  

By strengthening your back muscles by doing back extensions, you strengthen your ability to brace properly in the deadlift.  

To learn more about proper breathing in the deadlift, check out: How To Breathe Properly In The Deadlift?

Improve Mid-Range To Lockout Strength

Back extensions help improve the mid-range to lockout strength because it targets the hip extension movement..

Hip extension is when your hips travel toward the barbell.  It is the main mechanical movement that is performed while locking out your hips at the top of the deadlift.

The hip extension movement activates the glute muscles the most and to a smaller extent the hamstrings too. 

The back extension, when performed properly can replicate the same movement and muscle groups, which will subsequently help you through your mid-range and lockout strength. 

If you struggle with specific ranges of motion throughout the deadlift, check out:

Who Should Do Back Extensions For Deadlifts

If you are one of these three people, then you should consider doing back extensions to improve your deadlift: 

  • If the barbell comes forward at the start of the deadlift
  • If you are weak in mid-range or lockout of the deadlift
  • If your posterior chain muscles fatigue very early on during light deadlift training

If the Barbell Comes Forward at the Start of the Deadlift

If the barbell drifts forward during the bottom range of motion when executing the deadlift, it may be that you are loading the leg muscles more i.e. the quadriceps, as opposed to the hip muscles i.e. lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.

By training back extensions, you can train through the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back through a full range of motion, which will maximize the muscle gain response. This will lead to you being able to load these hip muscles better during the deadlift.

If You Are Weak in Mid-Range or Lockout of the Deadlift

If you are weak or have a sticking point in the mid-range or lockout portion, you either started the deadlift in a poor hip and back position or that your hip muscles may be weak.

If you start in a poor hip and back posture, the back extension exercise can isolate this portion of the movement so that you can focus on your hip movement and posture. For this, you should perform light back extension movements in a slow and controlled manner.

If you are weak in the lockout or mid-range of the deadlift, you can train the back extensions harder with higher reps with fewer reps in reserve.

If Your Posterior Chain Muscles Fatigue Very Early On During Light Deadlift Training

If you find that your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back fatigue early, you can improve your work capacity and muscular endurance with back extensions.

For this reason, you should opt for a longer time under tension with back extensions by using slow repetition speed and/or high reps with low or no load.

Who Should Not Do Back Extensions For Deadlifts

3 reasons you should not involve back extensions in your training to help deadlifts are:

  • If you have pre-existing back injuries
  • If you cannot hinge through your hips well
  • If your hips rise quicker than your shoulders

If You Have Pre-Existing Back Injuries

As with any lower back injuries, you should not do back extensions or deadlifts at all. You will need to ensure that you have recovered appropriately and see an appropriate medical professional.

Appropriate medical or health professionals may include a doctor or physical therapist.

If You Cannot Hinge Through Your Hips Well

If you cannot hinge well through your hips, you need to practice hip hinging. Performing back extensions when you do not hinge through your hips well may reinforce an error of hinging through your lumbar spine.

Hinging through your lumbar spine means bending the spine backward and forwards. What this looks like is rounding your back while performing the back extension.  This will lead to unnecessary stress on your back that you want to avoid.

We created a guide on How To Hip Hinge Properly, which covers 11 drills you can implement to master hinging from the hips.  I recommend you implement these drills into your training, and only add the back extension exercise after you’re confident with your hinging skills.

If Your Hips Rise Quicker Than Your Shoulders

If your hips rise quicker than your shoulders, it means that you have a greater ability to load your hip more than your leg muscles. Back extensions would only result in reinforcing this.

If you find that your hips are shooting up in the deadlift, what you need to do is incorporate exercises that help you load your leg muscles more such as leg press, front squats, or goblet squats.

Also, check out our guide on How to Fix Hips Shooting Up In The Deadlift (5 Tips)

How Should Back Extensions Be Performed For Deadlifts (Tips and Cues)

Tips and Cues on How Should Back Extensions Be Performed For Deadlifts
  • Engage your abs to maintain a neutral spine. Try to avoid lifting your chin up too much and keep your ribcage down a bit to engage the abs so the posture can be flatter.
  • Prioritize squeezing through your glutes. To make the most out of back extension for deadlifts, the hip extension needs to be focused.  So cue yourself to “thrust your hips” toward the back extension pad”. 
  • Stop at the point before your lower back rounds. You do not want to exceed your own mobility when you perform this exercise just in case you overstrain your back or hamstrings.

Sample Back Extension Program For Deadlifts

Week 1

Day 1

  • Back Extension
  • 3 sets 12 reps 3 to 5 repetitions in reserve

Week 2

Day 1

  • Back Extension
  • 3 sets 13 reps Same load as the previous week

Week 3

Day 1

  • Back Extension
  • 3 sets 14 reps Same load as the previous week

Week 4

Day 1

  • Back Extension
  • 3 sets 15 reps Same load as the previous week

Other Resources


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com