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How to Do Back Extensions

12 of 12 in Series: The Essentials of Weight Training

The back extension exercise both stretches and strengthens your lower back. It’s the perfect complement to crunches to develop a strong, balanced midsection. Use caution if you have a lower-back problem or experience lower-back pain while performing this exercise. If you do feel pain, try lifting only your legs and leaving your arms flat on the floor.

Performing the back extension

Follow these steps to perform this exercise:

  1. Lie on your stomach, facedown, arms straight out in front of you, palms down, and legs straight out behind you.

  2. Pull your abs in, as if you’re trying to create a small space between your stomach and the floor.

  3. Lift your left arm and right leg about one inch off the floor, and stretch out as much as you can.

  4. Hold this position for five slow counts and then lower your arm and leg back down.

  5. Repeat the same move with your right arm and left leg.

  6. Continue alternating sides until you complete the set.

    The back extension stretches and strengthens your lower back. [Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Prod
    Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
    The back extension stretches and strengthens your lower back.

Tips for doing back extensions

Keep the following tips in mind as you perform this exercise:

  • Exhale as you lift your arm and leg, and inhale as you lower them.

  • Pretend that you’re trying to touch something with your toes and fingertips that’s just out of reach.

  • Work for precision rather than height. Lift your arm and leg at the same time and to the same height.

Gym alternative: Ball back extension

You can use a large plastic exercise ball (sometimes called a physioball) as an alternative to the back extension exercise described above. Follow these steps:

  1. Kneel on a physioball and place your hands behind your head.

  2. Lean forward and lengthen your body so your torso is resting against the ball and you’re firmly balanced on your toes.

  3. Make sure your spine forms a straight line from your tailbone to your neck.

  4. Lift your chest upward a few inches, hold a moment, and then slowly lower back down.

  5. Cross your arms over your chest, pull your abs in, and lower your upper body a few inches by bending forward at the hips.

  6. Raise back up, using your lower back, so your body is parallel to the floor.

    Perform the back extension on a physioball to add variety to your workout. [Credit: Photograph by S
    Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
    Perform the back extension on a physioball to add variety to your workout.
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