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Back Extensions vs. Back Raises

Back Extensions vs. Back Raises

Most lifters use back extensions and back raises interchangeably in their strength training programs. They are the same exercise right? Back raises and back extensions get everyone confused – so everyone just simply uses the exercise names interchangeably. But this is incorrect. There is a difference.

I am going to show you that back extensions and back raises are two very different exercises that target different regions of the posterior chain. In fact, one of the exercises is more for the mid-to-upper back – not the hips!

Back Raises

Back raises involve setting up in a 45-deg back extension, a Glute Ham Raises (GHR) bench or a Roman chair with the feet secure and the torso off the end.  The hip extension can be overloaded with a variety of barbells, medicine balls, elastic bands, weights vests, chains and so on.

Target Musculature: glutes, hamstrings, adductor magnus, spinal erectors (isometrically)

Benefits: Strengthening hip extension, activating glutes and hamstrings and restabilizing lower back.

Back Extensions

This is where the article gets really cool.  Back extensions are probably new to you.  Don’t worry, most trainers and lifters have never seen them.  There are many different ways to do them, but this is how we apply them.

Setup with a wide stance (base) against a stationary object.  We use the front pad of a GHR bench.  The lower back should be fixed and in neutral.  Loop a few elastic band around the foot plate of the GHR bench and place the other end over your back and under your arms.  You are going to ease into a flexed position with your upper body only, do NOT move the hips or lower back.  This can be accomplished by keeping the pad at a position above your waist.  If it is too low, just widen your stance to drop down to a lower base.

A powerful extension is done against the resistance of the bands.  The finish (locked position) should be held for a pause of 1-2 seconds.

Target Musculature: spinal erectors, traps, rhomboids

Benefits: Improve thoracic strength (extension and flexion) mobility, improve scapular strength and mobility (and overall shoulder health), and improve posture.


We use back extensions and back raises in our supplemental worksets.  I like to hit both of these movements for lots and lots of reps.  You can use them to bring up a weakness or to help rehab a back or hamstring injury.  A good range would be:

3-5 sets x 10-20 reps

You could also overload the movement with a heavier weight, just follow a more typical strength training range.

3-5 sets x 8-12 reps

Quick Workout Examples


1) Squat, 4 sets x 8 reps

2A)  Lunges, 3 sets x 8 reps each leg
2B)  Back Raises, 3 sets x 12 reps


1) Bench Press, 3 sets x 12 reps

2A)  DB Incline Bench, 4 sets x 10 reps
2B)  Back Extensions, 4 sets x 12 reps

Here is a quick video showing you the difference between back extensions and back raises.

By on March 4th, 2011


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Comments (8)

  1. Posted by - Dustin on March 4, 2011

    NICE! I also do that with a exercise ball. I also like reverse hypers off the glute ham(works well for now. Saving for reverse hyper).

  2. Posted by - Jerry Shreck on March 4, 2011


    I like that one. I also do that movement off a stability ball but not to the intensity that I am sure you can get with the band on a GHD. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Posted by - Scott Jones on March 4, 2011

    I have always called the “back raise” the back hyper-extension, and I do those regularly. I wanted to ask about glute ham raises. My gym has a 45 degree roman chair similar to the bench in your back raise video. Can glute hams work on this type of bench? Do you have an alternative suggestion?

    Many thanks for all your great work.

  4. Posted by - Keith Fine on March 5, 2011

    Nice post,I used to do those type of back extensions,but we called them erector crunches.Good to see that others realize the two different way to work the posterior chain.Keep it coming bro!!

  5. Posted by - Jeffrey McCarthy on March 5, 2011

    @Scott Jones: You can use a lat pull down, too.

  6. Posted by - Don Johnson on March 6, 2011

    This is a great exercise. We do something similar, but I love to see variation and innovation in strength training. Always learning.

  7. Posted by - Mike on March 14, 2011

    Great exercises Smitty! I use them in active recovery from dead-lifts or squats

  8. Posted by - julia ladewski on March 14, 2011

    Great article Smitty!! Love doing back extensions with the band on the GHR, just like you have pictured!! will really tear up the middle back musculature… total postural improvement too!!

    love the back raises for glute and hamstring work!

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