11 Lower Back Barbell Exercises

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: February 26, 2023

Your lower back muscles are involved in everyday movements like bending over and standing up. But you probably take them for granted until you experience lower back pain or an injury.

Weak lower back muscles or improper lifting techniques often cause this discomfort. Therefore, it’s essential to strengthen your lower back using proper form to prevent back pain and injuries.

The good news is you can build your lower back using nothing more than a barbell. And I will show you how to perform these lower back barbell exercises with good form.

Lower Back Barbell Exercises

Lower Back Muscle Anatomy

Your lower back is comprised of multiple muscle groups. So it’s vital to know which muscles you’re targeting.

The main muscle groups that insert in the lower back are the erector spinae and latissimus dorsi.

Muscles Worked by Lower Back Barbell Exercises

Erector Spinae

First, the erector spinae are a group of muscles that lie underneath the other major back muscles. These long muscles run vertically on either side of your backbone. And their job is to extend your spine and maintain an upright posture.

Localized lower back pain is often related to sprains or strains of the erector spinae muscles. Moreover, sretching and exercising are the best ways to prevent back strains by stabilizing the vertebral column.

Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi, or lats, are the largest muscles of the back. And they originate at the bottom of the thoracic spine as well as the lumbar fascia tissue in the lower back.

The lats’ primary job is stabilizing your shoulder blades and pulling your arms down and back. But specific lat exercises can target and strengthen the low to mid-back region as well.

Related: Easy Lat Stretches for Overhead Mobility

Furthermore, the barbell is a valuable piece of equipment for training both the erector spinae and the latissimus dorsi.

Benefits of Lower Back Barbell Exercises

Strengthening your lower back with a barbell has several practical benefits. The first of which is simplicity. Because barbell lower back exercises only require one piece of equipment.

Second, the barbell is a highly versatile tool for working your lower back using multiple movements, ranges of motion, and angles.

In addition, free weights like barbells are better for increasing stability than machines. And the stretch at the bottom of the range of motion is excellent for improving flexibility.

Finally, a barbell is arguably the best equipment for strength training because you can progressively add more load and build up to heavy weights.

Here are the reasons you should use a barbell for lower back exercises:

  • Simplicity
  • Versatility
  • Stability
  • Flexibility
  • Strength

Of course, you can also work your back using other free weights, cables, and machines. But the barbell is an all-around good choice and can be done with even the most basic gym setups.

How To Strengthen Your Lower Back

There are multiple ways to work your lower back muscles using different movements and exercises.

Hip Hinge Movements

The first way to strengthen your lower back is with hip hinge exercises, where the movement primarily involves rotation around the hip joint. These exercises are excellent for working the erector spinae muscles.

Generally, hip hinge exercises include deadlift or back extension variations. And the barbell is the best way to perform lower back hip hinge exercises.

Rowing Movements

Next, are rowing exercises which involve a horizontal upper-body pulling movement. Rows are perfect for working the lats to strengthen your back.

And certain variations of barbell rows can target the lower lats in particular, as I’ll explain next.

Best Lower Back Barbell Exercises

Now it’s time to share the best barbell exercises for lower back. I broke this list into sections based on the movement type to make it easier to navigate.

First, I’ll show you all the variations of hip hinge exercises with the barbell. Then you’ll see the barbell rowing movements for the lower lats.

Hip Hinge Lower Back Barbell Exercises

These exercises involve holding a barbell while bending and extending around your hip joint. While some of these exercises appear very similar, they each have unique traits that make them effective.

1. Conventional Barbell Deadlift

The barbell deadlift is perhaps the best exercise for working your entire posterior chain, including the erector spinae and lats.

To do a conventional deadlift, stand in front of the barbell with your feet about hip-width apart. Then bend forward and grab the bar with an overhand grip, hands about shoulder-width.

Related: Best Deadlift Grip

Next, roll the barbell towards your shins and drop your hips. Your knees and hips should be bent and your back straight in the starting position.

Now lift the bar off the floor by extending your hips, pushing with your legs, and bringing your shoulders back until your body is upright and locked out.

Finally, control the weight as you lower it back to the floor. And I recommend pausing between reps to eliminate momentum.

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2. Barbell Rack Pull

Rack pulls are very similar to a deadlift, except that you start with the bar elevated off the floor to about knee height. This modification shortens the range of motion and puts more emphasis on the back muscles.

Learn More: Rack Pull vs. Deadlift

You can also place sturdy wood or metal boxes under the weight plates to elevate the barbell to the starting point. This variation is called block pulls.

To do rack pulls, set the safety stops on a power rack at a height where the barbell sits at knee level or slightly below. Then stand in front of the bar with your feet about hip-width and grab the bar with a shoulder-width overhand grip.

Ensure your knees or shins touch the bar before beginning each rep. From this starting point, lift the bar off the rack by extending your hips while keeping your back flat.

Finally, lower the weight under control back to the starting position and carefully set it back on the rack. Try not to slam the weight or bounce it off the rack!

3. Barbell Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift, or RDL, is a popular compound exercise for working the hamstrings and glutes. But you can also use it to strengthen your lower back.

Again, this exercise is like a partial range of motion deadlift. But this time, you start in the standing position.

Related: Romanian Deadlift vs. Conventional Deadlift

From here, lower the weight by pushing your hips back and bending at the knees. Keep your back flat, and don’t let the bar travel too far away from your body.

Once the barbell passes below your knees, extend your hips and straighten your legs to lift the bar back to an upright standing position.

4. Landmine RDL

A landmine attachment has a pivoting base that connects to one end of a barbell. Basically, it turns your barbell into a giant lever for performing various exercises.

You can do a landmine RDL by standing with the barbell between your feet. Then hold the bar with both hands or use a T-bar row handle.

Next, stand up straight with your hands between the front of your thighs. Now lower the weight by pushing your hips back and bending your knees slightly.

Keep your back flat and lower the weight until your hands pass your knees. Again, position your body so your hands stay reasonably close to your legs throughout the movement.

5. Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift

The stiff leg deadlift, or SLDL, is like a Romanian deadlift, except your knees bend very little or not at all. And this change in technique makes the SLDL slightly better for working the glutes.

However, studies suggest there is no significant difference in lower back activation between the SLDL and RDL.

See Comparison: Romanian Deadlift vs Stiff Leg Deadlift

In execution, you start the SLDL the same way you would an RDL. But as you lower the weight, try to keep your knees as straight as possible.

By not bending your knees, you turn this hip hinge movement into more of an isolation exercise. So you will need to use lighter weights, especially as you learn the proper form.

6. Good Mornings

Good mornings are another RDL-like hip hinge exercise. But this time, you hold the bar on your shoulders like a squat instead of in front of you like a deadlift.

This change in bar position shifts the weight further away from your center of gravity, making it feel heavier. So again, starting with much lighter loads would be best.

To do the good morning exercise, start by placing the bar on the back of your shoulders as you would for a low bar squat. Now bend forward by pushing your hips back and bending at the knees slightly.

Lean forward until you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings. Then drive your hips forward and straighten your legs to return upright.

7. Weighted Hyperextensions

Hyperextensions or back extensions are a type of hip hinge movement using a glute-ham developer (GHD). You lock your legs in place with pads and use your torso for resistance.

Generally, you do hyperextensions with just your body weight. But as you progress, your body no longer provides enough resistance to increase your strength further.

Therefore, intermediate to advanced lifters may add resistance to hyperextensions by holding a barbell. And you can hold the barbell in front of you or on your shoulders.

Another option is combining hyperextensions with a rowing movement to work your back in multiple ways in one exercise. The video below shows how to do this with an EZ curl bar.

Rowing Lower Back Barbell Exercises

These exercises involve pulling a barbell by flexing your arms and squeezing your shoulder blades back.

8. Bent Over Barbell Row

The bent-over barbell row is a foundational exercise used to work every major muscle group in your back, especially the lats.

Typically, you grab the bar with an overhand grip about shoulder-width apart. Then lean forward by bending at your hips and knees while keeping your back straight.

Related: Barbell Row vs Pendaly Row

The barbell should be sitting just above your knees in the starting position. Now lift the barbell up and back towards your navel by pulling with your arms and lats.

Lower the bar back to the starting position in a controlled fashion. To isolate your back, avoid using your legs or letting your body bounce excessively during the exercise.

9. Reverse Grip Barbell Row

Another way to perform the barbell row is by using an underhand or reverse grip. While this seems like a minor adjustment, it keeps your elbows closer to your body and shifts the load to the lower lats.

Again, grab the bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart, but keep your palms facing up. Next, perform the rowing exercise as described above and focus on squeezing your lower lats.

10. Landmine Row

The landmine row is similar to a standard barbell row, except you hold the bar perpendicularly between your legs. For this variation, it’s best to use a T-bar or V-bar handle.

Stand with the bar between your legs and feet about hip-width apart. Next, grab the handle, then stand up with the bar between your thighs.

From here, lean forward, so your hands are between or just in front of your knees. Now pull the bar up and back towards your navel.

Lower the bar back to the starting point and repeat for the desired number of reps.

11. Single Arm Landmine Row

You can do single-arm landmine rows if you don’t have a handle attachment for your barbell. For this variation, you stand off to the side of the bar and hold it in one hand like a dumbbell row.

One benefit of the single-arm landmine row is that you can pull the weight more towards your hip, which is better for working the lower lat.

In addition, working one arm at a time helps you focus on the mind-muscle connection.

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When to Use Lower Back Barbell Exercises

The lower back gets used in more than just back workouts. For example, you may notice your lower back is sore after a hard leg day workout.

In addition, the lower back is one of the slowest recovering muscle groups. So it’s vital to program your workouts to allow ample recovery and avoid overtraining.

The most obvious time to train lower back is Back Day in a single muscle group, bro split workout. However, you could also train your lower back on Pull Day in a three- or six-day push, pull, legs split.

Related: Chris Bumstead’s Push, Pull, Legs Split

Another option is to include lower back exercises in your Leg Day workouts since they probably already involve hip hinge movements like RDLs.

With this in mind, the best time to use lower back barbell exercises depends on your workout split, exercise selection, and recovery.

Lower Back Barbell Workout

To illustrate, I’ve provided two examples of incorporating lower back barbell exercises into your workouts.

Lower Back Focused Pull Day

First, we have an example pull day workout that includes a few exercises for strengthening your lower back. The low back exercises are indicated by an asterisk.

You start with the heavy compound exercise of conventional deadlifts for your entire posterior chain, including the lower back.

Then switch gears to lat pulldowns for working the upper lats, rhomboids, and teres major/minor. After that, you return to landmine rows to hit the lower lats.

A few sets of bicep curls for the arms, then finish your workout with hyperextensions to fatigue any remaining lower back muscle fibers.

Lower Back Barbell Exercises* in Pull Day Workout:

  • Conventional Deadlifts*
  • Lat Pulldowns
  • Landmine Rows*
  • Bicep Curls
  • Hyperextensions*

Lower Back Focused Leg Day

Next, we have a leg day workout designed to target the lower back with a few specific exercise variations. Again, the lower back exercises are marked by asterisks.

While barbell squats didn’t make the list of lower back exercises, they are excellent for strengthening the erector spinae. And you can follow them up with barbell Romanian deadlifts without leaving the squat rack.

Then rest your lower back while working your quads with the leg extension. And switch back to hyperextensions before finishing with calf raises.

Lower Back Barbell Exercises* in Leg Day Workout:

  • Barbell Squats
  • Romanian Deadlifts*
  • Leg Extensions
  • Hyperextensions*
  • Calf Raises

More Exercises & Workouts

Now you know how to strengthen your lower back with various barbell exercises. But working on the other muscle groups in your back is also important.

In addition, you probably want to include some dumbbell, cable, and machine exercises to get a complete back workout. So here are additional resources for planning your training sessions.

Complete Dumbbell Back & Bicep Workout

12 Dumbbell Trap Exercises

13 Dumbbell Lat Exercises

19 Cable Back Exercises

7 Best Lower Lat Exercises

With this information, you’re well on your way to building back size and strength while preventing pain and injury. For more helpful fitness tips, check out some of my other content below!

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By |February 26, 2023|Workouts|0 Comments
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