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7 Back Extension Alternatives At Home For Glutes

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The back extension is an exercise that has regained a lot of popularity over the last decade or so – roughly in line with CrossFit (therefore Olympic Weightlifting) movements becoming more mainstream in the fitness ether.

But how do you do a good version of it if you don’t have the equipment in your home gym?

Whilst the back extension is an important aspect of posterior chain training, if you haven’t got a GHD at home, you need a way to strengthen the lower back (and no, Swiss ball cobras just don’t cut it). You’ll need a variety of weights, rep ranges and movement patterns to replicate the back extension effectively.

In this article, I’m going to show you a bunch of back extension alternatives. Exercises that have helped me improve the strength of literally thousands of people across my two decades in fitness.

The back extension – uses and functionality

Instagram videos of the Chinese weightlifting team performing a wide variety of back extension exercises have helped more people understand the value of the exercise.

This has lead to equipment manufacturers producing items to cater to the demand. 

It’s one of the classic posterior chain exercises, helping to improve power transfer and protect the back during exercises such as deadlifts, squats, and Olympic weightlifting movements. It’s also helpful for people who sit at desks or in cars all day – the lack of glute activation and hip extension in these positions can lead to back pain. 

Adding regular back extensions into your training helps to offset these issues.

Over the last decade or so, posterior chain training is rightly getting the attention it deserves. As well as being athletically very important by helping power transfer, overall strength, and even speed, it also helps to prevent injuries to the muscles that run up the back of the body.

Posterior chain muscles

Research shows us that when the torso is extended, it helps to train the posterior chain more effectively.

Back extension – considerations

We know that back extension training is very effective at improving the strength of the back muscles, but it’s a limited variable.

To lift weights with a back extension, you need to provide a stable platform that’s really only achievable with a GHD machine. This is a heavy-weight platform and bench that allows the lifter to maintain good body position, whilst not worrying about stability when lifting a heavy weight on their back…

But without a GHD machine in your home gym, you have to think outside of the box.

What this means is that when we are programming back extension alternatives, we have to consider muscle recruitment, stability, and positioning as well as the equipment availability and functionality.

It’s not a case of ‘any old’ back exercise, because we’re trying to replicate the back extension (sometimes also known as hyperextension).

The hyperextension requires a hyperextension bench, also known as a Roman chair

This means we have to work on hip flexion and extension, torso stability and recruitment of the glutes, erectors, hamstrings and lower back musculature.

Using this framework as our guidance, we can discount a lot of common back exercises, because they simply don’t do the same job as the back extension. 

We’re looking for something that predominantly trains the lower back, the erectors and ideally the glutes. This rules out exercises such as pull ups, lat pulldowns and bent over rows because they focus on the lats and the biceps. Similarly, upright rows, cable rows and inverted rows can be discounted. They’re all great exercises in their own right, but they’re just not great back extension alternatives.

Instead, I’ve put together a list of 7 back extension alternatives. Whilst they may not all be obvious replacements for the back extension, I’ll explain with each exercise why it’s in the list. Whether it’s for anatomical, form or functional reasons, there’s a justification for each exercise here.

Back extension alternatives

These are the back extension alternatives that I think offer the same benefits as the back extension without the need for much equipment. They’re all possible with many of the home gym essentials you’ll already have access to.

1. Bench back extension

The bench back extension is an obvious alternative – it’s the exact same exercise without the need to buy a significantly more expensive GHD machine. I like it because it’s simple to do, but a word of caution – if you’re going to do this exercise with a decent amount of weight on your back, make sure you anchor your feet well, otherwise you’ll tip forward pretty rapidly!

Equipment needed for bench back extensions:

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do bench back extensions:

  • Set the bench to a 45-degree incline
  • Put lie forwards on the bench, with your feet anchored and the legs running up the length of the back support
  • Your hips should rest at the top of the bench, so when you lean forward you can do so comfortably
  • Keeping your core tight, slowly lower yourself forward, maintaining a straight back throughout – you should be bending at the hips, not through the back
  • When you reach the full range forward, pause and use your back and glutes to lift yourself back to the start position
  • Squeeze your back muscles as the top to complete the exercise
  • Repeat as many times as required

Bench back extensions muscles worked:

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Lower back
  • Spinal erectors

Note: The back extension alternatives target upper body muscles predominantly. Complement your upper body workouts with our sissy squat alternatives. Also, check out our alternatives section for more exercise ideas.

2. Kettlebell swings

The kettlebell swing is a fantastic exercise for the lower back, hamstrings and the glutes. It’s a movement that requires a big hip drive, especially when the weight gets heavier and the emphasis is on strength and power. This engages all of the same muscles as the back extension exercise.

Equipment needed for kettlebell swings:

  • Kettlebell

How to do kettlebell swings:

  • Hold the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip
  • Keeping your back straight, tilt your hips back and drive them forward using your glutes – this puts momentum into the kettlebell
  • At the top of the swing, squeeze your glutes together hard
  • Keep your legs mostly straight throughout the whole exercise – the only joints to move a lot are the hip and shoulders
  • Keeping your back and legs straight throughout, build momentum with each swing until you’re reaching chest height with the kettlebell
  • Repeat as many times as required

Kettlebell swings muscles worked:

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Lower back
  • Core
  • Spinal erectors

3. Good mornings

The good morning is an excellent, yet underused exercise. In terms of back and glute strength building it is very effective, plus it doesn’t have much in the way of technique to learn. It’s a very safe exercise to perform because of the simple movement pattern. It’s also a great way to strengthen the hamstrings. 

Equipment needed for good mornings:

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

How to do good mornings:

  • Set the barbell on your back, across the shoulders – never the neck
  • Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back
  • Maintaining a straight back throughout, push the hips back and lower your torso towards the ground
  • When your torso is parallel to the ground and your hamstrings are well-stretched, pause to engage the muscles fully
  • Straighten your torso by pushing your hips forward with the hamstrings, lower back and glutes controlling the speed of the movement throughout
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Good mornings muscles worked:

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Lower back
  • Spinal erectors
  • Core

Note: this is a great exercise but it might not suit everyone out there. Check out our good morning exercise alternatives if you want to find an alternative that suits you better.

4. Stiff legged deadlifts

I’d debated whether or not to use regular deadlifts or stiff legged deadlifts here, because in reality they’re both excellent and will mimic the back extension very well. I opted for the stiff legged variety though because of the extra emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes, plus the rigid leg replicates the fixed leg nature of the back extension. In the standard deadlift there is knee flexion and extension playing a part.

Equipment needed for stiff legged deadlifts:

  • Barbell and plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

How to do stiff legged deadlifts:

  • Hold the barbell with the grip of your choice
  • Deadlift the bar into your starting position, which is where you’re holding the barbell with straight arms
  • Keeping your back and legs straight, tilt your hips back as your torso starts to point towards the floor
  • Keep pushing your hips back, with your legs straight as you lower the bar towards the floor
  • As you feel your hamstrings stretch fully, push the hips forward and lift the bar back to the starting position
  • At the top of the movement squeeze the glutes together
  • Repeat as many times as required

Stiff legged deadlifts muscles worked:

  • Lower back
  • Legs
  • Glutes
  • Erectors
  • Core

5. Farmer’s walks

The dumbbell farmer’s walk is a simple yet very effective exercise. It’s not an obvious alternative for a back extension, so I need to give this one some explanation. It’s an exercise that engages the entire core, legs and lower back. The dumbbells should pull the torso forwards, so the lower back and spinal erectors have to work to keep the torso upright, which is effectively what back extensions are doing – working to make the torso upright.

Equipment needed for farmers walks:

  • Heavy dumbbells or kettlebells/two loaded barbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do farmer’s walks:

  • Hold a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand
  • Stand up, keeping the weight on either side with a straight arm
  • Keeping your back straight and your core tight, walk in a straight line for a given distance (minimum 20 yards)
  • Turn around and walk back
  • Repeat as many times as necessary
  • If this is too easy, either use heavier weights or walk a longer distance

Farmer’s walks muscles worked:

  • Lower back
  • Legs
  • Glutes
  • Erectors
  • Core

6. Hang snatch pull

The hang snatch pull has made it into this list because it trains all of the same muscles as the other exercises here, but with the added benefit of training the upper back too. It’s a relatively simple movement that helps generate real power and the hip flexion and extension pattern is a very similar movement pattern to the back extension. The wide (snatch) grip helps to train the rear deltoids too, for added benefit.

Equipment needed for hang snatch pull:

How to do hang snatch pull:

  • Take the bar with a snatch grip (double overhand, wide grip)
  • Bend your knees, keeping your back straight and the chest high
  • Drive with your legs, keep your back straight and pull directly upwards to the chest
  • Pull the elbows up high and squeeze the shoulder blades together
  • Keep the bar close to the body throughout
  • Lower the bar under control
  • Repeat as many times as required

Hang snatch pull muscles worked:

  • All muscles of the upper back
  • Rear deltoids
  • Erector spinae
  • Legs
  • Glutes

Check out our reverse pec deck alternatives if you’re looking to strengthen your upper back muscles.

7. Bench reverse hyperextensions

Even if you only have access to a bench, you can still do reverse hyperextensions. It’s a slightly adjusted technique and the range of movement isn’t the same, but it’s still an effective lower back exercise and well worth adding to your training. It’ll certainly help to engage the lower back and glutes, without the need to add thousands of dollars worth of extra equipment to your home gym.

Equipment needed for bench reverse hyperextensions:

How to do bench reverse hyperextensions:

  • Lie on your front on the bench, holding tightly onto the bench 
  • Your hips should be positioned on the end of the bench, allowing your legs to move freely
  • When you’re in position, grab the dumbbell between your feet
  • Extend the legs and lift them up as high as you can behind you, fully engaging the glutes and lower back
  • At the top of the movement, squeeze the muscles hard for a second, then lower back down
  • Repeat as many times as required

Bench reverse hyperextensions muscles worked:

  • Erector spinae
  • Legs
  • Glutes

Check out our hyperextension alternatives if you want more ideas on how to develop your glutes, hamstrings, and back muscles.

Back extension alternatives – the bottom line

A weighted back extension is an excellent exercise, but the absence of a GHD machine in your home gym shouldn’t spell disaster. You can still enjoy the benefits of the exercise without shelling out the extra money to buy the equipment. 

If you use the back extension alternatives listed in this article, you’ll be able to add excellent variety to your training which will benefit you both athletically and from an injury resistance point of view. You’ll develop posterior chain strength and learn adaptations and variances of exercises you’d never performed before.

As we know, variety in fitness is important. New stimulus means new challenges for your body and fitness, which leads to new results.

If you’re interested in improving your posterior chain some more then check out our deadlift alternatives.

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Steve Hoyles is a certified personal trainer and gym owner. Since graduating with his Sports Science degree in 2004 he's worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. His writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries as he inspires to help as many people as possible live a healthy lifestyle.

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