What Are Back Raises?

Dan Cavallari

Many weightlifters do back raises to strengthen the lower back, but this exercise can also help strengthen the groin, hamstring, calves, and glutes. Back raises are done by using a back machine station, which is a metal device with padding that positions the body in a near horizontal position off the ground. The stomach is rested on a pad and the backs of the ankles are pressed against a pad positioned back from the stomach pad. When in proper position, the upper body will dangle downward toward the ground.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

The weightlifter can begin doing back raises by positioning dumbbells on the ground in front of the back machine. He or she can then get into position on the machine and let his or her upper body dangle downward. Once in the starting position, the weightlifter will grasp the dumbbells firmly in each hand and prepare for the back raises by breathing properly in sequence with each lift. The weightlifter will engage the core muscles — the lower back, stomach, groin, and hips — to lift his or her upper body until it is horizontal to the ground. The dumbbells should be lifted up toward the chest during this motion and held there for the remainder of the exercise. Some lifters prefer to use a large weight plate or even a medicine ball held against the chest rather than individual dumbbells.

Back raises can be done without weights at all as well. Beginners should certainly start without weights to get used to the proper motion; many beginners have a tendency to jerk upward during the motion, which can be damaging to the muscles. Instead, the motion should be done slowly and smoothly, and the person should avoid jerky or sudden motions throughout. Sometimes the back machine station can be adjusted so the user is not horizontal during the exercise, but is instead pointing upward at a 45 degree angle. This improves control as well as the ability to adjust the range of motion.

In order to work other muscles, back raises can be modified by changing one's position on the back machine station. A lifter can, for example, lean one side of his or her hips onto the stomach pad and dangle downward and to the side. The back raises will then work the muscles on the side of the stomach as well as muscles throughout the hips, groin, glutes, and even the lower back.

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