The back extension rarely makes it into conversation when talking about glute growth. It’s unfortunate as the back extension is an easy-to-perform exercise to grow your booty.
The back extension is an excellent exercise for the glutes as it isolates hip extension – the primary function of the glute muscles.
But getting on the back extension machine and repping out doesn’t mean you’ll walk away with a bigger butt. There are slight modifications you need to make to target the glutes.
Does Back Extension Work Glutes?
The back extension works the glutes through hip extension, which is their primary function . This is seen within muscle activity studies showing how effective the back extension is for the glutes . For example, the back extension elicits similar gluteus maximus activity to the Romanian deadlift .
It’s important to note the largest glute muscle, the gluteus maximus, increases its contribution with increasing loads . So holding plates or a heavy barbell will increase the involvement of your glutes.
45° vs. 90° Back Extension For Glutes
The inevitable question is whether the 45° or 90° back extension is better for the glutes. The 90° is where you are parallel with the floor at the top of the movement. Glute ham raise machines double as 90° back extensions.
45° back extension sits at a 45° angle. The primary difference is the angle of peak torque generated from the hip extensors. Peak tension is produced with the hips fully extended during the 90° back extension. In comparison, peak tension is generated halfway up during the 45° back extension when your back is parallel to the floor.
However, in my experience, both are excellent glute developers. The greater range of motion with the 45° back extension makes it the perfect accomplice to the shorter peak glute tension of the 90° back extension.
Use both within your training. Whether you use them within the same week or alternate between training cycles is up to you and equipment dependent.
Modifying The Back Extension For Glutes
There are slight modifications you must make to get the most out of back extensions for your glutes. The first is your foot position. The glute muscles do more than extend the hip. They also externally rotate the hip.
Therefore, you can point your feet out at 30° to 45°, which will help feel the squeeze at the top of the back extension. The next is how you perform the back extension. Instead of raising your shoulders and arching your lower back, focus on pushing your hips through the pad.
I cover how to do this in the video below:
Think about performing a bodyweight hip thrust instead of raising the upper body. You’ll notice a slight kyphotic thoracic posture which is perfectly normal and will help maintain the mind-muscle connection with the glutes.
Lastly, how you hold the load affects the mind-muscle connection with the glutes. One way to increase the back extension’s difficulty is to hold your arms overhead. This lengthens the moment arm from your hips, increasing the torque demands of the hips and lower back.
However, in my experience, this nails your erector spinae, and it’s challenging to feel your glutes working. Therefore, I prefer holding the load with your arms vertically. It keeps the load closer to your hips and is easier to feel the glutes doing the work.
Kettlebells, barbells, plates, and dumbbells are all great options for loading. Hyper deads are my favorite for a brutal hip hinge movement.
The back extension works the glutes, but slight modifications should be made to turn it into an absolute lower and upper glute destroyer. If you have access to a 45° and 90° back extension machine, use both within your training program or over separate training cycles to maximize glute development.
- Neto, W. K., Soares, E. G., Vieira, T. L., Aguiar, R., Chola, T. A., de Lima Sampaio, V., & Gama, E. F. (2020). Gluteus maximus activation during common strength and hypertrophy exercises: A systematic review. Journal of sports science & medicine, 19(1), 195.
- Lawrence, M. A., Chin, A., & Swanson, B. T. (2019). Biomechanical comparison of the reverse hyperextension machine and the hyperextension exercise. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 33(8), 2053-2056.
- Andersen, V., Pedersen, H., Fimland, M. S., Shaw, M., Solstad, T. E. J., Stien, N., … & Saeterbakken, A. H. (2021). Comparison of Muscle Activity in Three Single-Joint, Hip Extension Exercises in Resistance-Trained Women. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 20(2), 181.
- Beardsley, C., & Contreras, B. (2014). The increasing role of the hip extensor musculature with heavier compound lower-body movements and more explosive sport actions. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 36(2), 49-55.