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Deadlift or back extension [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

May 14, 2019 9:30:00 AM

Deadlift or back extension

Deadlift or back extension


The deadlift is the better option for overall strength and fitness. If you specifically want to target a weak lower back do back extensions. 

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What is your why 


Before we look at the details of the deadlift and back extension let us take a step back. The most important factor for rescuing your goals is massive continuous action. This is rooted in your attitude, not in the choice of exercises. Most people think about their lives in this pattern:


  • What do I want 
  • How do I get it
  • Why do I want it 


Most people do know what they want. Be it the next Burger, losing fat or more money. What we want is hugely influenced by our emotions and changing moods in the day. Our brains are Structured for instinctive actions in familiar situations. This is good to survive, but suboptimal to get out of bad habits. This is why many people give up their New Years resolutions in February. Normal life comes back and you get back to autopilot. To avoid this change your thinking pattern to:


  • Why do you want something 
  • How do you get it
  • What do you need to do to get it 


By changing your approach to this pattern you will look clearer at why you want things. You will be a lot more conscious of your choices. As everything you do and say will be rooted in deep belief other will also be more willing to help you. Overall you will be more likely to achieve your goals.


For me this means 


  • I want to be the best husband I can be 
  • I need to be fit and smart to provide 
  • I train and work hard and read books 


Rather than 


  • I should read more books 
  • I will read more books 
  • Because I want to get smarter (?) 


If you are not convinced yet check out Simon Sinek's TED talk on the golden circle. He makes a compelling case telling the story of the Wright brothers. 




The deadlift is one of the most iconic barbell movements you can do in the gym. When you mention the deadlift most people think of the conventional deadlift. There are other variations like the sumo and Romanian deadlift. If you want to learn more about the legends of the trade lookup 


  • Eddie hall 
  • Andy Bolton 
  • Dam Green 
  • Frank Duffin 


The deadlift mainly trains the hamstrings, lower back, glutes, and quads. Your arms and shoulders are also involved, but to a lesser extent to move the weight. Often compared to the barbell back squat the deadlift works your back more than your front. Different styles and lifters vary, but this is the general guidance. 


There are two sticking points in the deadlift. The first one off the floor and the second at lockout. The first sticking point is mainly to lack of strength. If you are not strong enough to get the weight off the ground you are simply too weak. You can game it with positioning and leverages, but the main thing is the strength to overcome this sticking point. The second sticking point is at lockout. In this scenario, you are strong enough to get the bar off the ground but you are too slow to complete the movement. Once you are strong enough to move the weight the deadlift becomes a race against the clock until your grip fails. The stronger you are the quicker the bar moves. To push your one rep max it can be very beneficial to look at leverages and bar path. This can squeeze out quite a couple of pounds. 


You do a good deadlift by


  1. Placing your midfeet under the bar
  2. Gripping the bar in a mixed or hook grip
  3. Lowering yourself to the bar
  4. Turning the elbows in as if you squeezed lemons in your armpits 
  5. Being patient off the floor and build tension until the bar bends 
  6. Once the bar almost floats initiate the pull by making a footprint and pushing the floor away from you 
  7. Pull the bar up and towards you
  8. Think to accelerate on the way up 
  9. Squeeze your glutes to make your hips pop forward
  10. Done 


You might want to practice each of these clues separately and form the perfect deadlift over time. A great book in the topic is Pavel Tsatsoulins and Andy Bolton’s book Deadlift dynamite.


The biggest advantages of the deadlift are its effectiveness and savagery. The deadlift is one of the best exercises out there to build raw strength. You get a lot out of every rep you do. There is also something primal and satisfying about living heavy stuff up. It always makes me smile.


The biggest disadvantages of the deadlift are its toll on your back and that it is not ideal for bodybuilding. For bodybuilders, it is good to do a lot of repetitions. The deadlift is just not made for that. You are inviting herniated discs into your life if you do German Volume Training with the conventional deadlift. 


Back extension 


The back extension is a popular exercise to build your back. You utilize your body weight to train your lower back. Some people even do back extensions with added weight through a barbell or dumbbell


The back extension is done by lying on or in a special contraption that fixates your legs. While being face down you bent over and come back up again to perform a repetition. While the concept is easy the devil lies in the detail. 


I often see people doing their back extensions a lot too fast. This is an exercise where you do not want to be yanking around as your spine is very exposed. To get the maximum out of your back extensions maintain maximum tension during each repetition. This will strengthen and define your back. 


The biggest advantages of the back extension are that al ist anyone can do them and that they isolate an area which is otherwise hard to train. The weak link for powerlifters often is the lower back, even though they deadlift a lot. 


The biggest disadvantages of the back extension are its limited impact on your entire body and that it is hard to know how to progress. For the biceps it is pretty is to check whether you are getting anywhere or not. Just measure the inches. Back extensions are not so simple and only train one muscle group.


Should you do deadlifts or back extensions?


As most of the times in fitness, if you can do both, do them both. As we do not have unlimited time the more refined answer is:


Most soccer moms are fine with the back extension only. It is a good lower back exercise especially when you don’t have already back pain. It can also be fine while lying on a ball.


Bodybuilders can also take advantages of back extension based on their personal weaknesses. Be aware that many competitions are judged on the size and definition of your muscles. If you feel you are too small for your weight class, prioritize something else than back extensions. If you are a huge monster which lacks definition a ton of back extensions might help your lower back to get chiseled. 


Crossfitters do not really have to bother with back extensions. All those sit-ups and ball throwing should take care of the area. 


Further reading 



Topics: Lift stronger, Deadlift, Fitness, Strength, Powerlifting, Bodybuilding, Strongman