The erector spinae muscle group consists of three muscles parallel to the vertebra. These include iliocostalis lumborum (a long strip of muscle that attaches to the lower spine), iliocostalis cervicis (which runs between the shoulder blades), and spinalis thoracis (one long strip that runs vertically to either side of the back). 

Both iliocostalis muscles attach to the lower spine and extend outwards along the ribs. Spinalis attaches to the top of the back, running upwards and laterally (sideways).

Where Is The Erector Spinae?

The erector spinae muscles are found throughout the posterior (back). The three parts of this muscle group can be found in different areas or portions.

  • Iliocostalis Lumborum – This part is located on the lower spine. It attaches to all lumbar vertebrae and extends down to the top of the pelvis.
  • Iliocostalis Cervicis is located between the shoulder blades and attaches to the upper vertebrae of the lumbar spine, ribs, and cervical spine (neck).
  • Spinalis Thoracis – This part runs vertically on either side of the back, attaching at the top of thoracic vertebrae (middle back) and the bottom of cervical vertebrae (neck).

What Is The Function Of The Erector Spinae?

The function of the erector spinae is to keep your torso upright as you bend forward, backward, and to the sides. These muscles also allow you to turn your upper spine sideways so you can twist at the waist, as in a standard sit-up.

The lower portion of the erector spinae acts as part of a supportive sling for your abdominal cavity and groin area and assists with rotation and lateral flexion (bending side-to-side) movements of your trunk.

Importance Of Strengthening The Erector Spinae Muscle

Everyone should do some form of muscle-strengthening exercise to support their spine health. Poor posture contributes to back pain by putting excess strain on the ligaments that hold vertebrae together. Ligaments are not made for bearing weight or stretching — they are designed to resist tension. 

When required to stretch beyond their normal range, ligaments lose elasticity and become painful or susceptible to injury. The erector spinae muscle group is one of the most important ones you can strengthen with exercises.

Some significant benefits are;

  • Better bone health
  • Improved posture will help you stand taller, look slimmer and feel stronger.
  • The prevention of injuries — makes the spine less likely to bend into an unnatural position that could cause back pain or damage.
  • Helping prevent lower back problems

How To Do The Erector Spinae Exercises

There are several types of exercises to target the erector spinae muscle. Below we have included a few which should be done 1-3 times per week, depending on your progress. We recommend everyone try these exercises and add them to their daily routine.

Back Extensions

Lie flat on your stomach with your arms along your sides, palms facing down. Keep your legs straight with the tops of your feet on the floor, and your toes pointed. Inhale, then exhale as you lift your upper body and chest as far as possible. Slowly return to starting position as you inhale

Bicycle Twist

Lie flat on a mat with arms extended to your sides, palms facing down. Pull your legs up so that your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and your knees are bent at 90 degrees. Position yourself so that you can lift your shoulder blades off the floor as you twist to one side, then switch shoulders. Repeat until all reps are complete.

Back Hyperextensions

Sit on a weight bench or sturdy chair. Bend forward and place your hands on the front of your thighs for support, keeping your back straight and core tight (tighten your abdomen). Slowly push yourself up until you’re in an upright position. The emphasis is not on lifting with the legs; it should be done by re-bending the knees only.

Back Extentability Ball 

Lay factions down with the stability ball under the lower portion of your stomach, legs straight out in front of you. Put your hands flat on either side of the ball for balance and lift your upper body as high as possible while breathing out. Hold for 2 seconds, then slowly return to starting position. Make sure to keep your body straight while doing this exercise.

Prone Leg Curl

Lying on your stomach, bend both legs at the knees so that your feet are flat on the floor close together. Keep your arms stretched out in front of you with palms facing down for balance. If you prefer, hold onto dumbbells while doing this exercise — about 5-10 pounds should do the trick once you get used to it. This is called a prone leg curl.

Inhale and, as you exhale, simultaneously bring your left knee forward while raising your head and right arm — imagine how a baby does a crawling movement. As soon as one side is done, switch sides so that the opposite limbs move together. 

The buttocks should remain on the floor for support throughout this exercise. Repeat 8-10 times for each leg.

If you prefer to do a seated version of this exercise, lie on a stability ball with your arms outstretched to help keep balance. Then perform the same movements, but sitting down makes it slightly more accessible due to improved body balance.

Deadlift

Another good back strengthening exercise that targets your lower back is the deadlift. To do this exercise, hold a barbell in front of you with both hands and your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend slightly at the knees while maintaining a straight back and looking forward. This will be your starting position.

Inhale and slowly bend forward at the waist by sliding your hips backward while lowering the bar toward the floor. Keep turning until it’s about even with your legs — but don’t let it touch down completely.

Your arms should remain angled back slightly, so they are almost parallel to the floor throughout this movement. Then exhale as you push yourself away from this position using the strength of your lower back muscles.

Tip: You may want to use a weight-lifting belt and wear flat, rubber-soled shoes (like sneakers) to help maintain proper form and balance during this exercise. The deadlift requires good hamstring flexibility and builds strength in the lower back.

Pelvic Tilt

Lying on your stomach with your legs extended behind you, alternately flexing at the hips and knees. Do this slowly — about 8-10 repetitions for each leg. This is called a pelvic tilt. It works the erector spinae muscles attached along both sides of your spine. 

A variation of this exercise can be done while standing up with your back against a wall or power rack, placed so that it’s roughly level with your waist.

Unilateral hip extension

If you want to try a leg lift exercise, lie on your back with your hands at your sides and legs straight. Press the small of your back into the floor as you exhale, then raise one leg 9-12 inches off of the floor.

Hold this position for 30 seconds before slowly returning it to the ground. Repeat this movement with the opposite leg and continue alternating legs 8-10 times per side for each repetition. If done on your back, this is called a unilateral hip extension or unilateral lumbar extension.

How To Incorporate Erector Spinae Exercises Into Your Training Regimen

Erector spinae exercises should be done 1-3 times per week. Choose one activity for each back muscle group and perform 2 to 4 sets of 8-15 reps, resting between about 30 seconds and 2 minutes in between sets.

For example, try one set of prone leg curls using a weight that’s comfortable for you to do 8-12 reps, then rest for 30 seconds before doing the second set. You can also mix up erector spinae exercises by super setting two or more of them.

For example, try doing four sets of 10 reps of hip extension with one leg followed immediately by four sets of 10 reps of deadlifts. Or do four sets of 12 reps of back extensions followed immediately by four sets of 10 reps of side bends.

The Bottom Line

Doing three sets of these erector spine exercises 2-3 times per week is an excellent way to keep this muscle group solid and healthy. While the science may be inconclusive about which type of training — weight lifting or repetitive, non-weight bearing exercise — works best for preventing back injuries in athletes, it’s clear that doing both is best. 

Research suggests that both types of training should be part of an athlete’s workout regimen for maximum lower back strength and stability.

Altogether, the erector spinae muscles are essential for proper posture and athletic performance. That means they must be strengthened to ensure good back health so you can continue to play your favorite sports for years to come.

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