Back Extension Progression

An anatomical drawing highlighting the muscles worked during a 45-degree Back Extension.

I’ve already detailed the Back Extension Progression at great length. Read the post here- The Foundation For Core Training.

Today what I’d like to do is just quickly go through the progressions.

But, before I do that, it’s important to know how to properly set the machine up.

Setting up the thigh pad at the proper height is crucial. If you put it too high, you’ll end up forcing flexion (rounding) in the back. Here’s what I mean:

A picture of Dickie White demonstrating an example of a bad back extension. The thigh pad is set too high and it’s against his waist causing him to bend at the back to achieve a full range of motion.

When setting the Back Extension up, adjust the machine so that the thigh pad is just slightly below your hips. Ultimately you want it positioned so that you’re able to maintain a neutral posture throughout the exercise.

This is what you’re looking for:

 A picture of Dickie White demonstrating an example of a good back extension. The thigh pad is set right below his hips which is allowing him to achieve a full range of motion without any movement from his core.

…By the way, in the picture above I’m demonstrating the first progression- hands across chest.

Here’s what it should look like:

Another thing to focus on as you perform Back Extensions is hamstring activation.

If for whatever reason you don’t feel your hamstrings firing, simply perform a few reps of an exercise where you do.

For instance, I have guys perform a Ball Leg Curl or Machine Leg Curl for 3-5 reps before performing the Back Extension. This helps them “turn on” their hamstrings. After performing the leg curl, immediately go to the Back Extension. As you perform the reps focus on re-creating that same feeling in your hamstrings.

Does this make sense?

Anyway, once you’re able to perform reps with your hands across your chest and you’re getting hamstring activation, you’re ready for the next progression.

Progression 2- Hands Behind Head

No need for a wordy description here.

Simply place your hands behind your head and perform the Back Extension just as you did with your hands across your chest.

It may seem like a waste of a progression, but oftentimes when people start with their hands behind their head, they have trouble maintaining a neutral core.

So I find it best to master the technique with your arms across your chest before progressing.

Progression 3- Resistance

I like to have wrestlers start with dumbbells and work up in weight. Here’s an example:

However, once you get up to 40-50+ pounds, you may find that it’s too difficult to support a dumbbell of that size behind your head. When that becomes the case, progress to bands.

I’m fortunate to have a Back Extension with band pegs at my gym.

If you don’t have access to a machine like this, here’s my suggestion:

A picture of a dumbbell on either side of the base to a Back Extension machine. There is an orange band looped around each dumbbell. The band is used to provide resistance by being put on the back of the person's neck.

If you use this setup, please take into consideration the weights of the dumbbells and the band tension. The last thing you want is dumbbells to go flying.

A picture of Kyle Dake and Dickie White.
Hi, I’m Dickie (the author of this blog). Here I am with my good buddy, Kyle Dake. While he doesn't have a nice coat like me, he is pretty good at wrestling. Here's what he said about my training system:

Before I began lifting using Dickie's system my wrestling skills were getting slightly better. I've now been lifting under his guidance for more than 5 months and I have begun to dominating ALL of my competition. At first I had little faith in Dickie and his program, but now I would run into a wall if he told me I would get stronger! I know it sounds insane, but I would. The bottom line is Dickie is an expert and knows what he is talking about. If you want to defeat those kids whom you've always lost to and reach a level you never thought possible, I suggest you start lifting using Dickie's system immediately.

-Kyle Dake, 4X NCAA Division 1 National Champion

Want to see what other wrestlers are saying about my training system? Check out my Success Stories page.


Want to learn more about Dickie? Check out my About page.


Want to get started on a program today? Read this post and download your free program- 12 Week Training Program For Wrestlers.


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