When you head out to the gym to work on the back, you probably have a main goal of strengthening (or increasing the size) of your lats and your traps. You shouldn’t forget about the erector spine muscles though. Because they are the large, dominating muscles of your back.
However, these are not the only muscles located on your back. In fact, one of the most important muscle groups often goes unnoticed. Why is this?
While the lats and traps are what press up against the skin and are the most dominant, muscles like the erector spinae are found underneath these larger muscles.
The erector spinae is one of the most important muscles in your entire body.
What exactly are the erector spinae and how should you best target these muscles for a stronger, larger, and more powerful back? Keep on reading because we have all the answers for you below!
What Is The Erector Spinae?
The good thing about reading Latin is you probably already know what the muscles are without knowing the English equivalent.
As you may have already guessed, these muscles run along your spine, helping it remain erect.
The spine, after all, is a very tall bone structure, with ribs and all kinds of bones connecting to it. Most of the larger muscles in your body control joint movements or are designed to help you walk and lift objects.
The erector spinae muscles are specifically designed to keep your spine up right. The muscles run nearly the entire length of your spine, keeping your spine connected without allowing your spine to tilt and collapse on itself.
These muscles connect to a number of crucial bones that are often the unsung heroes of your overall performance. On the lower portion of the muscles, the tissues branch off directly from your gluteus.
So saying; the erector spinae are offshoots of your butt muscles is not incorrect, as it is the same muscle tissue that splits upward along the spine.
The muscle and tendons of the erector spinae also connect to your hips, then run on the right and left of your spine and up to the base of your skull.
These muscles usually travel under your more dominant muscles, which is why the erector spinae muscles do not receive the same kind of attention as the lats and traps of your back. These muscle groups are above the erector spinae.
By strengthening your erector spinae, you strengthen the key muscles around your spine and the improved size will push up on your lats and traps, improving the definition and size as well (Physiopedia, 2018).
The Different Muscles Of Your Erector Spinae
As the erector spinae travels up your spine from your gluteus, the muscles will begin to split into different directions as it reaches your upper lumbar region. These regions are known as iliocostalis.
The iliocostalis lumborum is the main lumbar support area and connects between the 12th and seventh ribs. It is the muscle tissue, tendons, and ligaments that connect between the ribs. Right where the ribs meet the spine.
The middle portion is known as the iliocostalis thoracis. This muscle tissue connects between the final six ribs and the first six ribs along your spine.
The final portion is known as the ilicostalis cervicis, which connects between the first six ribs and up into your neck between the C6 and C4 vertibre.
Now, the middle portion of your erector spinae is the longissimus, and again it breaks into three different parts and connects with different areas along your spine.
The longissimus capitis begins around the T3 and T1 region of your spine and runs to the temporal bone.
The Longissimus cervicis runs from the T6 and T1 while also connecting between C7 and C2. The last portion is the longissimus thoracis, which starts at the sacrum and runs along the final thoracic vertebra. This part connects around the transverse processes of your lumbar vertebrae.
The final area of the erector spinae is the spinalis (which again is broken down into three portions). It is also the smallest portion of the erector spinae.
There is the spinalis capitis, which is a grouping of muscle fiber (it is inconstant, so it isn’t a solid muscle) that runs from the cervical and upper thoracic and inserts into the external occipital protuberance.
The spinalis cervicis runs from the T2 and C6 region and connects along the C4 to C2. The final portion is the spinalis thoracis, which begins at the L3 to T10 region and connects to the spinous process between T8 and T2 (Physiopedia, 2018).
If that was a bit too much Latin and vertebrae identifiers for you, the main aspect to take away from all of it is the erector spinae are intricate muscles that run through your spine.
These muscles connect in between different ribs and vertebrae, starting at the base of your skull and working down to your hips and butt.
Exercises To Strengthen Your Erector Spinae
Alright, so you now know more than you ever thought you would about muscles you can’t even see on your body. Now, for the meat and potatoes of why you’re here: the workouts for a strong erector spinae.
In all reality, there’s a good chance you’re already performing some of these workouts (if not most). This is because many of the workouts that focus on your back are also targeting your erector spinae.
However, based on how many people work their back, there’s just a good of a chance that you’re missing a portion of the erector spinae. Because the muscles are so long, you need to target your entire back, including your lower back.
If you’re focusing your back activities on the lats and traps, you’re hitting the upper half of your erector spinae, but you’re missing the entire lower portion of the muscle group.
But that’s why we’re here. To show you exercises and lifts to ensure you’re targeting the entire erector spinae, from butt to skull.
This is one of the best exercises you should be doing already.
If you’re not, now is the time to add it to your workout. The deadlift exercise works just about every muscle group in your body in some shape and form.
It’s also great because you can do it on leg day, back day, chest day, or any other day you want it to. It’s a floating exercise that is right at home on any workout day.
With the deadlift you will focus mostly on the upper half of your erector spinae.
Focus on pulling your shoulders back when you are at the height of your lift.
It is also critical for you to maintain excellent posture with this. If you have poor posture and your back is slouched you increase the chance of injuring your back (Australian Academy, 2017).
Here’s another exercise you need to be doing already. The squat is king of the lower body workouts.
It hits just about every muscle group in your lower body. You’ll hit the erector spinae that runs up from your booty as well.
Now, the kind of squat you do is important here. Or, at least your foot placement is. The wider your foot stance the more tension you place on your gluteus maximus muscles and the less on your quads and hamstrings.
To hit your lower back you’ll want to use ideally a sumo squat.
A sumo squat foot position is similar to a traditional squat where a barbell rests across your shoulders and behind your neck. The main difference is your feet are positioned well beyond shoulder distance.
With this version, you’ll stand similar to that of a sumo wrestler. This focuses the majority of the tension on your butt and your lower back (University of Washington, 2013).
Bent Over Row
This is a great lift that focuses on your back (you’ll also hit your triceps and forearms a bit, but the main target is your back). There are a number of ways you can perform this.
We like the standing bent over barbell row where you begin with your knees bet and you pull the weight into your abdomen. Using a barbell allows you to lift more weights.
Now, if you work out at a gym with a T-bar row, that’s great too because you can really add on the weight and focus on your back.
However, if you don’t have access to either, or if you workout at home (or are not focusing on lifting big) you can use dumbbells.
One option is to place your left hand and left knee on a bench, hold a dumbbell along your right side and, while keeping your right elbow tucked in close to your torso, pull up.
While you do this, you’ll force your shoulder blade back. You’ll want to repeat this on both sides (another reason we like the barbell or the T-bar is because you hit both sides at once) (University of Wisconsin, 2015).
Low Cable Row
The row is both a lift and a cardio exercise you can do. Both are great for the majority of your entire back.
With a row machine you have light resistance and you work as if you’re rowing a boat. This move is great cardio for your upper body, chest, back, and abs. You’ll also touch on most of your erector spinae.
However, in terms of a solid lift, we like the seated row lift that is done with a cable machine.
If there is a cable machine you’ll position yourself on the bench that has a foot wrest against the base of the machine.
You’ll also likely have a close-grip handlebar option. This keeps your hands close together as you pull the handle into your abdominal area. This is a great lat exercise in addition to focusing on much of your erector muscles.
Now, if you want to take this a step further, swap out the close-grip handlebar for the rope. With the rope you continue your line of movement beyond your abdominal area which increases the stretch on your back (University of Wisconsin, 2015).
Here is a move that is designed specifically for your lower back. There is a manual version as well as a machine version.
If you work out at a gym that is made up of mostly machine lifts (such as a Planet Fitness) you’ll probably have a machine lift for this.
The machine version is extremely beneficial as it does allow you to control the amount of weight you do with this.
With the machine, you’ll start seated at a slight angle, as if you’re in a rocking chair that is about to topple forward. There is a pad that sits directly on your lower back and your feet are pressed against a flat surface. You will then push back with your lower back.
The hyperextension machine targets your lower back exclusively. It is one of the few exercises that exclusively targets your lower back so you can really feel it after a few sets.
The manual version does require a Roman chair. This is a “chair” where you actually face forward.
Your upper thighs press against a pad up to your waist and a circular stabilizer pad fits against the back of your calf muscles. You will then lower yourself over the top of the Roman chair and then manually straighten yourself.
Because the chair stops at your waist, it focuses all the movement against your lower back. This is a great option because it doesn’t restrict your range of movement.
This makes it not only a great workout for your lower back but it helps stretch you out as well. Plus, you can add weight to the lift and target your abs as well (The Health Site, 2014).
The erector spinae are critical muscles that not only keep you upright but protect your spine, ribs and neck bones.
While you probably are already touching on parts of these muscles you want to add in moves like the row and hyperextension.