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Your lower back is crucial to your bodybuilding success, mainly because it has a role in virtually every exercise. To avoid injury to the critical lower-back area while making it thicker and stronger, include one or two exercises for spinal erectors as part of an overall back routine. Although some gyms have machines devised to train this area, we’ll address three exercises you can do in almost any gym: deadlifts, good mornings and hyperextensions.
In addition to stressing your lumbar region, deadlifts hit your traps, lats and thighs to varying degrees. Deadlifts are as basic as an exercise can get: Start with a barbell on the floor just in front of your shins; bend at the knees, grab the bar and stand up. As easy as that sounds, proper form is paramount for safety and effectiveness. Always lift with your thighs first, keeping your head up. Pull the bar up as close to your legs as possible (it should actually rub against them). An alternate grip (one palm underhand, one palm overhand) will prevent your fingers from giving out before your legs or back are properly taxed, as will training straps. Proper warm-ups followed by sets of six to eight reps will stress your spinal erectors along with other major muscles. Deadlifts should not be performed heavy in every lumbar workout.
Although their popularity waned in recent decades, good mornings remain among the best ways to hit the lumbar region. Standing with your knees slightly bent, hold a light barbell across the back of your shoulders. Now push your butt backward, keeping your lower back arched and tight until you feel your hamstrings reaching the point of maximum stretch. Unless you are particularly flexible, you will not (as is often advocated) have to bend your torso so that it is perpendicular with the floor. The stretch in the hams indicates where the range of motion ends. Repeat for six to 10 reps. It is sometimes prescribed that you keep your knees locked throughout the movement. Don’t do it! As in a stiff-leg deadlift, knee locking will divert emphasis to your hamstring tendons and greatly increase the probability of a visit to the doctor.
Assume a prone position on a hyperextension bench or other appropriate flat bench. If you’re using a hyperextension bench (either a 45-degree or flat model), hook your feet (back of the heels) under the bar or have a partner hold them if you’re using a bench that lacks a component to stabilize your feet/lower body. Allow your upper body to hang down over the forward end of the bench. The forward edge of the bench/pad should be at the level of your hip joints. Knees should remain slightly bent throughout the movement.
We advocate the following sequence in performing hyperextensions to help develop the entire “posterior chain” of muscles that stabilize the hips and spine (glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors). First, leading with your head, “curl” your torso up and back as far as you can, squeezing out a peak contraction in your erectors at the top. Lower yourself to a point at which you still have at least half the peak stress on the lower back muscles and repeat for 10 or so repetitions. Second, without any rest, continue to perform the previous movement but begin to engage the upper hamstrings by pulling with the back of the heels (keep your knees slightly bent) against the bar your feet are hooked under. You should be able to continue for another 10 reps or so. Third, continuing the previous movements, get your glutes involved by contracting them and driving your hips into the pad/bench. Perform for another 10 or so repetitions. Do two sets in this manner.
Alternate workouts 1 and 2, doing one or the other after training upper back.