Top 11 Lower Back Barbell Exercises

Did you know that 80% of people experience debilitating back pain – and research shows this is often due to weak back muscles?

A weak back makes you worse at everything – and it comes with serious consequences later in life when you need those back muscles most.

The lower back muscles – the spinal erectors and Quadratus Lumborum (QL) – do a lot of hard work. They hold you upright, but they also help you lift heavy weights, and they need to be strong to keep your back and hips healthy.

We’re helping you build a better back by outlining 11 of the best lower back barbell exercises, including:

  • Why they’re great
  • How to train them
  • Key variations
  • How to progress over time, and
  • The proper technique

So, let’s get started.

Lower Back Exercises With Barbell

1. Jefferson Curl 

The Jefferson curl is a foundational exercise. You become stronger while building essential control in the back muscles.

It ensures your back is strong in all positions – key to strength and injury resilience.

How To Perform The Jefferson Curl

  1. Take an empty barbell in hand, with a hip-width stance.
  2. Stand up straight with a firm grip on the bar at a comfortable width
  3. Keeping your legs straight and glutes flexed, start rounding your back and lowering the bar to the floor slowly
  4. Lower the bar as far as possible, rounding your back as much as is comfortable, before reversing the movement until you reach the starting position.

Progressing And Variations

You must use light weights and start slowly loading as you get more confident.

Snatch Grip Jefferson Curls offer an even longer end position for the back. This is great for the upper and lower back muscles, hips, and core.

2. Good Morning

The good morning is the first exercise you should practice to learn how to hip hinge with a stable back.

Practice the good morning to get stronger and improve your deadlifts.

How To Perform The Good Morning

  1. Take a barbell on a rack and place it across the top of your shoulders.
  2. Take a stance between shoulder and hip width with a straight torso and active core.
  3. Unlock your knees and, keeping your knees in that position, push your hips back as far as possible while keeping the full foot planted
  4. Keep the chest big and back flat, pushing back as far as is comfortable or until you feel a deep stretch in the hamstrings or glutes.
  5. Reverse the movement, keeping the knees static and hinging at the hips to move them forwards and bring your torso back to an upright position

Progressing And Variations

Paused good mornings emphasize building stability and spending more time in challenging positions. This gets you stronger faster, and helps you move better before just adding more weight.

3. Seated Good Morning

Seated good mornings are one of the best exercises for back strength and health. It builds strength and mobility at the same time, and is a great ‘next step’ after building basic strength with the good morning.

How To Perform The Seated Good Morning

  1. Take a barbell on your back from a squat rack, and sit on a bench or other sturdy object.
  2. Take a hip-width or wider stance, keeping the knees ‘out’ to the sides.
  3. Keeping your back under control and relatively flat, hinge at the hips to bring your chest towards the bench.
  4. Hold the bottom position just before your chest touches the bench – or as low as is comfortable.
  5. Reverse the movement by hinging the hips open and sitting upright.

Pro tip: keep your legs in one position and move from the hips and back. A little back-rounding is okay, as long as it’s with appropriate weight and under control.

Load your seated good morning very slowly and focus on adding a range of motion first. The seated good morning position is new to most people and needs to be loaded slowly to stay safe.

4. Pigeon Good Morning

This is the most complicated good morning variation, focusing on lengthening the spinal erectors, quadratus lumborum (QL), and glute. 

It’s a great way to build strong, mobile hips and back muscles that are prepared for anything. 

How To Perform The Pigeon Good Morning

  1. Take an adjustable bench or other sturdy objects with a light barbell on your back
  2. Place one leg across the object, externally rotated, like in a pigeon stretch.
  3. Place your rear foot and leg in a comfortable supporting position behind you.
  4. Keeping your lower body static, bend at the hips as far forward as comfortable
  5. Pause in the end position where you feel a stretch in your glute, maintaining control
  6. Reverse the movement by keeping the lower body static and opening the hips up into your starting position.

Pro tip: you can start loading this exercise with a dumbbell or similar weight held in a goblet position.

How To Train The Pigeon Good Morning

Begin training with the incline pigeon good morning, with your leg on a bench or similar. This is a challenging way to build strength and mobility, and needs to be loaded very slowly.

You should add range first, then more total reps, then small weight increments.

Start with bodyweight before adding a light fixed barbell, and eventually a 20kg Olympic barbell.

5. Romanian Deadlifts or Stiff-Legged Deadlifts

Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs) and Stiff-Legged Deadlifts (SLDLs) are both great for training the back and hips.

The hip flexed position forces the back muscles to work hard to keep a good posture. This is a key piece of the puzzle for building your lower back with barbells.

How To Perform The RDL And SLDL

  1. Take a hip-width stance and – with a flat back – ease your hips as far back as possible while keeping your whole foot on the floor.
  2. Dig your heels into the floor and hinge your hips, and driving them forward, keeping the bar close, so you stand up.
  3. For the RDL: reverse this motion from the top position, keeping your knees static and pushing your hips back until you feel a stretch in the hamstring – this is the ‘bottom’ position
  4. For the SLDL: reverse this motion all the way to the floor to complete the rep, keeping the back and core active, and maintaining control all the way.

How To Train The RDL And SLDL: Variations & Progression

Progress your RDLs and SLDLs towards longer ranges and add deficit variations as you become stronger.

Snatch Grip RDLs exaggerate all the best effects by taking an even more horizontal setup position. They also strengthen the lats and mid-back control more effectively with a more extended back position.

As always, you can load these exercises heavily and take good jumps as long as you load patiently and keep your back flat.

6. Paused Deadlift

The paused deadlift is the best “conventional” deadlift for improving back strength for most people. There are a few reasons we love it:

  • The pause builds more strength and stability.
  • Using lower weight keeps you safe and lets you train more.
  • The hamstrings, hips, and core all get stronger, too.

This makes it a perfect lower back barbell exercise for lifting big weights safely!

How To Perform The Paused Deadlift

  1. Take a deadlift stance: feet under your hips or narrower, with the bar over your midfoot.
  2. Set your back flat, with your shoulders tucked back and down.
  3. Push your hips back while keeping your chest up, letting your legs bend to keep your foot pressure in the middle foot.
  4. Turn your pinkies into the bar, brace your core, and begin the lift by driving the floor down and backward.
  5. When the bar reaches the mid-shin or slightly higher, pause for a slow 2-count, holding the bar as still as possible.
  6. Finish the deadlift by standing up tall and pushing your hips forward into the bar.

How To Train The Paused Deadlift

The paused deadlift is best built up with total reps to start with – emphasizing the time under tension to improve results.

Be strict with your pauses. Make a 2-3 count, starting when you’re completely static, to make it extra effective.

7. Stagger Stance Deadlift 

Stagger stance deadlifts offset your hips and force you to actively keep your hips “square”. This builds strength in stabilizers like the QL – which most people neglect. 

This is a challenging exercise but offers great rewards, combining all of the functions of the back and hips.

How To Train The Stagger Stance Deadlift

Stagger stance deadlifts are heavy, but they’re also technically demanding.

You need to take them slowly, building up more sets of 4-8 reps per leg, and focus on quality. 

You can also make them harder by moving the back foot further away, instead of adding more weight.

How To Perform The Stagger Stance Deadlift

  1. Set up as you would for a deadlift: hip-width stance with the barbell over the base of the toes.
  2. Take a single step back with one leg (the ‘rear’ leg), placing your weight into the ball of that foot while taking care to keep your hips “square”, facing forwards.
  3. Bend your knees and ease your hips back to set a flat back, taking a comfortable grip on the barbell.
  4. Drive the floor down and hinge the hips open, pushing them forward and the barbell backward to stand up tall
  5. Squeeze your glutes and maintain rear foot pressure into the floor, holding for a second, before reversing the movement under control to return the bar to the floor.

8. Snatch Grip Deadlift

The snatch grip deadlift is like the normal deadlift, but harder. The wide grip requires you to bend over the bar more and keep it back, putting more challenge on the lats and lower back.

You need to take a very wide grip: the bar should sit in the ‘crease’ of the hips when you’re stood up.

How To Perform The Snatch Grip Deadlift

  1. Set up for a normal deadlift with a hip-width stance and the barbell near the midfoot.
  2. Take a very wide grip, so that the bar rests in the crease of your hips at the top of the movement.
  3. Set up so your back is flat by bending the knees and pushing the hips backward. Expect to be leaning quite far over the bar, but keep the chest as big as possible.
  4. Keeping your full foot pressure into the floor, push the floor down and hips in at the same time, bringing the chest upright.
  5. Stand up tall before lowering the bar back to the floor under constant control.

Pro tip: always focus on driving your pinkies into the barbell, keeping your chest big, and staying over the barbell early on to build more back strength. It’s meant to be more difficult.

Progression And Variations

The snatch deadlift will progress slowly, and should be built up with total reps, first and foremost. The long lever of the back limits how quickly you can “just lift more weight”.

Focus on improving movement quality and back tightness, and position.

Slow eccentric snatch deadlifts or snatch deadlifts from deficit are also good options to build more back strength without more weight.

9. Rack Pull

The rack pull is a supramaximal exercise – you use weights heavier than your ‘normal’ maximum deadlift. You perform this for the top half of the exercise, pulling off of a squat rack’s pins (or from blocks, if you have them).

This huge weight lets you build huge strength and mass. You just need to make sure you get the technique right and load it patiently.

How To Perform The Rack Pull

  1. Set up a pair of safety pins, spotter arms, or blocks to place the barbell at or above knee height
  2. Take a standard deadlift grip and stance – with your feet at hip width
  3. Set up with your shoulder directly over the bar, and your hips set down and back – like a bow and arrow
  4. Drive your hips up and in, keeping the bar back and standing up as tall as possible
  5. Lower the bar back to the supports under control, with a flat back, to finish the rep

How To Train The Rack Pull

Don’t rack pull too often – it’s a supramaximal exercise and should be performed once per week. Equally, try to keep the weights lower than maximum and work in sets. 

Rack pulls for higher rep counts can build a strong top-half of your deadlift while adding pounds of muscle to your back, glutes, hams, and traps. 

10. Barbell Twist Variation

Barbell twists are great for building rotational strength in the QLs and spinal erectors. They can help ‘even out’ any asymmetries in the back, core, and hips.

Working the core and back together is also great for keeping your back healthy.

How To Perform The Barbell Twist

  1. Take a barbell on your back, like in a back squat position, keeping your upper back tight
  2. Keep your rib cage pulled down, avoiding ‘leaning back’.
  3. Focus on rotating from the middle of the spine, and ‘squeezing your ribcage to your opposite hip’.
  4. Rotate as far as is comfortable, or until you feel a stretch in the core, before rotating around the opposite direction as far as possible
  5. Return to the neutral – starting position to complete the rep

How To Train The Barbell Twist: Progression And Variations

Train the barbell twist lightly and often. It’s better to train it more often than to try and rush the weight, getting injured along the way.

You can use twists as a warm-up before a workout, or as part of a core exercise ‘finisher’.

To get used to the new demands, add weight to one session per week before adding it to the others,

Mid-level twists are an easier variation for beginners or intermediates using heavier weights.

11. Barbell Side Bend

The barbell side bend offers you a great core and back training option. It trains the QL and erectors at long lengths, in a motion most people neglect.

This is an excellent barbell lower back exercise for strength and health, building up the muscles but also controlling the spine and hips.

Side bending is underrated for strength and muscle growth, as well as back and hip health.

Bend and twist is a great combination of the side bend and barbell twist. This is a great choice for building complete core and back strength at once. 

How To Perform The Barbell Side Bend

  1. Take a barbell on your back, like in a back squat position, keeping your upper back tight
  2. Keep your rib cage pulled down, avoiding ‘leaning back’.
  3. Keeping your legs and glutes static and active, bend sideways at the torso, leaning as far as possible towards one side
  4. Feel the stretch in your side and back, keeping your center of balance in front of your midline
  5. Reverse the motion to return to the standing position, completing the repetition

How To Train The Barbell Side Bend

As with the twist, you need to be slow and patient. More regular training is better than heavier training, as this can easily exhaust the QLs or obliques.

As mentioned above, add weight to one session per week to see if you are ready to increase the load.

Lower Back Barbell Workouts


This workout is all about getting double benefits: you get stronger and build your back muscles with the barbell. At the same time, you improve your learning and quality of movement.

  1. Jefferson curl: 3 sets of 5 reps
  2. Good morning: 3 sets of 6 reps
  3. SLDL: 4 sets of 8 reps
  4. Barbell side bends: 3 sets of 10 reps (each side)
  5. Barbel mid-level twists: 3 sets of 10 reps (each side) 


This is a great back workout; or as a big part of your “lower” session. It’s a basic and effective session that strengthens the basics, the ‘big’ deadlift movement, and then some “accessory” deadlifting for pure strength and muscle growth. 

  1. Barbell side bends: 3 sets of 10 reps (each side)
  2. Paused deadlifts: 4 sets of 6 reps
  3. RDL: 3 sets of 6 reps (lighter)
  4. Seated good morning: 2 sets of 8-10 reps
  5. Barbell twists: 2 sets of 10 reps (each side)


This is basically just a more advanced version of the previous workout, adding more challenges for more advanced trainees. 

The focus is on harder positions, more time holding the barbell with the back muscles, and more challenging exercises.

  1. Paused good morning: 3 sets of 6 reps
  2. SLDLs: 4 sets of 6 reps
  3. Snatch grip RDL: 3 sets of 10 reps (light-moderate weights)
  4. Pigeon good morning: 3 sets of 8 (each side)
  5. Bend and twist: 2 sets of 8 reps (each side)

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Chris Thompson
Hi, I'm Chris. I'm a personal trainer, writer & co-founder of OxygenFitnessCT. I've been writing hundreds of articles on strength training & muscle building for several fitness websites & apps since 2017. Our goal with OxygenFitnessCT is to help you pick the most effective, suitable exercises to improve your workout & achieve your fitness goals.

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