Dorsal Raise

What is the dorsal raise?

The dorsal raise is a bodyweight exercise for the back (erector spinae). The dorsal raise is a back extension exercise performed lying down flat on the floor.

You simply raise the body up and down using the lower back muscles (erector spinae).

What muscles does the dorsal raise use?

The dorsal raise uses the lower back (erector spinae) and works the extensor muscles on either side of the spine. This is a simple exercise to perform, requiring no equipment and little space.

The dorsal raise or back extension is an excellent exercise to complement the sit up and the plank as it works the lower back, while the sit up and plank work the abdominals.

By combining these three exercises you can exercise the two opposing muscles in the core of the body at the front and the back.

This smart combination of exercises will creates a strong centre and give better control and support to your whole body.

Dorsal raise position

To prepare to perform the dorsal raise, take your position lying down flat on an exercise mat, with legs straight out behind you. Feet should be relaxed with the front of your foot lying flat to the floor, not raised on your toes.

Your stomach and chest should be flat on the floor with your arms out to the sides, elbows level with shoulders and bent at a 90 degree angle. If you prefer you can put your palms flat on floor.

However you choose to hold your arms, they should never help you raise your upper body during the back extension – your arms and hands should be totally relaxed.

How to perform the dorsal raise

To perform the raise, lift your head and upper chest off the floor using your lower back muscles (erector spinae).

Be careful not to use any pressure from your arms or hands to help raise yourself. All the effort should be in your lower back with no additional push motion coming from your arms.

At the top of the lift you should feel the tension in the lower back muscles (erector spinae). When you feel this tension, slowly lower back down again.


Only a relatively small movement is required in order to feel the lower back contraction. In a similar way, only a small movement is required to feel the abs contraction when performing the crunch sit up.

The movement of the dorsal raise bodyweight exercise can often feel quite easy to perform, but afterwards, the exerciser can really feel a soreness in the lower back.

The dorsal raise or back extension is tougher on your erector spinae muscles than it seems!

Always perform the raise in a slow and controlled manner, using only the lower back muscles to raise and lower your shoulders and upper chest with each rep. Take it slow and steady and only raise as far as necessary to feel the tension in the lower back.

More exercises for the back

The dorsal raise is the ideal complement to the sit up and the plank – both abs exercises.

If you want to use free weights you could try the deadlift, which is one of the best overall body exercises and works the whole of the back particularly well.

Always be extra careful when performing back exercises because the lower back is quite vulnerable to twists and damage. Find out more about back safety in strength training.

Which is your preferred exercise for the back and why? Let us know in the comments.

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