Dorsal raises can be used as an effective exercise to strengthen the lower back… and they don’t require any equipment, or much space.
You can do them at home, when traveling, or at the gym, and they can be included in all sorts of workouts.
But as with any sort of exercise, especially back movements, it’s important they are performed with correct technique to avoid injury. This exercise guide outlines everything you need to know about dorsal raises, including how to do them properly, muscles worked, benefits, and common mistakes to avoid.
How to do Dorsal Raises
To do dorsal raises:
- Lie face down on an exercise mat with your elbows bent and your fingers touching your temples.
- Keeping your legs down, slowly lift your chest off the floor by engaging your lower back, glutes and core.
- Avoid over-extending your back (i.e., lifting your chest too high so it feels uncomfortable).
- Pause for a moment before lowering your chest back to the floor.
- Repeat for repetitions and sets.
Coach’s Tip – We would recommend aiming for between 8-12 repetitions, repeated for 3 sets (although if you’re a beginner, you may just want to do a few repetitions to see how you feel).
Dorsal raises primarily target the muscles of the lower back, including:
- Erector Spinae.
- Latissimus Dorsi.
It also works the glute muscles too.
Dorsal raises are a simple but effective way of strengthening the lower back and core, which helps to promote better posture and overall movement.
The lower back plays an integral role in supporting healthy functioning of the posterior chain and instability or weakness in this area can lead to musculoskeletal issues such as back ache.
Strengthening the muscles in the lower back and core helps to improve the stability of the spine, which can also help to improve athletic performance.
Dorsal raises can also help to address potential muscular imbalances between the abdominals and the lower back.
Compared to other lower back exercises, one of the key benefits of dorsal raises is that they are easy to perform and don’t require any equipment. You can also adapt them to your existing fitness level by changing how many reps you perform, the length of time you pause, and how high you lift your chest off the floor.
You could even incorporate exercises like hand-release push ups with them to create a challenging upper body workout.
No Access to Equipment?
Things to Consider
If you currently have any sort of back pain or discomfort, we’d recommend speaking to a healthcare professional or Physical Therapist before starting new exercises. Although dorsal raises help to strengthen the lower back, if you currently have an injury to this region, a Physical Therapist can provide tailored recommendations specific to your circumstances.
Dorsal raises also require you to understand your own movement limitations and to stop when it feels natural to do so.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Tilting Head Back
One of the most common mistakes to avoid when doing dorsal raises is to tilt your head back. You may find yourself doing this as your lower back tires and instead of lifting your chest off the floor, you tilt your head back more to compensate.
You want to keep your neck aligned with your spine throughout and focus on only moving at the lower back.
Dorsal raises should be a very slow, and controlled movement… so avoid any sort of rocking or using momentum to complete repetitions.
If you need to use momentum to lift your chest off the floor, it signals your lower back muscles aren’t able to support the movement, in which case you should stop and take a break and try again.
Trying to use momentum usually happens when your muscles have tired.
Over-extending your back happens when you try and lift your chest too high off the floor. This puts unnecessary stress on the back and risks injury.
Supermans share a similar movement path to dorsal raises, but involve lifting your legs as well.
Supermans can be seen as a progression of dorsal raises because you need more core strength to help create stability during the movement. It also further engages the lower body muscles, particularly the glutes and hamstrings.
Prone Cobra Push Up
The prone cobra push up is another similar exercise to dorsal raises, but involves using your arms to help lift your upper body up. This means it feel more like a stretch, and is therefore, a great way to get started with lower back strengthening exercises.
Prone cobra push ups don’t require as much core strength to stabilize the movement either, so if that’s a limiting factor with dorsal raises, cobra push ups might be a better option to begin with.
Dorsal raises offer a simple way to target and strengthen the lower back muscles, without needing any equipment. The exercise should be performed with slow and controlled repetitions, avoiding any sort of jerking or rocking momentum to raise your chest off the floor.
You can use the exercise within all sorts of workouts and for those exercising at home, with limited equipment, it’s a great choice.
The lower back can often be forgotten about, unlike ab exercises (especially when it comes to bodyweight workouts), so including dorsal raises, or a similar alternative, helps to reduce potential muscular imbalances between the back and core as well.