The Sorenson Hold is an effective isometric exercise to strengthen the lower back, as well as the rest of the posterior chain.
It originates from an assessment in Physical Therapy from the 1960’s, that was designed to examine someone’s muscular endurance in their lower back. Today, the exercise has become popular in all sorts of gym workouts, usually with the aid of a GHD (glute-ham developer) machine.
We find it’s a great progression from the Chinese plank and useful for anyone looking for back strengthening exercises that doesn’t involve a hip hinge.
In this exercise guide, we outline everything you need to know about Sorenson Holds, including how to do them properly, muscles worked, and alternatives if you don’t have access to a GHD machine.
How to do the Sorenson Hold
To do the Sorenson Hold:
- Set up the GHD machine so you are in a prone position (facing down), with your thighs resting on the cushioned pad.
- Fold your arms in front of your chest.
- Engage your lower back muscles to keep your torso parallel to the floor (and aligned with your legs).
- Either hold this for as long as possible, or for a set period and repeat.
Coach’s Tip – Although the original Biering-Sorenson Test involves holding the position for as long as possible, you may find doing 3 sets of 60 second holds, for example, suits your fitness plan better. Ultimately, it’s down to personal preference.
Sorenson Hold Exercise – The Origin Story
The Sorenson Hold is an isometric (no movement) exercise that involves using a GHD machine to keep your body parallel to the floor.
This requires the muscles of the lower back to stabilize and support your torso from dropping. Your legs are supported by the GHD machine, with your quads resting on the cushioned surface.
The exercise has become popular in CrossFit and functional workouts, but it actually originally comes from the Biering-Sorenson Test, which has been used in Physical Therapy since 1964 to help assess lower back muscular endurance.
Assessing Lower Back Isometric Endurance
The Biering-Sorenson Test is a timed test that has individuals lie in a prone position on an examining table with their legs strapped in and their upper body positioned off the table.
In the Biering-Sorenson Test, it was originally considered that a time of less than 176 seconds predicted that the patient would experience lower back pain in the next year, while being able to hold the exercise for more than 198 seconds suggested the patient wouldn’t experience such problems.
There have been some peer reviews that stay the validity of those times aren’t supported for females.
Regardless of whether the Biering-Sorenson Test can accurately predict future back pain, what can be agreed upon is that holding this isometric exercise is in itself, a very effective way to isolate and strengthen the muscles of the lower back.
And so, the Sorenson Hold was born… an exercise that now primarily uses the GHD machine to support the hips and legs and offers anyone a great way to fire up the muscles of the posterior chain without any sort of hip hinge.
The Sorenson Hold primarily works the muscles of the lower back, including the:
- Erector Spinae.
- Latissimus Dorsi.
It also works the rest of the posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings and calves.
Sorenson Hold Benefits
Strengthen the Lower Back
Ultimately, the Sorenson Hold is an effective way to strengthen the lower back.
It also does this without adding additional load to your body – e.g., like a deadlift or squat does. For many, this lower-impact approach to strength training will be preferred.
We’re big believers in isometric exercises. From wall sits to planks, isometric exercises help to promote better stability and control, which improve functional movements and athletic performance.
Assess Current Back Strength
Due to the exercise originating from a Physical Therapy assessment, it can give you a good indicator of your current lower back strength.
You can find average time scores for age/gender to help you understand if your lower back isometric strength is better or worse than the average.
This can be particularly useful if you’re currently recovering from injury and want to understand when to return to lifting weights or doing more strenuous activities.
No Hip Hinge
Sorenson Holds don’t involve a hip hinge, which makes them quite unique when it comes to activating the lower back and posterior chain muscles.
If you struggle with hip mobility, perhaps due to injury or a strain, being able to still strengthen your back without needing to complete any sort of hinge at the hips is also very useful.
Sorenson Hold Without a GHD Machine
The Sorenson Hold has recently become synonymous with the GHD machine… but you can do it with other gym equipment.
Firstly, a regular back extension machine is a good substitute, even at a 45 degree angle. This angle will make it easier, but you’ll still engage the same muscles the Sorenson Hold does.
Secondly, you can get Nordic Curl straps, which are designed to help you do… you guessed it… Nordic curls. But these straps also allow you to do Sorenson Holds if you place them around your thighs and lean off the edge of a raised surface, so your torso is unsupported.
If you find the Sorenson Hold too challenging, Chinese planks are worth considering. This exercise can be adapted to better suit your fitness level, and by placing the two surfaces you are resting on closer, the easier it becomes.
This means you can slowly increase the difficulty as you feel more confident with it.
The dorsal raise is basically a back extension on the floor. The range of motion is limited, compared to using a GHD machine or back extension machine, but if you’re exercising at home, you might not have access to any equipment… in which case, a true bodyweight variation might be your best option.
Whether you use Sorenson Holds frequently in your workouts, or periodically to assess your lower back strength, it’s a great exercise to get familiar with.
Even if you don’t have access to a GHD machine, there are ways to replicate this using other gym equipment as we’ve mentioned.
If you want to make the exercise harder, try holding a weight in your arms. Alternatively, try doing single leg Sorenson Holds to further engage the hamstrings too.
Featured image and video demonstration credit – Natalie Allport