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The Best Back Exercises To Strengthen Your Back

The Best Back Exercises To Strengthen Your Back

If you’ve ever had a backache, you know just how miserable it can be. Every movement your body makes will engage your back in some way, so a hurt one means you’re down and out — which is no fun at all! If you spent most of your week – and, at that, your life – slumped over a desk and slapping a keyboard, your posture is likely to have taken a bit of a beating over the weeks, months and years you’ve been at work. This creates poor posture and muscle imbalance, which causes rounding of the shoulders and upper back. Back exercises, handily, will help fix your posture and get rid of the desk-bound ‘hunch’.

Strengthening your back muscles can help prevent these types of injuries and ensure that your entire body works smoothly, both during daily movements and during exercise.

Meanwhile, your back muscles can play a bigger role than you might expect in assisting big-time compound movements that pay off in spades, like the bench press. Your upper- and mid-back muscles help to stabilize your shoulder joints, and the stronger and more stable your shoulders, the more weight you can lift in just about every upper-body exercise. Your hands have to be involved in back-focused exercises to handle the load, too, so don’t be surprised when all those rows result in bigger arm muscles.

But with the plethora of back exercises out there on the internet, you may be a little overwhelmed — especially if you’re a newbie.

Without a big, strong back, you won’t get too far in your lifting and/or athletic endeavors. The back muscles help you to twist your torso, pull your arms in and down from overhead, and, most importantly, stabilize your spine. When you train these essential muscles, you’ll be more efficient at pulling and twisting motions in general. Also, a bigger and stronger back will help you deadlift and bench press more weight more efficiently.

The muscles in your back often get worked by default in other exercises, especially ones for the chest and shoulders. However, to create a strong foundation, excellent mobility, and great posture, it’s vital to give your back muscles individual attention. The ultimate back workout takes care of the large number of muscles that make up your back, including the often neglected ones. You’ll build mass in your lats and traps, as well as turn the focus to the smaller muscles for a well-rounded workout.

Best Back Exercises

Dumbbell Single-Arm Row

Dumbbell rows are a classic move that should have a place in every self-respecting lifter’s heart. Your hinged position will give your lats a chance to shine, while other rear-positioned muscles like the rhomboids and traps will kick in for support.

You also have the benefit of working both sides of your body, allowing you to work through weak spots by focusing on building up strength imbalances.

DO THIS: You only need one dumbbell to do the job here. Old school heads would require you to mount the bench with your weight on your opposite knee and hand, planting the same side leg on the ground—but if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing and have full control of the weight, you could be putting your spine in jeopardy. Instead, stand close to the bench, square your feet, and plant your palm on the platform. Bend at the hips, and keep your back straight, picking up the dumbbell with your work hand and allowing it to hang straight down from your shoulder.

Pull the dumbbell up to the side of your torso without rotating your shoulders or losing your balance. Pause for a count at the top before lowering the weight to the starting position.

Kettlebell Swings

A kettlebell swing is a specific exercise that you can do with the kettlebell. You start out with your legs and feet spread slightly more than shoulder width apart. Hold the kettlebell’s handle with the kettlebell in between your legs, which means that you have to be crouched over slightly as well as bent at the knees.

Then, start to lift the kettlebell upwards and outwards, using your legs, core, and arms to generate the force necessary to get the kettlebell up. The ending position will have your arms outstretched in front of you and slightly above your head, holding the kettlebell, with your legs straight. Then, once you have done this, simply lower it back down, going through the same process which you went through to lift it up in the first place.

The swing is a complex movement, so instead of reading some text we suggest you watch the movement in the video above. With that said, here are a few pointers for you:

  1. Look straight ahead. Avoid looking down.
  2. Feet in comfortable position, slightly wider than shoulder width.
  3. Keep back straight, avoid slouching.
  4. Lower the kettlebell between legs and pop hips forward. It’s important to use your legs and hips to quickly raise the kettlebell. It’s all in the hips!
  5. Kettlebell should rise to chest level, so arms are parallel with the floor.

Deadlift

The deadlift gets its name from the fact that you’re picking a weight up off the ground, meaning it’s “dead weight.” In other words, it’s fundamentally different from lifts like the squat or bench press that start off with the eccentric (lowering) portion.

How to Do the Deadlift
Stand in front of a loaded barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart, hips back, and back flat. The knees should be bent slightly to allow you to grip the bar tightly slightly wider than shoulder-width. Keeping your back flat and chest up, tighten the back muscles, and straighten the arms as you load the pull. With everything locked, aggressively push your legs into the floor as you simultaneously pull your chest and shoulders upwards, lifting the bar to the hip.

Bent-Over Row

Bent-Over Row

Your back muscles are the primary beneficiaries of the bent-over row, and as they increase in strength your posture will also improve so you don’t slump as much. Directly stimulating your lats, traps, rhomboids and rotator cuffs works wonders for your body. A stronger back with better posture – what’s not to like?

  1. Hold a barbell with a pronated grip (palms facing down). Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees and bring your torso forward slightly. Your back should be straight and almost parallel to the floor. This is your starting position.
  3. Lift the barbell up towards your sternum, keeping your elbows tucked in and close to the body.
  4. Pause and hold at the top of the movement, squeezing your back muscles.
  5. Slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Weighted Pullup

Weighted Pullup

n simple terms, weighted pull-ups are a pull-up variation exercise that involves the usage of weights as part of the workout. This exercise can be performed by adding weight plates to your body, which can be done using a weight belt or vest. If you are doing pull-ups on a pull-up bar, it will make things much more challenging in terms of pulling yourself up due to the added weight of the vest or weight belt around your waist. A weighted pull-up is a very known exercise used by a lot of people and is very known among weightlifters. It is a relatively easy exercise to adopt as you can always adjust the weight being added to your level of performance, which decreases the risk of injury or straining yourself.

  1. You will place the dumbbell between your ankles so the plate part of the dumbbell is in front and behind your ankles.
  2. Once in the pull-up position you can pull your heels up close to your glutes to keep everything more stable. This foot and leg position is actually important to try to hold during any style of pull-up.
  3. When your legs are not engaged and held in position, it results in impaired neural drive to the core and your arms resulting in sloppy and weak pull-ups.
  4. When you don’t keep the heels held up behind you, and the lower body engaged, it can cause sagging hips, poor spine alignment, weak muscle control, and impaired muscle activation.
  5. You will then grasp the bar around shoulder-width apart – as you would with a normal pull-up – keep your head up, core tight, and lift your body up – leading with your chest – until your chin is just above the bar.
  6. Pause for a moment and then lower down under control to perform one rep.

Weighted Chin Lifts

If you want to add some weighted chin ups as part of your training repertoire, start light and see how you do. Make sure you use something that doesn’t allow the weight or dumbbell to swing too much when you do them. I recommend a good chin up/dip belt or simply get a piece of chain and hang it from your lifting belt. One day I’d do bodyweight chins for 50 or more total reps

  1. Attach your chosen weight around your waist. Make sure you opt for something fairly substantial, as you’re only doing four reps.
  2. Hold onto the chin-up bar with your palms facing towards you, and hands shoulder-width apart. Keep your body as straight as you can, with your core engaged.
  3. Start with your arms extended, and pull yourself up, so your chin is above the bar.
  4. Try not to swing your body to get yourself up; focus on using just your back and shoulders.
  5. Repeat for four, then return to the first part of this combo — the deadlifts. Warm-up again with the straight arm pushdowns, and then the second set of the deadlifts, before coming back for another eight chin lifts, with a lighter weight.

Prone Dumbbell Flye

Why It hits your upper back as well as the back of your shoulders.

How Lie chest-down on the bench holding light dumbbells. With a slight bend in your elbows, raise the weights to shoulder height, then lower them back to the start.

Underhand Lat Pull-Down

Underhand Lat Pull-Down

The set up with the knee pad is the exact same for the underhand version of the lat pulldown. All you’re going to do differently is grab closer to the centre of the bar (shoulder width or a little closer), and then slightly lean back, just a little bit. That’s because for this movement, you’re going to try to bring the bar down to the top of your rib-cage. So instead of leaning forward and bringing the bar to the top of your chest, you’re going to lean back slightly and let the bar touch, or almost touch, the top of your rib-cage. That’s where you’re going to get that really hard contraction, that really hard flex.

How to: Sit supported on the machine, holding a straight bar with an underhand shoulder-width grip. Keeping your chest up, pull the bar down to below chin height. Pause, then return to the start.

Seated row

The seated cable row is a pulling exercise that works the back muscles in general, particularly the latissimus dorsi. It also works the forearm muscles and the upper arm muscles, as the biceps and triceps are dynamic stabilizers for this exercise. Other stabilizing muscles that come into play are the hamstrings and gluteus maximus. This exercise is one done to develop strength rather than as an aerobic rowing exercise. Even though it’s called a row, it is not the classic rowing action that you might use on the aerobic rowing machine. It is a functional exercise as many times during the day you pull items toward your chest. Learning to engage your abs and use your legs while keeping your back straight can help prevent strain and injury. This straight back form with abs engaged is one you also use in the squat and deadlift exercises.

  1. Pull the handle and weight back toward the lower abdomen while trying not to use the momentum of the row too much by moving the torso backward with the arms.
  2. Target the middle to upper back by keeping your back straight and squeezing your shoulder blades together as you row, chest out.
  3. Return the handle forward under tension to full stretch, remembering to keep that back straight even though flexed at the hips. Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions.

Farmers’ Walk

The farmer’s walk is a movement in which a weighted implement is deadlifted from the floor and carried for a distance.

It provides a full body workout, targeting the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, erectors, upper back, traps, lats, abs, biceps, triceps, forearms, and hand muscles.

Some specific benefits include improved cardiovascular health and endurance, as well as increased muscle strength and power.

  1. Choose a set of kettlebells or dumbbells of equal weight. Make sure to choose a weight that is heavy enough to create resistance, yet light enough that you can keep your form strict and posture upright.
  2. Hold one kettlebell or dumbbell in each hand with a tight, firm grip.
  3. Stand tall with your feet about shoulder-width apart and arms resting at your sides.
  4. Begin the movement by engaging the core muscles, pulling your shoulder blades down and back, and making sure your posture is upright.
  5. Take a step forward and begin walking while carrying a kettlebell or dumbbell in each hand. Be sure to keep your head up, shoulders back, and core muscles contracted the entire time.
  6. Continue walking for a specified time or number of steps. To make the move more cardiovascular, increase your pace. You can also increase the number of steps or time based on your fitness level.

Good Mornings

Good Mornings

Good mornings are a great hip hinge alternative to deadlifts and hamstring curls. They’re hit the hamstrings and glutes, as well as help with spinal erector and scapular stabilization (lower and upper back). Start out with higher rep ranges on this one rather than loading up the bar with heavy weight. While it’s often demonstrated with the barbel, one of my favorite variations are banded good mornings. I would caution those with low back pain to be careful when performing good mornings and build up to them using exercises like dead bugs, glute bridges and bird dogs to stabilize the spine; then progress to using a pull up band to perform it.

  1. As you set up in the squat rack, tense up your whole body.
  2. Pull your shoulder blades tightly together to make a “shelf” for the barbell before you unrack it. The barbell can be relatively high or low based on what feels best to you, but make sure it’s not resting on your cervical (neck) vertebrae.
  3. Your grip can be slightly wider than shoulder-width, or all the way out to the edge of the barbell knurling. Try using whatever grip you typically use for squats.
  4. Keep your elbows pointing somewhat downwards, not lifting or winging upwards. Pulling the bar actively “down” into your upper back helps stabilize the weight.
  5. Your stance can be slightly wider than shoulder width, or an ultra-wide stance. As with grip, try starting with your usual squat stance.
  6. Maintain a tight arch in your back, especially your lower back, throughout the exercise.
  7. Look straight ahead or slightly downwards, not upwards. You can focus on a stationary point at navel-height, or keep your head angle fixed relative to your torso during reps — whichever feels best.
  8. Before lowering, take a deep breath into your belly and hold it in while tensing your abs.
  9. As you begin lowering, move your hips back first while keeping your knees “soft.” Your knees should bend during the exercise, but only minimally, and less than your hips.
  10. Continue pushing your hips back, like you’re trying to touch your glutes to the wall behind you. You’ll feel your hamstrings stretch. Lower the weight under control at an even rate of speed, without any jerking or erratic movement.
  11. When you reach the bottom position, with your torso slightly above parallel, pause momentarily. Then squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward to reverse the path of the bar upwards.
  12. Optionally, you can try exhaling during the concentric (raising) portion of the lift. Otherwise, hold your breath until you reach the top position.
  13. At the top of the rep, lock out fully and continue squeezing your glutes for a moment before you repeat the movement.

Inverted Row

The Inverted Row is gaining popularity, but it still remains an underrated movement.
To get a visual, first pause and imagine the Bench Press exercise for a moment. The bench press is a pushing exercise that brings the bar to your chest and then pushes it away. Whereas the inverted row is a pulling exercise that brings your chest to the bar and then you lower yourself back down.

Place a bar in a rack so that it is supported and stable. When you lay down underneath it, your hands should just reach the bar. Adjust the height as needed. With the feet on the ground and the body set in the prone plank position, grasp the bar firmly, pull the shoulder blades together, and set the body in the hollow position. Pull the sternum to the bar, making sure to keep the elbows from flaring out and the shoulders from collapsing forwards.

T-Bar Row

T-Bar Row

With so many rowing exercises to choose from, you may be wondering which one is best. The reality is that they all deserve a place in your workout. However, if we really had to choose the best rowing exercise for back building, we’d probably go with T-bar rows.

  1. Step onto the T-bar row platform and stand with one foot on either side of the bar. Your feet should be between shoulder to hip-width apart.
  2. With your feet flat, bend your knees slightly and hinge forward from your hips. Keep your back slightly arched.
  3. Grasp the handles with both hands. With your arms straight, lift the weight up until your torso is between 45 degrees and parallel to the floor.
  4. Bend your arms and pull the handle into your chest. Lead with your elbows and keep your wrists straight. Do not allow your lower back to round.
  5. Fully extend your arms and repeat.
  6. If you DO decide to do some cheat reps, make sure your use your legs for assistance and avoid rounding your lower back as this can lead to serious injury.

Lying Lateral Raise

Lying Lateral Raise

Set an adjustable bench to a 30-degree incline and lie on it chest-down with a dumbbell in each hand. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and raise your arms out 90 degrees to your sides so your palms face down in the top position.

Alternating High Pulley Row

The Alternating High Cable Row done in an alternating fashion is perfect for taking the lats through their entire range of motion. I’m able to get my arm out in front of my body, getting my lat out in full stretch. This is an improvement on the more limited range of motion in a seated cable row.

It still gets it all the way back behind my body, into extension, but also adducted tightly to my side, hitting all the major functions of the lats. You even get a little bit of rotation on the back to really get into more extension.

  1. Stand facing the cable machine, with the pulley set up high. You’ll start with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hold the cable in one hand, palms facing in.
  3. Step your foot back, on the same side that you’re holding the cable and pull the cable all the way out until your hand is in line with your chest. Keep your elbow tucked in.
  4. As you release the cable back up, return your foot to the original position.
  5. Swap the cable to the other hand, as the cable reaches head height. You should feel your lats reach a full extension at this point, so you don’t need to release the cable back to the top for this exercise.
  6. Repeat the pull on the second arm, again stepping the foot back on the same side.
  7. Continue to alternate arms, doing 10-12 reps on each arm, to failure, for two to three sets.

Barbell Shrugs

The trapezius and rhomboids are primarily worked by the barbell shrug. Located in the upper back, these muscles work together to stabilize and pull back your shoulders.

The barbell shrug secondarily engages both the core abdominal muscles and the forearms. While lifting the weight, your core activates to stabilize your upper body.

  1. Hold the bar in an overhand grip at your desired width.
  2. Keeping your arms straight, shrug your shoulders up.
  3. Begin with one shrug, and hold it at the top for one second.
  4. Lower the bar back down.
  5. Next is two shrugs. However, on the second shrug, hold it at the top for two seconds.
  6. Release.
  7. Then do three shrugs. On the third, hold it at the top for three seconds.
  8. Continue to build the ladder, with four shrugs and a four-second hold, then five and five, until you reach 10 shrugs with a 10-second hold.
  9. If you find yourself struggling to complete any of the shrugs or the holds, feel free to put the bar down and take a momentary rest before continuing.
  10. If you’re a proper sucker for punishment, you can ladder back down from 10.

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