Don’t Forget Your Back

How easy is it to forget to include focused fitness time for our back? Perhaps it’s because we don’t see it every day or we feel that our core and upper body training supports our back as well. However, the older I am getting, the more important I am realizing that creating a system around stretching and strengthening my back is necessary.

Our back muscles are involved in nearly every movement our body makes and it seems to be the first part of our body that tires out or is regularly strained.  How many times have we heard people say that their back went out?

Keeping a strong back with an aligned spine helps our body function properly. All of the nerves and and muscles coming from our spinal areas are very much like the electric cords to our body. Our bodies serve us the best when we take care of our back from top to bottom.

Improving the strength and tone of your back will increase your total body strength. You will have more stamina, your posture will be stable, your neck curve will align, and it will improve your training for your legs, arms and core.  You will feel more balanced overall.

The sweetener is to feel your best in a swim suit or in your favorite party dress with a low cut back.

I love the these Instructions and Tips by Julia Hale Fitness

Back Muscle Basics

Your back is not one giant muscle spanning from shoulder to shoulder. Your back is made up of multiple muscles working together to move functionally. Here are four of those muscles you should definitely know about when heading to the gym to build a strong, sexy back.

The latissimus dorsi (lats), are the largest muscle in your back. They run from your armpit to the center of your lower back. Their purpose: to pull your arms towards your body. Well-developed lats broaden your back (think Michael Phelps).

The trapezius muscle (traps), are located just above your lats. They run from your neck to your shoulders and down through the center of your back. You use your traps when you shrug.

The rhomboids run from your spine over your shoulder blades. Think about squeezing your shoulder blades together to engage your rhomboids.

Finally, the erector spinae runs along your spine upwards form just above your hips. It’s main jobs are to stabilize your torso when your body moves and to allow you to bend/arch. The key here is a balance between strength and mobility.

This does not cover every muscle in your back. For the sake of your eyelid strength and the needs for this article, I’m only going to talk about the large, major muscles in your back. The workout below effectively develops your back muscles in their entirety.

The Best Exercises to Build Your Back

Now that you know your back is in fact multiple muscles all working together, it makes sense that a variety of exercises is ideal when it comes to building a strong, sexy back.

Horizontal Pulls

Imagine yourself rowing a boat. You engage your lats, traps and rhomboids to effectively perform the movement. That’s exactly what you do when you row at the gym. Whether you do seated cable rows, bent-over barbell rows, single-arm dumbbell rows, or you use the rowing machine for some cardio, you engage your back, brace your core and mimic that boat-rowing movement.

Vertical Pulls

Pulls downs/ups engage all of your back muscles but they target your lats in particular (especially if you take a wider grip). This movement has you pulling a bar straight down from above your head or pulling your body straight up towards a bar. Wide grip lat pull downs/ups, reverse grip lat pull downs/chin ups, and any other variation of this movement are incredibly effective in building a strong upper body.

Instead of pulling straight up and down, pullovers move the weight/force up and/or down in an arcing path. Think the path an axe takes when chopping wood. Pullovers engage your chest muscles as well as your back.

Dead Lifts and Extensions

While all of the exercises listed above really focus on your upper back, dead lifts and extensions specifically target your lower back. They start with a hip hinge, where you essentially bend at the waste by pushing your butt back and lowering your chest towards the weight. Pause at the bottom, when the weight (yours or added), is at a dead stop. As you pull your torso up, your lower back and glutes fire away and don’t stop firing until you are standing upright again. *If you’ve never dead lifted before, extensions are the best, safest place to start.

Trainer Tips

  • When pulling from overhead (i.e. for a pull up or lat pull down), begin the movement by pulling your shoulder blades down and back.
  • When pulling horizontally (i.e. for a row), pull your shoulder blades together (without shrugging), as if you were squeezing a pencil in between the lower part of your shoulder blades.
  • Form is your first priority. If you feel your form fluctuating (if you feel more effort in your arms than your back, or your lower back arches, or you find yourself using momentum), reset. Drop the weight until you are comfortable again or take a break.
  • A back workout is a great place to work on mind-muscle connection. Don’t forget that even though it’s your muscles that are getting tired, the movement is initiated in your brain. Focus on the muscles that you are supposed to be using while you are performing each exercise to more effectively target that area.
  • Take a deep breath and brace your core before initiating a pull or row. Taking a deep breath expands your torso which stiffens your core and tightens your foundation.
  • Think ballerina posture. I tell my clients that when in doubt, think about the best posture you could possibly have: tall, straight back, chest up, chin up, shoulders down and back.

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