For many casual lifters at the gym, there may be a tendency to work out the muscles that you can clearly see staring back at you in the mirror. Bench lifts for the rippling pectorals, leg extensions for steely quads, and of course curls for those perennial of glamour muscles, the biceps.
But there is a growing argument that working out your back is something not to be ignored during a gym session. The back tends to be an area where many other major muscle areas either converge or are affected. A strong back can support your shoulders and arms, enabling better stronger lifts and prolonged workout sessions. Here are some exercises you can do to start working on your better back, today.
1.) Barbell Deadlift
Stand next to a barbell that’s on the floor. You should be fairly close, with your shins a few inches away from the bar. Keeping your back straight, bend over and grasp the bar with both hands shoulder-width apart. Your shoulders should be directly above the bar. Maintaining that straight back, stand up, so you lift the barbell with the action. Leave your arms hanging by your sides, keeping the barbell off the ground with just your grip. Maintain the standing position for several seconds, then gently bend back over and let the bar rest on the ground. Repeat this motion in sets of 2-6 for heavier lifts or 8-12 for lighter loads, all the while maintaining that firmly straight back. Form is vital on this one.
2.) Single Arm Dumbbell Row
Stand parallel to a bench that you can rest one of your knees on. Lean forward and place your hand for that same side on the bench, just a bit ahead of your face. With your free hand take a dumbbell that should already be in place on the ground. Pull the dumbbell toward your armpit as far as your range of motion will allow. The action may be reminiscent of trying to start a lawnmower. Keep repeating this motion in sets of 2-6 for heavy weights or 8-12 for lighter lifts meant for tone. Once you have completed the set, place the opposite knee and hand on the bench and repeat a set for the other side of your body.
3.) Resistance Band Bar Pull Down
While a series of pull up exercises are fantastic for your back, some people have significant problems or are entirely unable to do them. If you have a solid resistance band and a firm hook to hang it on, you can still get the benefits of the pull-up motion and resistance. Loop your band at the halfway point over this hook point. Gripping each side of the bands, walk back several feet to put some stretch on these bands. Make sure your bands are built solidly to avoid them snapping or coming apart at the handle. Once you have stepped back, kneel down on one knee. Keeping your back straight, bend your upper body slightly forward, so it is parallel with the resistance band. From this position pull both ends of the band, so your hands line up with your shoulders, simulating a pull-up motion. Hold this position for several seconds, allowing your back to feel the resistance. Allow your arms to stretch back to their original position, then repeat the “pull up” motion as needed.
4.) Seated Back Fly
Sit on a chair with no arms. Your feet should be planted firmly on the floor, and your arms should be at your sides with a dumbbell in each hand. While being ever mindful about that straight back, bend your upper body forward about 45 degrees. While in this position pull both dumbbells toward your armpits. Repeat this motion in a set of 10-15 depending on the weight of your dumbbells. Once you are done with the set and your hands are again down at your sides gently straighten back into an upright position then release the weights.
5.) Lat Pulldown
This one is reliant on your gym having a machine or station that lets you perform this particular exercise. It is highly valued by many due to the way that it targets the lats in your back, while being slightly more universally accessible than the traditional chin up. To do this simply sit down at the lat pulldown machine and take an overhead grip of the bar with your hands just beyond shoulder width. Instead of a rapid series of movements many recommend taking each pulldown with a slow, deliberate motion to maximize the resistance on your lats. Keeping your back straight, slowly pull the bar down until it reaches the front of your chest. Hold this position for several seconds then slowly let the bar raise to its original position. Repeat this motion 10-15 times based on the weight to complete the set.
The back is continually supporting and holding up much of what your body does, and not just during your workout session. It behooves us all to take care of it, just as we would treat any other important muscle. Using these exercises can balance out your training regimen and allow you to achieve higher overall gains and benefits going forward.