You work your biceps, hamstrings, abs and your glutes, but what are you doing to strengthen your back muscles? This is a muscle group most women don’t focus on, possibly because back muscles stay covered much of the time. But when it comes time to wear a backless dress or slip on a bathing suit, you’ll want that lovely v-shape in your upper back that shows the world you’re in shape.
Why It’s Important to Strengthen Your Back Muscles
There are advantages to focusing on your back muscles when you work out. When you strengthen and tone the muscles in your back and shoulders, it makes your waistline look smaller by contrast. Strong back muscles also improve posture, which means you’ll stand straighter and won’t have that annoying abdominal pooch that comes from slouching. When you move beyond the realm of the superficial, there’s another reason to strengthen your back. Strong back muscles reduce the risk of back pain and injury that comes from bending and lifting. Having strong back muscles can even improve your performance if you play a sport by helping you develop more power. Isn’t it time to give your back a little more focus?
Exercises That Strengthen Back Muscles
The major muscles in the back are as follows:
2. Teres Major
3. Erector Spinae
Though this is not entirely true you can think of dividing exercises into two categories when working your back muscles: Those that make you wider and those that make you thicker.
If you want to increase the width of your back and make your waist look slimmer you need to work your Latimus Dorsi and Teres Major muscles. This basically involves exercises where your elbows are facing down and outward like when you do wide grip pull-ups or pull-downs using a high pulley or bands with your torso erect. The more you lean back when performing pull-downs with a high pulley or resistance tubing the more the exercise will make you thicker instead of wider. As you lean further back this exercise becomes more like a row than a true pull-down and works the lower trapezius, upper region of the latissimus dorsi and the inner part of the back.
If you want to add thickness to your back you need to work your trapezius, rhomboids, and lumbar region. To do this you need to do exercises where you pull your elbows backward like when you do seated low-pulley and band rows
Four of the best exercises for targeting the upper back muscles are bent-over rows, one arm rows, dumbbell shrugs, and pull-ups. Strengthening the upper back is important for developing a beautiful v-shape, but lower back strengthening exercises build back muscles that are more resistant to strain and back injury. Back pain is one of the most common medical issues people experience. It’s second only to colds as the reason people call out from work.
Three of the best exercises to target your lower back are dead-lifts, back extensions using a stability ball and supermans. To keep your lower back muscles strong and injury resistant, do these three back-strengthening exercises along with exercises that strengthen your core muscles. A little lower-back strengthening can pay off with fewer days spent dealing with back strains and injuries.
Muscle Imbalances in Your Back
Muscle imbalances in the back are common with most people and this is especially true between the upper and lower trapezius muscles. The upper trapezius pulls your shoulders upward while the lower trapezius pulls your shoulders back downward. Most people who work out and lift weights don’t have a strength problem with their upper trapezius; however, the same exercisers usually do have a lower trapezius that is underdeveloped and this muscle imbalance puts them at greater risk for a shoulder injury. This is especially true of people who have wide shoulders. To work your lower trapezius muscle you need to focus more on rows and bent-over lateral raises.
Another problem area is the infraspinatus muscle. Few people even know what the infraspinatus muscle is, where it is located or what its purpose is. This small muscle is actually one of the four muscles that make up your rotator cup. Without this muscle, your shoulder would pop out of joint with the slightest of movement. Doing traditional compound back work will not work this muscle.
To work your infraspinatus muscle you need to do isolation exercises with a light weight like a shoulder rotation using a dumbbell, adjustable pulley or a resistance band. If you’re using a dumbbell you will need to lie on your side with your top arm holding the dumbbell bent 90 degrees while keeping your biceps touching your torso. Then rotate your forearm upward stopping just before it is perpendicular to the ground. Then slowly lower and repeat the movement. This exercise may also be done with a low pulley or resistance band. Make sure to use a light weight and do around 20 reps for this exercise.
Another option for working your infraspinatus if you’re using resistance tubing or an adjustable pulley is to do a shoulder rotation standing. You will want the cable or band attachment at midlevel. You should be standing with your left hand holding the handle of the band or cable and your right hand at your side. The arm holding the handle should be bent at 90 degrees like it is in a sling. Then just rotate your forearm like you’re hitchhiking keeping your forearm parallel to the ground. You should rotate as far as you comfortably can and then pause for a second or two and then slowly return to the starting position. Do 20 reps and then repeat for the other side.
The Bottom Line?
Strengthening your back muscles will make you look firm and toned when you slip into summer clothing while improving your posture. As a result, you’ll look slimmer and more confident. Just as importantly, you use your back muscles every day when you lift, bend over to pick something up or reach for something on a high shelf. Stronger back muscles are less prone to injury. That’s something we take for granted until back pain rears its ugly head. Make your back muscles stronger, more beautiful and more injury resistant by working them at least once per week. You won’t regret it.
Oxygen Magazine. March 2012. “Your Strong, Sexy Back – Fast”
Medscape Reference. “Mechanical Low Back Pain”
Smith,2009. Physical Therapy in Sport 10(2):45-50
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