How do you strengthen your back? Interestingly, while many people spend a lot of time working on their chest, doing bench, incline and decline, flyes, etc, they often settle for a few sets of lat pulldowns for their upper back. The result is an imbalanced physique and an increased chance of injury.
Back training is essential if you want functional strength and balance, and complete muscle development. You have a wide range of muscles in your upper, mid and lower back, and it is important to train them all regularly.
The main muscles in the back are as follows:
- Lats (Latissimus Dorsi):
This is the large muscle that starts at the armpits and runs down the side of the ribs. Lat pulldowns will develop these, but the best exercise of all is pull-ups.
- The Trapezius
The large triangular muscle that runs from the top of your shoulders up to your neck. Strengthening this muscle not only helps with your appearance, but also strengthens the neck.
- The Rhomboids
Small muscles in the centre of your back, just below your shoulder blades.
- Rear Deltoids:
Your shoulder muscles (deltoids) are comprised of three parts - the front (anterior), middle (medial) and rear (posterior). The rear deltoids are typically the least developed of the three.
- Extensor muscles:
These are attached to the rear of the spine, and help when we stand and lift objects. They include the large muscles in the lower back (erector spinae), and the gluteal (butt) muscles.
- Flexor muscles:
These are attached to the front of the spine and enable us to flex, bend forward, and lift and arch the lower back.
- The oblique muscles:
These attach to the sides of the spine and help rotate the spine and maintain proper posture.
There are dozens of exercises you can use to strengthen your back. Some of the best for the upper back include:
- Cable Exercises (E.g. Close Grip Pulldowns, Wide Grip Pulldowns, Straight Arm Pulldowns and Low Cable Rows)
- T-Bar rows
- Barbell or dumbbell Pullovers
- Prone bench flyes
- Close grip rows
- Bent-Over Barbell Rows
- Dumbbell rows
You will also find various machines designed to work these muscles. To keep this area strong and well developed, use a variety of exercises.
The lower back also needs regular exercise. While many people do abs exercises, they often forget to work the obliques and low back - for a strong core, you need to work all three.
The three best exercises for the lower back are those that promote increased endurance in the core - they are thus static exercises. The three to perform are:
- The Plank
- The Side Plank
- The Bird Dog
Static exercises should be held for a set period of time, with good form throughout - the goal is to hold these positions for an increasing period of time. Aim for two minutes in the plank, one minute each side for the side plank and bird dog.