Back Exercises: Important But Often Neglected

back muscles training

It is imperative to include back exercises into your workout program to help prevent joint and muscle pain.

Too often, people who are just beginning their weight lifting journey focus on what are sometimes called "show me" muscles...

The chest, shoulders, and arms.

This focus creates an imbalance between the chest and back muscles. When one muscle group such as the chest is worked on more than its antagonist (opposing) muscle group, the muscles of the chest can become tight and shortened.

These tight, short muscles pull the shoulders forward and the chest in, causing rounding of the back and shoulders. This, in turn, leads to neck and back problems. "What is the solution?" you ask...

The answer is to strengthen the back muscles with back exercises such as the ones shown below and to stretch the tight muscle groups - in this case, the chest muscles.

When performing the following back exercises, or any exercises for that matter, always make sure to...

Use the Perfect Exercise Form!

Why is it so important to use a perfect exercise form? There are two main reasons...

1) It ensures you are actually using the muscles you want to use and getting the most of the exercise. I see it so often. People spending countless hours doing exercises over and over again...the wrong way.

Any results these people do get could have been gotten in less time and if they had been using proper form, their results would have been much more impressive.

2) It greatly lessens the chances of injuring yourself. Getting injured is one of the biggest momentum busters you can experience...right up there with getting sick. It can disrupt your workouts, but being injured affects the rest of your life as well.

Back Exercises Pick #1: The Bent-Over Row

rear deltoid row

The Set-Up:

Begin facing a chair, bench or sturdy table while holding your dumbbell in one hand. 

Place one foot forward (the one opposite the hand holding the dumbbell) and the other foot back (same side as a dumbbell). 

Both feet should be facing 12 o’clock. 

Bend at the hips and brace your upper body with your free hand. 

Your legs and supporting hand should be bent enough to bring your upper body as close to parallel to the ground as possible. 

Keep your back as flat as possible. Avoid letting your back round out.

Keeping your shoulders level, allow the arm holding the dumbbell to hang straight down.

Performing The Movement:

Keeping your elbow close in to the body, raise the dumbbell until it touches your hip. 

At the mid-point of the exercise (dumbbell at your hip), your forearm should be pointing straight down at the ground. 

When the dumbbell is at the hip, hold the weight for a count of one, one thousand and then begin returning the weight to the starting position. 

Keep your shoulders level. Don’t “dip” the active shoulder towards the floor when lowering the dumbbell.

Performance Tips:

Keep your head up and centered between your shoulders.

Avoid letting the head droop down or move towards the shoulders. 

Before starting the lift, take a breath in through the nose. Exhale as you lift the weight. Maintain proper breathing throughout the exercise.

Back Exercises Pick #2: Seated Row

cable seated row

The Set-Up:

Choose a bar that allows you to take a shoulder-width grip. A long pull-down bar can be used. Your goal is to maintain a vertical forearm position throughout the movement.

●While seated at the row station, grasp the bar palms down.

●Sit tall, maintaining a natural arch in the lower back. 

●Sit far enough from the pulley to keep the weight stack from banging together while you perform the exercise. 

Once you have begun the exercise, keep your upper body stable and upright (not leaning back). Do not move back and forth at the hips with each repetition.

Performing The Movement:

Inhale through the nose. 

●Pull the bar to your abdominal region and pinch your shoulder blades together. 

●Exhale your breath as you pull the bar. 

●Once you have pulled the bar as far as you can, hold your position for a brief moment. 

●Begin extending the arms slowly and under control, inhaling through the nose as you go. 

Performance Tips:

●Do not allow your shoulders to round forward when performing the exercise. If this occurs, lighten the weight until you can maintain a strong, upright position.  

●Focus on pinching the shoulder blades together as you pull the bar back to the abdomen. 

●Do not rock back and forth at the hips. Maintain a still upper body position throughout the exercise.

Back Exercises Pick #3: Pulldown

           lat pull down back exercise

The Set-Up:

Sit close to the cable machine. The upper pulley should be almost directly above you. 

●Use a straight bar, preferably one with "knurling" or raised grip. 

●Grasp the bar with a supinated or palms-up grip approximately shoulder-width apart. 

●When using a supinated grip, do not move the hands out wide. Doing so will stress the shoulders and wrists.

Performing The Movement:

Inhale through the nose. 

●Looking forward or slightly upward, slowly pull the bar down until the bar reaches your upper chest (just below the chin). 

●Exhale as you pull the bar down. 

●Lean back slightly adding a slight arch in your lower back during the downward pull, but avoid rounding the shoulders in. If you find your body rounding in, the weight is too heavy. 

●Pause briefly at the bottom position. 

●Your shoulders should be pulled back and your chest out. 

●Slowly raise the bar back to the starting position. 

●Inhale as you raise the bar.

Performance Tips:

When at the top (starting) position, keep your shoulders tight. Do not stretch your arms up by relaxing the shoulders. This can lead to a shoulder injury. 

Do not swing your body in an attempt to complete a repetition.

How To Use These Back Exercises

Perform these exercises as part of a complete weight training program.

A general guideline is to do 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions. Once you are able to perform 3 sets of 12 repetitions easily, find ways to make the movement more challenging.

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