Back Exercises

Below are some of my favorite exercises for working your back muscles.

What is great about building your back muscles is that it helps you create the “hourglass” figure that so many girls want! This is because by expanding your back muscles, your waist appears smaller by comparison.

Other benefits to having a strong back include:

  • Better posture
  • Less back pain
  • Support for your spine and pelvis

Below are the three main muscle groups that I usually work when training my back in the gym:

(Image source: bodybuilding.com)

All underlined exercises hyperlink to the exercise as it appears in the bodybuilding.com Exercise Database

Lat Exercises

Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

  1. Sit down on a pulldown machine with a wide bar attached to the top pulley. Make sure that you adjust the knee pad of the machine to fit your height. These pads will prevent your body from being raised by the resistance attached to the bar.
  2. Grab the bar with the palms facing forward using the prescribed grip. Note on grips: For a wide grip, your hands need to be spaced out at a distance wider than shoulder width. For a medium grip, your hands need to be spaced out at a distance equal to your shoulder width and for a close grip at a distance smaller than your shoulder width.
  3. As you have both arms extended in front of you holding the bar at the chosen grip width, bring your torso back around 30 degrees or so while creating a curvature on your lower back and sticking your chest out. This is your starting position.
  4. As you breathe out, bring the bar down until it touches your upper chest by drawing the shoulders and the upper arms down and back. Tip: Concentrate on squeezing the back muscles once you reach the full contracted position. The upper torso should remain stationary and only the arms should move. The forearms should do no other work except for holding the bar; therefore, do not try to pull down the bar using the forearms.
  5. After a second at the contracted position squeezing your shoulder blades together, slowly raise the bar back to the starting position when your arms are fully extended and the lats are fully stretched. Inhale during this portion of the movement. (1)

Note: you can also do this movement using the v-grip attachment.

Standing Lat Pushdown

  1. Attach a straight bar to a cable machine. Stand in front of the cable machine and grasp the bar with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Slightly bend at the waist.
  2. Keeping arms straight, abs tight, and elbows locked, slowly pull the bar towards you until it reaches just below your waist.
  3. Pause for a moment and slowly lower the weight to the starting position without allows the weight to touch the weight stack.  This completes one full rep.

Middle Back Exercises

Barbell Bent-over Row

  1. Holding a straight barbell with a pronated grip (palms facing down), bend your knees slightly and bring your torso forward, by bending at the waist, while keeping the back straight until it is almost parallel to the floor. Tip: Make sure that you keep the head up. The barbell should hang directly in front of you as your arms hang perpendicular to the floor and your torso. This is your starting position.
  2. Now, while keeping the torso stationary, breathe out and lift the barbell to you. Keep the elbows close to the body and only use the forearms to hold the weight. At the top contracted position, squeeze the back muscles and hold for a brief pause.
  3. Then inhale and slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.

Caution: This exercise is not recommended for people with back problems. A Low Pulley Row is a better choice for people with back issues.

Ensure perfect form and never slouch the back forward as this can cause back injury.

Be cautious as well with the weight used; in case of doubt, use less weight rather than more. (2)

Seated Cable Row

For this exercise, you will need access to a low pulley row machine with a V-bar attachment.

Note: The V-bar will enable you to have a neutral grip where the palms of your hands face each other. To get into the starting position, first sit down on the machine and place your feet on the front platform or crossbar provided making sure that your knees are slightly bent and not locked.

  1. Lean over as you keep the natural alignment of your back and grab the V-bar handles.
  2. With your arms extended pull back until your torso is at a 90-degree angle from your legs. Your back should be slightly arched and your chest should be sticking out. You should be feeling a nice stretch on your lats as you hold the bar in front of you. This is the starting position of the exercise.
  3. Keeping the torso stationary, pull the handles back towards your torso while keeping the arms close to it until you touch the abdominals. Breathe out as you perform that movement. At that point you should be squeezing your back muscles hard. Hold that contraction for a second and slowly go back to the original position while breathing in.
  4. Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions.

Caution: Avoid swinging your torso back and forth as you can cause lower back injury by doing so. (3)

One-Arm Dumbbell Row

  1. Choose a flat bench and place a dumbbell on each side of it.
  2. Place the right leg on top of the end of the bench, bend your torso forward from the waist until your upper body is parallel to the floor, and place your right hand on the other end of the bench for support.
  3. Use the left hand to pick up the dumbbell on the floor and hold the weight while keeping your lower back straight. The palm of the hand should be facing your torso. This will be your starting position.
  4. Pull the resistance straight up to the side of your chest, keeping your upper arm close to your side and keeping the torso stationary. Breathe out as you perform this step. Tip: Concentrate on squeezing the back muscles once you reach the full contracted position. Also, make sure that the force is performed with the back muscles and not the arms. Finally, the upper torso should remain stationary and only the arms should move. The forearms should do no other work except for holding the dumbbell; therefore, do not try to pull the dumbbell up using the forearms.
  5. Lower the resistance straight down to the starting position. Breathe in as you perform this step. (4)

One-arm Cable Row

  1. To get into the starting position, first sit down on the low row cable machine and place your feet on the front platform or crossbar provided making sure that your knees are slightly bent and not locked.
  2. Lean over as you keep the natural alignment of your back and grab the single handle attachment with your left arm using a palms-down grip.
  3. With your arm extended pull back until your torso is at a 90-degree angle from your legs. Your back should be slightly arched and your chest should be sticking out. You should be feeling a nice stretch on your lat as you hold the bar in front of you. The right arm can be kept by the waist. This is the starting position of the exercise.
  4. Keeping the torso stationary, pull the handles back towards your torso while keeping the arms close to it as you rotate the wrist, so that by the time your hand is by your abdominals it is in a neutral position (palms facing the torso). Breathe out as you perform that movement. At that point you should be squeezing your back muscles hard.
  5. Hold that contraction for a second and slowly go back to the original position while breathing in. Tip: Remember to rotate the wrist as you go back to the starting position so that the palms are facing down again.
  6. Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions and then perform the same movement with the right hand. (5)

Variations: You can also perform this movement standing up at a cable pulley.

Lower Back Exercises

Hyperextensions (Back Extensions)

  1. Lie face down on a hyperextension bench, tucking your ankles securely under the footpads.
  2. Adjust the upper pad if possible so your upper thighs lie flat across the wide pad, leaving enough room for you to bend at the waist without any restriction.
  3. With your body straight, cross your arms in front of you (my preference) or behind your head. This will be your starting position. Tip: You can also hold a weight plate for extra resistance in front of you under your crossed arms.
  4. Start bending forward slowly at the waist as far as you can while keeping your back flat. Inhale as you perform this movement. Keep moving forward until you feel a nice stretch on the hamstrings and you can no longer keep going without a rounding of the back. Tip: Never round the back as you perform this exercise. Also, some people can go farther than others. The key thing is that you go as far as your body allows you to without rounding the back. (6)
  • Slowly raise your torso back to the initial position as you inhale. Tip: Avoid the temptation to arch your back past a straight line. Also, do not swing the torso at any time in order to protect the back from injury.

Superman Exercise 

  1. Lie face down on the floor, shoulders and elbows bent about 90 degrees, feet about hip-width apart. This will be your starting position.
  2. Contracting your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, simultaneously raise your feet and upper torso off the floor.
  3. Lower back down to the starting position using control so all limbs touch the floor and repeat. Make sure to keep your head neutral so that it’s aligned with your torso throughout the set.

 

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