Developing a strong and balanced back will enhance your posture and balance your physique. Here are some basic tips to help you safely on your journey. Before beginning any exercise program, it is imperative to review your goals and exercise plans with your doctor or health care practitioner. This strategy will allow you to develop a safe exercise plan and to avoid exacerbating any previous injury or coexisting medical condition. I recommend thinking about the back in 3 parts: upper, lower and sides. The following exercises will allow you to “design your back” in a safe and effective manner so that injury can be avoided. Remember to stretch before, during and after your back workout.
Here are 5 basic back exercises to get you started on your journey.
#1. Chin-up and Pull-up:
These are two of my favorite strength and back developing exercises. These two exercises require your body and minimal equipment. This is perfect! They target the upper back and arms. Remember, for the pull-ups your palms face you and for chin-ups your palms face away from you. Minimize any swinging during these exercises and execute the movement slowly and with focus. Both exercises target your lats (latissimus dorsi), mid-upper back, and biceps. I recommend starting with 3 sets of 5 repetitions of each initially with 30 seconds of rest in between. Build up to 5 sets of 10 repetitions of pull-ups and chin-ups.
#2. Lateral Pull-down:
The lateral pull-down machine is a great standard gym exercise to develop your lats. I recommend using a weight that challenges you; yet, you must adjust the weight so that you can control this movement to avoid injury. Also adjust the knee pads for your height with knees at 90 degrees, so that the weight does not carry you upward during the exercise. You can vary the grip during the exercise. Consider using a wide grip for the first 2 sets and a medium and close grip for the remaining 4 sets. I recommend 4 -6 sets of 15 repetitions. Start out holding the wide bar with a wide grip and your arms extended. Bring the bar down in front of you, to your upper chest. Be sure to contract your back as you bring the bar down. Avoid leaning forward and back. Let your arms and back do the work. Avoid bringing the bar behind your neck because of the excess tension and stress placed on the neck and rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder. (Behind the neck lat pull-downs can be done when the proper form has been mastered safely.)
#3. Seated Dumbbell Rows
This is an excellent exercise to work your rhomboids, lats, biceps and deltoids. I recommend 3-6 sets of 15 repetitions. Sit at the edge of a sturdy exercise bench with the weights at your feet. Lean forward with your chest against your thighs. Lift the weights with your palms toward you and bring your elbows upward to 90 degrees. Contract your back muscles after pausing and then slowly lower weight back to the floor. Be sure not to hyperextend or hyper flex your neck during this exercise.
#4. Back Fly
This is an old school exercise that effectively develops your back while also strengthens your core and abs. It engages the rhomboids, lats and deltoids. I recommend 3-6 sets of 15-20 repetitions. Start with the dumbbells in your hands, palms facing each other in front of you. Lift the weights upward and back. Avoid bending your elbows. The weight should be lifted to your sides, higher than shoulder height while contracting your back muscles. Pause when the weights are lifted upward to your sides.
#5. Back Hyperextensions
This is an exercise often forgotten in a back conditioning program. This exercise will strengthen your abs, core and lower back (erector spinae muscles) which will also improve your posture, I recommend 3 sets of 15 repetitions. This can be done on a mat. Start in the prone/ face down position with your arms at your side. Lift your chest and shoulders off the mat and maintain your thighs on the floor and hold for 3 seconds.
Enjoy getting a stronger back and better posture with these 5 basic exercises! Let’s get this new year started! Happy New Year!