Everybody who has ever had to move, or rearrange a room knows the wear and tear it puts on your back. Back exercises can help you keep those muscles strong -- the muscles you don’t even think about until you ask too much of them. Because once you overdo it, you’ll wish you had done more to prevent the pain.
Fortunately, just about anyone can fit back strength training into their schedule. From simple workouts at a gym to body weight exercises you can do at home or the office, there are many options to choose from. No matter what your current fitness level, there are back exercises that can help take you to a new level of fitness -- and protect your back right now.
The Importance Of A Strong Back
The muscles in your back are among the most important muscles in your body. Much of your lifting and pulling power comes from the back, so increasing the back strength is among the most practical exercising you can do. Your back is also used in nearly everything you do on a day-to-day basis, so back injuries can be particularly debilitating. By strengthening your back, you decrease the risk of injuring yourself by trying to pick something up or bending in the wrong way. You never want to be the one stuck on the couch with an ice pack all day wishing you’d spent more time on prevention.
Understanding The Many Muscles Of Your Back
Your back is the largest muscle group in your body, and as such, it can be a bit overwhelming to train at first. Different lifts which appear very similar can have very different effects on the engagement of your muscles. An easier way to think about your back muscles is to divide them into two main groups. Your upper back muscles sit from the rib cage up and provide much of your ability to pull. Whether it’s dragging something towards you or climbing, they’ll carry a lot of the load. The muscles in your lower back are used to straighten yourself and pick things up. For more intense actions both groups can engage, like in a tug-of-war.
Back Exercises With Free Weights Vs. Machines
There’s a lot of debate in the weightlifting community about lifting with free weights or lifting with machines. The reality is that they both have their ups and downs. The right choice for you is the one you are most comfortable, but it’s important to understand the key differences to help make the right decision.
With free weights, you have no additional support when performing an exercise. Free weight backers are fond of this, as it forces you to utilize secondary muscles to provide stabilization. This gives you a more intense workout and helps to build functional muscle.
With machine lifting, the weights move on a set track, which means you don’t have to worry about stabilizing. Although you get less secondary engagement, many lifters still prefer machines. The assistance allows for heavier lifts, getting more out of the target muscle. The machine also protects against drops or loss of balance when dealing with heavy weights.
12 Back Exercises to Build a Stronger Better Back
Upper Back Exercises
The muscles in your upper back are the glamour muscles of the back, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important, too. There are a wide variety of options available for upper back exercises, so find some that work for you and that you enjoy, and get to work.
Body Weight Upper Back Exercises
Two of the most effective back exercises are ones that you probably recognize: pull-ups and chin-ups. But just because they're familiar doesn't mean it's not important to get your form right. Correct form will give your body the maximum benefit of the exercise and will also protect you from injury.
Grab onto the pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart, so your palms are facing away from you. Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar. Slowly lower yourself back down until you are hanging straight down again.
Similar in appearance to a pull-up, switch your grip so that your palms are facing you. The small change in your grip alters how the muscles in your back and upper arms are engaged. Both are effective workouts so switch it up for a diverse workout.
Free Weight Upper Back Exercises
You can also work your upper back with these effective free weight exercises.
Stand straight up with a dumbbell held in each hand and your arms hanging down. Shrug your shoulders straight up, then slowly lower the weight back down. This exercise works your trapezius muscles.
Resting your left forearm on a stable bench or your own bent left leg, hold a dumbbell in your right hand. Pull the dumbbell straight up, bending your elbow back not out, until it is at chest height. Slowly lower the weight back down.
Machine Upper Back Exercises
You can also use weight machines to effectively train your back.
Set the weight on the machine by inserting a pin under the desired weight. Sit on the bench facing the machine and grip the bar by the handles. Pull the bar straight down until your hands are at shoulder height.
Choose your desired weight then sit on the bench with your feet firmly planted against the footrests. Grip the handles attached to the cable and extend your legs so that they are slightly flexed. Hold the handles at chest height with your arms straight out, then pull in to your chest.
Lower Back Exercises
When people think about back pain, it’s usually lower back muscles they’re thinking of. While it can be scary to work on your lower back for fear of injuring it, safe lower back exercises are the key to avoiding future injuries. Building a stronger lower back is an essential part of any workout program.
Body Weight Lower Back Exercises
Bodyweight exercises are easy, don't require special equipment, and they're effective, too. Here are two with which you may be familiar.
Lie flat on your stomach on a comfortable mat. Extend your legs straight back and your arms straight in front of you. Arch your back so that your chest raises off the ground and raise your feet 6 inches off the ground. Hold the position for a set time, or until you can no longer.
Lie on your back on a comfortable mat. Bring your legs up, pointing the soles of your feet to the ceiling with your legs as straight as possible. Keeping your feet together, slowly press your feet up toward the ceiling about 6 inches, then lower yourself back slowly. Do not bring your feet down to the ground again until after your last rep.
Free Weight Lower Back Exercises
Free weights are another easy, effective way to work your lower back.
Stand with your shins just behind the bar, with your heels shoulder-width apart, and toes slightly turned out. Grip the bar with your hands shoulder-width and squat down, so your shins come forward and touch the bar. Keep your back straight throughout the entire exercise. Stand up by extending your legs and bringing your back to a vertical position, then carefully reverse the action to reset.
Stand with a barbell rested across your shoulders, with a grip wider than your shoulders. Squat slightly and bend forward, arching your back towards the ceiling slightly to maintain spinal alignment. Slowly reverse the motion, standing up straight, using your lower back to drive the bar back up.
Machine Lower Back Exercises
If you're not familiar with weightlifting machines, make sure to get professional instruction. Doing it wrong can be worse than not doing it at all.
Get into the hyperextension rack, with your calves against the anchors and your hips against the upper pads. Bend forward at the waist until you’re at a 90-degree angle, then raise back up until you back is slightly arched to the ceiling.
Although you can increase the difficulty of the hyperextension machine by hugging a plate to your chest, some prefer to use the weighted back extension machine. Choose the weight using a pin or loading plates, then sit in the machine with your back against the pad. You should be sitting slightly forward at rest. Extend your upper body back to raise the weights and complete an extension.
The Right Back Exercises For You
Not everybody has access to the same equipment or works on the same schedule. When designing your back routine it’s important to focus on your own goals, ability, and access. The good news is that with so many options for your back, it’s easy to find exercises or equipment that match your needs.
Getting started on a strengthening program for your back is one of the best decisions you can make. Not only will working on your back have you looking great, but you’ll also feel great, too. If you’ve been considering starting a new workout program utilizing back exercises, stop thinking and start doing. Every workout starts with a first session, so have yours today.