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July 21, 2012
By Nick Mahshie, Contributing Columnist
Whether you’re hoping to rid yourself of that awful slouch that
characterizes your silhouette, relieve yourself of the back pain that
afflicts millions of Americans, or hoping to bulk and tone your back
muscles for your own self-confidence, there are numerous strength
training recommendations that can help you achieve your goals.
When it comes to back pain in America, the condition is so omnipresent
in fact, that according to the New England Medical Journal, in an article
entitled “Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Lumbar Spine in People
Without Back Pain”, up to 31 million Americans experience lower back
pain at any given time. To avoid this gruesome pain and achieve the
physique of your dreams, you’ll need to maintain regular exercise
regimes, provide yourself with a firm mattress for a good night’s rest,
and make sure to do the proper warm-up routines before engaging in
any physical activity.
In addition to practicing good posture and maintaining a healthy diet,
weight and resistance training are among the most beneficial practices
that you can take part in for broadening, strengthening and toning
your back muscles. According to Justin Keogh, a senior lecturer at the
Institute of Sport and Recreation Research in Auckland, New Zealand,
“Resistance training has multiple benefits”, and “Aerobic Exercise is
useful”. Likewise, “Resistance training remains the most effective
intervention for increasing muscle mass and strength in older people,”
says Stephen E. Borst, PhD, of the Geriatric Research Education and
Clinical Center of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in
With a weight set or with the help of your own body weight and the
laws of gravity, here are 10 of the top exercises that you can do in
order to attain a stronger and leaner back.
1. Pull Ups
Considered by many to be one of the best back exercises ever, the
undisputed champion of building back muscles is the pull-up. Although
there are many variations, the pull-up uses the simple fundamentals of
one’s own body weight and the correct grip of an overhead bar in
order to activate both the abdominal muscles as well as your lumbar
muscles. With added weight, the exercise becomes more challenging
and consequently, more beneficial. (Read more about the number of
pull-ups an average man does.)
2. Single- Arm Row
An excellent exercise for working out the middle back muscles, the
singe arm row requires just a bench and a dumbbell. For this exercise,
you’ll want to kneel on the bench with your left knee directly below the
hip, and placing your left hand on the bench below your shoulder.
Ensure your back is straight and then bring the dumbbell up toward
your armpit with your right hand, while slowly lowering it down being
sure not to tilt as it is raised up vertically from the ground.
As with many resistance weight training exercises, repetition is key. “I
would recommend doing two or three sets of 8 to 12 reps,” says Gary
R. Hunter, PhD, director of the physiology lab at the University of
Alabama. “When you can do that, increase the weight. That’s the main
advantage to resistance training — you can increase the resistance.”
3. Dead Lifts
Dead lifts are among the best weight training exercises for overall back
development. They not only increase strength, but allow you to further
develop trunk stabilization, ultimately aiding in every other weight
lifting exercise that you take part in.
Here's an important tip. For optimal strength building, perform this
exercise last in your weight training regiment, as you’ll find that is
employs the use of your entire back, effectively working your lower
and upper back as well as strengthening the connective muscular tissue.
4. Bent Over Barbell Rows
The particular grip of barbell rows tends to activate your lateral
muscles, rhomboids, and traps. Because it is often viewed as an
activating exercise, it is best performed at the beginning of your
workout routine. The proper form is to bend your knees, keep your
chest and head up, but lower your trunk to below 45 degrees (around
30 degrees is best). The weight should be light enough for you to raise
the bar as high as the upper part of your abdomen.
In addition, Weight lifting exercises like bent over barbell rows are
essential for slowing the loss of muscle mass that is the result of human
aging”, according to Stephen E. Borst, PhD, of the Geriatric Research
Education and Clinical Center of the Veterans Administration Medical
5. Lat Pull-Downs
Only under one condition will Lat Pull downs be effective in broadening
and strengthening your back, and that is if they are performed
correctly. For this exercise, using a tension weight-lifting machine is
fundamental, and you’ll want to be sure that you pull the weight down
in front of your head rather than behind it. Not only is this more
effective, but you can also avoid potentially dangerous rotator cuff
damage by doing so. According to Nicholas Bakalar of the New York
Times, a new study finds that from 1990 to 2007, nearly a million
Americans wound up in emergency rooms with weight-training injuries,
and that annual injuries increased more than 48 percent in that period.
In other words, doing it correctly can save you a lot of pain.
6. Dumbbell Rows
Rather than focusing on building the size of your back, dumbbell rows
are geared towards function and strength versus hypertrophy and
developmental growth. By focusing on your latissimus dorsi, the pulling
motion of this exercise tends to also work on your rhomboids as well as
your mid to lower trapezius. The complex group of muscles that are
required for multi-joint movements in your back mean that more
functional exercise like dumbbell rows are essential for comprehensive
7. Seated Cable Rows
For bodybuilder in particular, Seated Cable Rows are a fundamental
part of the workout routine simply because they restrict the movement
of one’s trunk, and in particular, of the lower back, hips, and abdominal
muscles. In consequence, these exercises focus most of the attention
on your mid and lower trapezius muscles, allowing you to bulk up this
section of your back quickly and effectively. Although these muscles are
important for stabilization, and they support your overall strength,
targeting them alone will not provide you with the fit back you might be
seeking. Rather, seated Cable Rows are one factor in the equation to
stronger and healthier back strength and size.
8. Reverse Grip Bent over Rows
Designed to target the lower latissimus dorsi, this is a derivative of the
popular bent over rows. However, the lower lats are closer to the
insertion point and far from the ‘belly’ or middle of the muscle. By
including this series of Reverse grip bent over rows, you’ll be able to
broaden your back muscles in a way that will effectively create the
illusion of more chiseled abdominal muscles.
9. Standing pull-downs
Bodybuilding magazine and Health fitness publications often leave
standing pull-downs out simply because they target a very small
portion of your back. Still, they provide the variation needed for overall
back strength. This exercise requires the cable tower to be set to a high
setting where the long bar is normally suspended 7 to 8 feet off of the
floor. Pull your arms and hands down bending at your elbows, until the
bar is below your chin. Hold this position for one to two seconds and
then relax your arms so they return to full extension. If you perform
this at the end of one of your routines and you’ll definitely feel it.
10. Barbell Shrugs
Barbell shrugs are among the best exercises for the back, according to
weightlifting professionals and coaches around the United States.
Barbell shrugs isolate your upper back muscles, making it effective for
improving the weaker back muscles. Wrap up your workout routine
with 3 sets of 10 repetitions of Barbell Shrugs, and you’ll go home
feeling the burn that is part of the thrill of overall back training.
Creating a work out routine that will help you bulk up your back for
good posture means that you’ll have to work many muscles that aren’t’
easily seen when you gaze into the mirror. Only a combination of
machine and free weight exercises can provide you with strong back
muscles that will help you avoid humpback and sway back conditions,
two of the most common ailments to plague Americans who work long
hours in the office.
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