Back exercises: a comprehensive guide


These back exercises will help you develop bags of power and prevent injury

Nick Hutchings
16 Feb 2015

Looking in the mirror you can’t see your back, so it’s tempting to ignore your back muscles during training and concentrate on the glory muscles at the front: chest, abs and biceps. However, you ignore your back at your peril. Not only does having a strong back improve your physique, it also helps to correct your posture and prevent injury.

If you spend hours in the gym doing bench presses but give little attention to your back, the overdeveloped muscles in your chest and front shoulders will pull your shoulders forward, making you hunch like a gorilla. Also, a muscle imbalance from too little back training can lead to a lack of shoulder flexibility, which can in turn lead to injuries from badly performed exercises. The moral is: pay as much attention to your back as your front.
Your upper back is criss-crossed with muscles that manipulate your shoulders, allowing you to pull objects towards you and make a shrugging motion. The trapezius muscles (traps) originate at your neck and spread out across your shoulder blades and down your spine. Beneath your arms, your latissimus dorsi (lats) are the wide wings that draw your arms down and in when you do pull-ups. These large muscles are supported by a host of smaller ones that allow your arms and spine to move across a multitude of planes.

Running down the sides of your back bone, the erector spinae muscles do the job of supporting and stabilising your spine whenever you bend. These are the muscles that, if trained properly, will protect you from lower back pain when you do heavy lifts. Along with your abdominal muscles, the erector spinae form part of the core.

In short, working on your back means:

More power

Your back plays an important role in how your entire body functions because it connects to your hips, abdominals, chest, shoulders and neck. Strengthening your back gives you additional power in all those areas too.

A slimmer waist

A broader upper-body makes you look slimmer, even without losing anything from your gut.

Better posture

Have you ever got an achy lower back from standing up for a long perisod of time? That's because standing up straight and holding your stomach in requires strong muscles throughout your back. The stronger these muscles are, the easier it is for you to maintain good posture.

Here are the exercises that will help you build strong back muscles. To stop you getting bored of back training, we've also come up with alternatives for each one. Click on the links below to open up our form guides.

Spinal support 

The muscle groups found in the lower back include spinal support muscles and stabilisers. These muscle groups are part of a set that make up the 'core', which benefits from toning and strengthening the back. The core carries the body while distributing pressure, which helps to support the body's internal infrastructure. There are a number of lower back exercises, particularly back hyperextensions and Pilates that are great for targeting these important muscles, contributing to making your body's core stronger.

Balancing muscle groups  

For those that regularly lift heavy weights it's integral that all of your biggest muscle groups are well balanced. In order to handle the strain it's important that the back muscles are trained to provide balance with the chest muscles. Someone that concentrates on only training the arms and chest but not the back, for example, is leaving themselves open to injury as the neglected muscles are not able to deal with the pressure. It's always wise to pay attention to the balance found between your core muscles and your lower back in relation to primary muscle groups in the arms and chest, this will help in all aspects of your training programme and guard against injury. 

Strengthening the hip flexors and the abdomen 

The lower back muscles help to support body functions that are used for a number of contact sports. An example of this are the lower back muscles that are footballer activates in a game as they deal with counterbalancing the kicking muscles whilst working the hip flexors in order to increase body power. This is yet another example of when lower back work goes a long way to preventing potential athletic injuries. In professional sports there is always a focus on injury prevention and lower back exercises are a big part of this. 

3 training tips to help you build a stronger back 

1. Use multiple angles on your bodyweight pulls 

Don't forget about bodyweight training. It's just as effective for building muscle and putting on mass as weight training. It's a great way for you to keep up your overall strength levels and is a hugely effective way of building up your back, especially if you hit it from different angles. Incorporate pull-ups (with all typs of grips), rope climbs and recline rows to ensure that no back muscle gets left untrained. 

2. Add supersets to your back training 

There isn't any better way to make your back training more athletic than supersetting back movements with other body part movements. Workouts like the push-pull superset (bench press - push) followed immediately by a variation of the bentover row (pull) is extremely effective in this regard. Supersets have a number of benefits, including burning more fat due to your elevated heart rate and adding extra muscle to your frame in a shorter amount of time by working them so hard that they're shocked into growth. 

3. Use explosive movements 

Another lost art when bodybuilding is the use of explosive movements such as plyometric and Olympic type lifts. Don't ever forget to include these in your workouts. These are a must at keeping you athletic and getting you stronger, all of which will help you add lean muscle mas to your back. 

Using explosive type movements will help assure that you're using just about every single muscle fibre possible. You can only activate certain muscle fibres by doing explosive “speed” type movements. This is critical. Most bodybuilders train too slowly. Fast twitch muscle fibres are only activated when doing speedy, explosive type movements. In a nutshell, fast twitch muscle fibres are the ones that grow the most. This is why it's important to train the. 

The best way to do this is by using reps of 5–8. Each movement should be done as explosively as possible. 

Traps, lats, rhomboids: Bent-over row

Traps, lats, rhomboids: Cable row

Traps, lats, rhomboids: One-arm row

Traps, lats, rhomboids: Pull-up

Traps, lats, rhomboids: Lat pull-down

Upper traps: Shrug

Lower back, hamstrings, glutes: Good morning

Lower back: Two-point box

This content is from the experts at Men's Fitness magazine.

For more fitness, gym, workout and nutrition advice click here