It's the forgotten body part that needs the most attention. Your back muscles are essential for almost everything you do and neglecting them can lead to pain.
"The problem is, what we do in life is generally done in front of us," says Lee Boyce, a strength and conditioning coach and fitness writer based in Toronto. "That means that those mirror muscles (the ones we can see) get plenty of opportunities to be used — so much so that they typically get pulled tight, and not in a good way."
Neglecting certain muscles creates an imbalance."If there’s a poor balance of strength among muscles from one side of the joint to the other side, then the joint will suffer and chronic pain will begin," Boyce says.
And unless you work at a gym or deliver the mail, chances are you're probably sitting at a desk all day. Studies have shown people who sit for over 11 hours a day are slowly killing themselves — literally. Poor posture also increases the risk of metabolic syndromes, heart attacks, strokes, and makes it uncomfortable to do everyday tasks.
Exercises focusing on your back are one way to fix poor posture. Boyce has put together 10 of the most effective workouts and how to do each one. Remember, go at your own pace. If you feel uncomfortable with weights or repetitions, ask a trainer for help.
10 Exercises For Your Back
Barbell or Dumbbell Deadlift
Start with your weights on the ground (whatever size you feel comfortable with), and keep them close to the shin. Bend the knees and make sure your spine is kept tight, with a slight arch. Squeeze the chest out high, and, pressing through the heels, stand all the way up with your weights.
Hang off a bar with straight arms. Using an overhand grip, pull your body upwards until your face finishes above the bar level. Be sure to pull “chest first”, meaning the shoulders get pulled back so the chest moves up first. This will make the back muscles do the most work. And even though these may be tough at first, many gyms have assisted pull up machines as part of their equipment.
Sit tall with the knees slightly bent in a row station. With long arms, first pull the shoulders back, and then follow through by pulling the weight into your ribcage. Be sure to squeeze the upper back at the end.
Bent Over Row
Assume the same start position as the deadlift, and pull the weights to the sides of the torso. Be sure to pull the shoulders back first. Keep the head neutral and in line with the spine. This means you’ll be looking down towards your feet.
Sit tall in a pulldown station and lean back a few inches. With the pulldown bar in hand, set the shoulders by lowering them as far down the back as possible, without bending the elbows. Next, pull the bar all the way to the collarbone, making sure the elbows stay tucked under the bar. Don’t let them flare out behind you! Return to the start position and repeat.
In a bent over position, maintain an arched back and hold two dumbbells with the palms facing each other. Squeeze the upper back and pull the dumbbells up until the arms are parallel to the floor. Be sure not to bend the elbows more than about 10 degrees shy of straight. Control the descent for a better stimulation to the upper back.
Lay chest down on a bench or ball. Secure your feet against a wall, machine or a pair of heavy dumbbells. Hold on to a pair of light dumbbells with the palms facing each other, and raise the arms up and outwards. You should be mimicking the letter “Y” at the top position, with the palms still facing each other. Be sure to pull the shoulders back before each rep, and look to feel the exercise working the upper back, not the shoulders or arms.
Set up a bar in a squat cage (a type of gym equipment) at about waist level. Make sure it’s secure and then grab a shoulder-width overhand grip and hang underneath the bar. Your body should be face-up, and your feet can be planted on the floor with the knees at a 90 degree angle. The rest of your body should be flat — don’t let your hips sink towards the floor. In one pull, squeeze the chest right up to the bar level. Keep the elbows out and pinch your shoulder blades together. Remember to control your descent.
Lie flat on your stomach, and keep the chin tucked in to ensure you don’t look up. Position the hands beside the head with the palms facing down. In one shot, pick as much of your body as possible off the ground — arms, legs, head and chest — and hold for one full second. Slowly return to a rest position and repeat.
Set up the rope attachment at a cable station at eye level. Stand facing the ropes and grab hold of the ropes with the knuckles facing inwards (palms facing outward). Keeping the elbows out wide, pull the ropes to the face. Feel for the rear shoulders and mid traps to do the work.
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