How often do you do back exercises?
As you don’t see your back every day, it’s easy to overlook its training. However, you should set back training a priority. It will improve your physique, as well as your overall health and well-being.
A stronger back will help you lift more weight, not only on deadlifts but also on every other movement that requires balance and stability. To better understand this, you should learn the basics about the main muscles that form your back:
- The trapezius, or simply “traps”, is a large triangular-shaped muscle that retracts, elevates, depresses and rotates the shoulders. It also extends the head, moving it rearward;
- The Latissimus dorsi, commonly known as “lats”, form the famous V-shape so many people work out to achieve. These muscles connect the humerus, or arm bone, to the lower vertebrae and pelvic girdle;
- The erector spinae muscles, or erectors, are the thick columns of muscle on either side of the spine that stabilize it, extend it and move it from side to side.
The 10 back exercises you should be doing
The following 10 best back exercises (5 main exercises plus corresponding variations) make up a complete back workout, targeting upper, mid and lower back muscles. This list includes both barbell and dumbbell back exercises.
1a – Barbell shrug
Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a barbell using an overhand grip (palms facing the thighs) and place the hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. As you breathe out, raise your shoulders up as far as you can go and hold the contraction for a brief moment. Refrain from using your biceps. Slowly return to the starting position as you breathe in.
1b – Variation: dumbbell shrug
You can do the shrug with two dumbbells instead. Start by standing erect with a dumbbell on each hand (palms facing your torso), and arms extended on the sides. Then, follow the same movement as previously described.
2a – Bent over barbell row
Bend at the hips and lean your chest forward over your feet. Keep your knees slightly bent and your feet just beyond shoulder-width apart. Grab the barbell with both hands, using an underhand grip (palms facing up), and place your hands shoulder-width apart. Start with your arms fully extended, letting the barbell hang at about mid-shin level. Lift the barbell up towards your stomach area.* Return to starting position.
* Be sure to maintain your head up and shoulders back throughout this exercise, keeping your back in a firm and stable position.
2b – Variation: one-arm dumbbell row
You can train each side separately with the one-arm row exercise: Place your left knee and hand on a flat bench for support and hold a dumbbell with your right hand. Lean forward, keeping your back flat and parallel to the floor. Lift the dumbbell up until your elbow is pointing to the ceiling and your upper arm is parallel to the floor. Hold the contraction for a moment and then slowly return the dumbbell down to the starting position.
3a – Pull-up
Grab onto a secure bar using an overhand grip (palms facing forward). Place your hands just beyond shoulder-width apart. Slowly lift your entire body upward as high as you can. Pause and slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position and repeat.
3b – Variation: chin-up
For the chin-up exercise, change the grip from overhand to underhand (palms facing you) and place your hands at a width that you feel comfortable with.
4a – Pulldown to the front
Take a wide grip on the bar and sit with your chest up. Lean slightly back. Contract your lats and pull the bar down until nearly touching your upper chest, as you breathe out. Hold the contraction for a moment and slowly bring the bar back to the starting position as you breathe in, stretching the working muscles.*
*Keep the torso upright throughout the exercise.
4b – Variation: v-bar pulldown
For the V-bar pulldown, change for a V-bar and grab it with the palms facing each other. Then, follow the same movement as previously described.
5a – Barbell deadlift
While maintaining your back as straight as possible, bend your knees, lean forward and grab the bar using an overhand grip (palms facing shins), placing your hands slightly shoulder-width apart. As you breathe out, start the lift by pushing with your legs while getting your torso to an upright position, with your chest out and your shoulders pulled back. Go back to the starting position by bending at the knees while leaning the torso forward at the waist, keeping the back flat.
5b – Variation: Partial Deadlift
The difference between deadlifts and partial deadlifts (or Rack Pulls) is the starting position. Instead of lifting from the floor, you can choose the desired starting point by placing the barbell on a power rack, using pins to adjust the height.