Your back has some pretty big muscles in it, so you’ll need a handful of great exercises to build them up at home. Firstly, working on your back will make your lats look wider and give the impression of a smaller waist. Keeping it strong will also help to correct your posture, and as you know, building up muscle helps to increase your metabolism, which means you get to eat more food without gaining too much weight!
Your latissimus dorsi muscles (or lats) cover a large portion of your back and are utilized in some way during most back exercises. Find them by putting your right arm in the air and poking your armpit with your left hand. At the back of the armpit, you should be able to feel and pinch a hunk of skin and muscle. This is part of your lat.
The trapezius muscles, (or traps), are the muscles that sit between your shoulder and your neck. This is what we refer to as the stress muscle. Have you ever noticed the way your shoulders raise up while you're seated or standing, especially when you’re stressed? That’s usually due to the traps. We want to re-teach these muscles to relax and hang out lower down. You’re probably doing it right now! While you’re reading this, lower your shoulders.
Our traps are useful, but can often pose more problems than they solve during training. Trap muscles tend to be hypersensitive to stimulation due to stress and a lack of tension relief, which means they’re ready to go to work whenever. While that may sound great for a workout, it can actually be a bit of a burden. While working on the following five back exercises, focus on pulling your shoulders down away from your ears. This engages your lats and helps support the disengagement of the traps.
Isn’t vinyasa flow more yoga than a workout? Well, in part, yes. But when your muscles are engaged correctly, this can be one hell of a way to work on your back.
In a straight arm plank position lower your body down with elbows kept close to your sides. When an inch from the ground, pull your shoulders back, scoop your body forward, and straighten your arms, lifting your chest and keeping your hips low. Your lats are activated during this forward scooping motion when your shoulders are pushed back.
Then return the hips up to plank position. This movement is great to warm up your body, but also to activate the muscles. Give it a try!
This is an excellent exercise to improve your posture and activate those strong back muscles. Start by lying on the floor with your arms and legs straight ahead. Then, remembering to keep your shoulders pulled back from your ears, lift your arms, head, chest, and legs off the ground. Remember to squeeze your glutes to help raise those legs! The great thing about the superman is that it’s pretty easy to adjust for different levels. Try holding the position for one minute, or try lifting opposite arms and legs with the others down, then alternate. You can also try it with dumbbells if you’re after something a bit more intense!
Bent over row
The bent over row is perfect for backs. It requires dumbbells, but don’t fret if you don’t have any; you can use a backpack filled with canned food instead! In addition to your back muscles, this exercise also targets the arms, and primarily the biceps. If you’re after large biceps to impress, you better include this in your lifting program!
Start in a bent over position, with your torso forward and knees with a slight bend. (Did you know straight legs are less stable?) Hang your arms in front of you, holding the weights. Here, take note of how your body feels. Is your back curved? Flatten it by pushing your hips back and pulling your shoulders up towards the ceiling to engage the lats.
Do you feel some lower back pain? Engage your core to help protect it. Now you’re in a good starting position, face your palms towards each other, then pull your elbows up towards the ceiling as if you were pushing something back with them. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you lift your elbows up past your back, then lower the arms back down in a controlled manner.
Band lat pulldown
Incorporating pulldowns into your workouts will really build up those lats. Stronger lats means a better posture and smaller waist. And, let’s face it, who doesn’t love a toned back? Place the band somewhere high; try hooking it around a door and shutting the door to hold it in place. Sit below the band so that you’re facing it, with your arms straight above your head and some tension in the band. Pull your shoulders down away from your ears to disengage the traps, then pull the ends of the band down, bending your elbows to your sides. Your hands should be level with your shoulders before bringing them back up in a controlled manner. Remember, when you’re pulling the band, really smash those elbows down to engage those lats. Don’t let your shoulders lift up and hunch forward!
The ultimate back burner. Pull ups utilize the weight of your body instead of a dumbell, making this an easy exercise to do from home. They also work multiple muscles to tone and strengthen much of your upper body. While you may think a pull up is pretty common, there are actually a variety of grips you can play around with to work the muscles differently.
Let’s start with a standard grip. Have your arms slightly wider than your shoulders with your palms facing away from you on the bar. Engage your lats by keeping those shoulders down and pull your body up. This is easier said than done sometimes, we know! Squeeze your core and focus on keeping the hips underneath the shoulders. Then, lower down in a controlled manner.
If you struggle with that particular pull up, the lat pulldowns mentioned earlier are essentially the same movement, but involve pulling down instead of lifting the body up. You could also try adding a band round the bar and your legs to help make the movement easier. If you don’t own a pull up bar, it doesn’t mean you get out of doing pull ups. Head to the park and try using a tree branch (with caution) or even a basketball hoop!
Maddy has worked in the health and fitness industry for 5 years. She has a bachelors in Exercise Science and has recently received her Masters in Exercise Physiology. She has worked with a wide demographic of clients as a Personal Trainer and loves helping people reach their goals and continue to grow. She is an outdoor enthusiast and dedicates her workouts to rock climbing, hiking and whatever new experiences may come her way.
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