The Back File

You don’t need to make a special trip to the gym to hit those major muscle groups. This workout allows you to use the equipment in your home gym to tone a beautiful back. Aim for three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.

Dumbbell rows

Stand next to the bench and, bending forward from your hips, place one hand on the bench for support. Keep your belly button drawn toward your spine and your back and head almost parallel to the floor. Pick up a moderately heavy dumbbell (you should start to fatigue around the eighth repetition) in your free hand, dangling it down so that the dumbbell, too, is parallel to the floor. Retract your shoulder blade, keep your shoulder down away from your ear, and bend your elbow and draw the weight up until your hand is touching your torso. (The motion is like starting a lawn mower, though not nearly as quick.) Slowly lower the weight back down. Repeat the first set of repetitions, then switch sides.

Tip: Remember to keep your back straight. You should feel this exercise primarily in your back, not your arms. If you feel it in your arms, you're not retracting your shoulder blade before you lift. To test yourself, try to squeeze your shoulder blades together in back as if pinching someone's finger between them. Got it? Now try it with just one shoulder blade.

Rear delt fly
Sit on the edge of the bench, holding light weights (3 to 8 pounds) in each hand. Lean forward from your hips, flattening your back. If you can, rest your chest on your knees. You may want to rest a pillow or a few rolled-up towels in your lap to give you more support. Place your hands behind your calves with your palms facing each other. Tuck your chin into your chest. Raise your arms up to the sides, gradually bending your elbows as they come up. Squeeze your shoulder blades together (see tip above, under dumbbell rows). Pause at the top of the extension, and then slowly lower arms back down.

Dumbbell pullover
Hold a 5- or 8-pound weight in both hands and lie face-up on the bench. Bring your knees up and bend them at a 90-degree angle so that they are over your hips and your calves are parallel to the bench. Draw your belly button in to your spine, flattening your back along the bench. With straight arms, hold the weight up over your shoulders. Maintaining your drawn-in belly, slowly lower your straight arms behind your head, bringing them parallel to the floor. Go only as far as you can without losing your flat back posture. Gradually return your arms to the starting position. Note: Although this exercise works your back, arms and shoulders, don't be surprised if you also feel it deep in your abdominals.

If you're just learning this exercise, try it with knees bent, feet flat on the bench. This gives a better base of support.

Advanced variation: Slowly extend your legs at the same time that you lower your arms behind your head, bringing them parallel to the bench. Bend them back to the starting position as your arms return back up over your shoulders.

Stability-ball back extensions
This exercise trains the muscles of your lower back. Position the stability ball under your belly and hips. Straighten your legs and keep your feet about hip-width apart. Balance on your toes. Let your torso drape onto the ball. Put your hands behind your head (as if you were going to perform a sit-up) and slowly lift your chest off the ball until your body forms a straight line. Do not come up so high that your back arches. Hold a few seconds and lower your body back down to the starting position.

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