Photo Credit: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/afp/getty images
When discussing my clients’ current strength training routines, I often find that they are not including as many upper back exercises as they should. Women tend to focus on their legs and abdominals while men focus on their chest and arms. But without a strong upper back we can experience major muscle imbalances, poor posture, back pain and loss of spine support and mobility.
We also wouldn’t be able to pull things down or toward us, retract our shoulder blades, flex or rotate. The exercises that I’ll be sharing with you will mimic these movements.
To avoid major muscle imbalances, you want to balance the number of "pushing" exercises with the number of "pulling" exercises in your workout. An example of a pushing exercise would be a push-up or a chest press. It's also important to not over incorporate abdominal exercises without ensuring that you’re also doing back exercises.
For Better Posture: Lying Arm Raise
This exercise looks easier then it is! If you’re like many people, you probably spend many hours a day sitting at a computer, which causes your back to start curving forward and your shoulders to slump down. Performing this exercise 2 to 3 times a week will help with posture.
Lying on your stomach, with your head facing forward, rest the back of your hands on the small of your back. Begin to raise your arms to the sides, away from your body. As you raise your arms outward, rotate your arms so that your palms are parallel to the floor. Continue to bring your arms up until your upper arms are against the sides of your head. Lower arms back down to starting position. Perform 2 to 3 sets, 10 to 12 repetitions.
For Sculpting: Lat Pulldown
Not only will it help you have a sculpted back, it will also tone the area of your back just below your shoulders -- keeping you confident in summer dresses, swimsuits and fitted tees!
Look for a machine at your gym labeled Lat Pull down. It can also be part of a larger cable machine that has various stations. For this purpose you can use single handles for each hand or one longer pull-down bar. Grasp the lever bar or handles with a wide grip. Sit with your thighs under the supports. Pull the lever bar down to your upper chest. Return, until your arms and shoulders are fully extended. Be sure that your palms continue to face out toward the weight stack for the entire exercise. People tend to rotate palms toward the body or pull too far so that they face the floor. This changes the focus of the exercise, and can lead to injury. Perform 2 to 3 sets, 10 to 12 repetitions.
For Back-Fat Reduction: Seated Row
This exercise can be performed on a multi-station cable machine or a freestanding machine that will be labeled Seated Row. The freestanding machine will have a pad facing out that you will place your chest against; adjust the seat so your feet are flat on the floor. The multi-station cable machine will have either a bench that is about knee high or one that is low on the floor.
Sit slightly forward on the seat or bench and grasp the cable attachment. Place your feet on the vertical platform. Slide your hips back, positioning your knees with a slight bend. Pull the cable attachment to your waist while straightening your lower back. Think about squeezing your shoulder blades together. I always tell my clients to imagine they have an apple between their shoulder blades, and that they are squeezing it enough to make apple juice. Return, until arms are extended and shoulders are stretched forward; do not flex your back forward. Perform 2 to 3 sets, 10 to 12 repetitions.
Safety Note: As with any exercise, you want to start with a lower weight and add weight gradually as your body adjusts to the exercise. The initial pull may cause some strain on the lower back, so make sure you work at an appropriate level and keep the movements smooth, without any sudden jerks or bounces.
For Definition: Inverted Row
Not only does it help to create a killer upper back, it also works the biceps and core at the same time.
This exercise is performed on a Smith machine, which is typically found in the free weight area of gyms. Ensure that the bar is properly secured prior to lifting. Lay on your back under the fixed horizontal bar. Grasp the bar with a wide, overhand grip. (The fixed bar should be just high enough to allow your arms to fully extend.) Keeping your body straight, pull up to the bar. Return, until your arms are extended and shoulders are stretched forward. Perform 2 to 3 sets, 10 to12 repetitions.
For Flexibility: Cat and Cow
When your back muscles become immobile, it’s difficult to perform simple tasks, like picking something up from the floor or getting a dish off a shelf. This exercise will help maintain flexibility in the muscles surrounding your spine.
Start with hands and knees on the ground, both shoulder-width apart. Your head should be facing towards the floor. Slowly draw your chin into your chest while tucking your hips under you and pushing your spine up to the ceiling into the cat position. Hold for 3 seconds. Move your head slowly up to look towards the ceiling while dropping your stomach toward the floor (but not touching the floor); raise your tailbone into Cow position and hold for 3 seconds. Perform 2-3 sets of 8-10 repetitions.
If this position causes knee discomfort, place a folded towel or blanket under your knees for cushion.
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