“I’m bringin’ sexy back (yeah)
Them other boys don’t know how to act (yeah)
I think it’s special, what’s behind your back (yeah)
So turn around and I’ll pick up the slack (yeah)”
- Justin Timberlake
There are a lot of large muscle groups in your back. The trapezius is located in the upper back, forming a diamond shape between your shoulders and mid spine. Your rhomboids are also positioned in the mid upper back, tying into the deltoids. The largest back muscles are the latissimus dorsi, which cover the outer sides and contribute to the athletic ‘V’ taper. The muscles of your lower back are known as the erector spinae, which runs down either side of your spine.
When looking in the mirror of a dressing room, we often give a little glance over our shoulder to check out our back side – after all, a beautifully sculpted back can make you look like a goddess in any backless dress or top. Not only does a toned back give your admirers something to look back at but it also helps improve your posture, eliminate any back pain, and improve your overall strength.
Below are a few of my back workout staples:
Seated Cable Row
Hands down I can say the seated row is by far my most favorite back exercise not only because it is so effective, but because it’s so easy to perform. The seated row was probably the first back exercise I ever learned and it definitely holds a special place in my heart. The seated row is so amazing because it literally hits EVERY muscle possible – not just the back:
- Your erector spinae in your lower back
- Your middle and lower trapezius in your upper back
- Your rhomboids and latissimus dorsi in your middle back
- Your teres major in your outer back
- Your shoulder muscles (including the posterior deltoids, infraspinatus, and teres minor)
- Your brachialis and brachioradialis in your arms
- Your pectoralis major, sternal head, and lower chest muscles
- Your biceps
- Your triceps
- Your hamstrings
- Your gluteus maximus
- AND your adductor magnus
So, now that I’ve thrown literally every Latin and anatomy term at you (Sorry! It’s just the scientist in me!) you’re probably thinking – OK Luisa….. But… How do I even DO them?? Well here’s how:
Attached the close grip bar (i.e. the V shaped bar) to the cable and set the weight to something doable. Sit on the bench with your knees slightly bent and your feet on the footrest. Grasp the bar with a neutral grip so that your palms are facing each other. While keeping your back straight and your chest forward, pull your shoulders back and bend your elbows until you pull the bar close to your lower chest. Then bring your shoulders forward, flex your back and extend your arms until the bar is close to your feet.
Try to think about your back muscles wrapping around and hugging your spine – that’s how you know you’re working them correctly. I really like to incorporate 2 or 5 second holds into this exercise to really make sure I have that mind/muscle connection.
The “lat pulldown” is named so for pretty obvious reasons.. because it activates the lats or latissimus dorsi – the broad, thin triangular fan-shaped muscles located on the outer sides of your back used in all sorts of pulling movements. However, that’s not all it activates. The lat pulldown uses many other muscles for assistance such as:
- Your major and minor rhomboids
- Your lower and middle trapezius
- Your posterior deltoid
- Your levator scapulae
- Your biceps
- Your triceps
- Your forearm muscles: the brachialis and brachioradialis
- Your pectoralis minor
- AND Your teres major, teres minor and infraspinatus (the muscles of the rotator cuff)
Just hold the bar (or handles if you’re using the machine) with your hands to each one of your sides with an overhand grip and simply pull down in front of your face. It’s as simple as that!
One of my favorite variations of Sets & Reps is: 5 Reps at a heavy weight with a 2 second hold, drop down the weight by 50% and 10-12 Reps at that weight – For a total of 4 Sets.
Ahh.. back to rowing… And you know what they say – “You gotta row to grow” and I just love to row row row my back gently towards some gains (get it?? no?? cheesy?.. Oh well….) The landmine row is similar to a barbell row, in the fact that it works the same big back muscles. However, one difference with this variation is that the weight is closer to your center of gravity (because it’s between your legs), rather than out in front like during the barbell version. Because of this it’s a bit easier to perform correctly and puts less stress on your lower back. The landmine row focuses on (and I’ll spare you this time around by saying) basically all the same muscles as the seated cable row.
(Note: These photos are almost 2 years old and they still make me giggle as hard as the day that I took them)
Place the weights at the end of an olympic bar and place the close grip bar (i.e. the V shaped bar) under the olympic bar so as to have a handle. Now, straddle the olympic bar and bend forward with your back flat and chest out. keeping your torso as close to parallel with the floor while keeping your knees slightly bent. Grab the close grip bar with both hands holding it up near the plates. Assume a 45-degree forward bend at waist and drive your elbows back until your hands reach your chest. Then lower the weight with control until your arms are straight again.
If you have a partner to help pull off some plates – this exercise is great to do drop sets with.
Straight Arm Rope Lat Pulldown
The standing rope lat pulldown is an isolation movement, meaning that only one joint is mobile throughout the entire exercise. While the standing rope lat pulldown works several of the same major muscle groups as the pullup, it removes biceps from the equation. This allows the muscles of the back to be worked longer because the biceps aren’t being fatigued as quickly. As I said before, many of the muscles worked are similar to the pullup which are:
- Your latissimus dorsi
- Your teres major
- Your triceps
- Your abdominal muscles
Attach a rope to a the top of pulley machine and choose your weight. Stand a couple feet back from the pulley with your feet staggered while holding the rope with both hands. Lean forward at the hips, keeping your back straight, with your arms extended up in front of you. While keeping your arms straight, use your shoulders to pull the rope down to your thighs.
For this exercise I tend to do a standard Set & Rep range of about 4-5 sets of about 10-12 reps.
So go ahead – give these moves a try. I promise you that you won’t be disappointed – don’t worry – I got your back ;o) .