Do you work out your arms, legs, and even your abs, but ignore your back? You’re not alone. Even in upper-body workouts, back muscles often get neglected—but they shouldn’t! Your back muscles support your spine, enable good posture, and are central to your everyday movements. And the good news is that you can strengthen them using just your body weight and a couple of dumbbells. No expensive gym membership or complex equipment required. It is important to note that these exercises should never be attempted if you already have back issues or if you have not been exercising regularly. Speak to your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.
Why You Should Never Skip Back Day
Our daily activities like sitting at a computer or looking down at a smartphone put a great deal of stress on our backs. In fact, low back pain (LBP) is the most common musculoskeletal complaint worldwide, with up to 85 percent of all people experiencing LBP at some point during their lifetimes. Weak muscles in the upper back can lead to poor posture, rounded shoulders, and a frozen thoracic spine. That puts additional stress on your lower back. A weak lower back is susceptible to pain when lifting heavy objects, or even simply sitting for long periods of time. Reduced range of motion, back pain, and injuries are common in women of all ages but can be reduced or prevented with a well-rounded upper body workout. Got a dumbbell or two? That’s all you need to strengthen, tone, tighten and sculpt all of the muscle groups in your back. The bonus is that while you’re busy working out the back muscles, you’ll be toning your shoulders, abdominal muscles (abs), and glutes at the same time.
So let’s start with the basics of the muscle groups you’ll be using. Because your back is central to the movement of your whole body, there is a complex network of muscles involved. Focusing on four main muscle groups can give you a good idea of the muscle structure, and a well-rounded back workout.
- The trapezius extends from the back of your head and neck to your shoulder. It stabilizes your posture and controls muscle movement such as shrugging your shoulders, tilting, turning and extending your neck and keeping your shoulder blades down your back.
- The rhomboids are also in the upper back, connecting your spine and your shoulder blades. They control the movement of pulling your shoulder blades together.
- The latissimus dorsi muscles are large triangular muscles that cover much of the center and sides of your back. The “lats” as they are often called help to stabilize your back, assist in breathing, and pull your weight in activities like pull-ups or even swimming.
- Your lower back muscles are the erector spinae. This group of muscles runs vertically down both sides of the spine, stabilizing the entire vertebral column.
Now, grab your water and dumbbells and get started. Push-ups and pull-ups can be great, but the exercises here will start you off right and bring some variety to your workout. Start by choosing any three exercises and do three sets of 10 repetitions for each. Do this twice per week, with at least two days rest in between for the muscles to rebuild. The following week, choose different exercises and keep the rotation going. Within a few months you will have sculpted a balanced, strong back to be proud of. If you experience a slight increase in lower back pain early on, don’t worry. This is common and should get better with time. But it’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine. If you have severe pain or pain that does not improve, be sure to consult your healthcare provider.
Stand with your feet apart, and the right foot forward. Your left toe should be about 10 inches behind your right heel. Place your fingertips just above your ears with palms facing out, and bend your arms at the elbows. From this starting position, tilt your upper body forward from your hips. Be sure to keep your core tight and your spine straight (not rounded). Then lift your upper body to an upright position, using your core to pull up. Make sure to keep your abs pulled in and your glutes tight throughout the exercise. Slowly lower the upper body and tilt forward at the hips to repeat.
Start by kneeling on all fours. Place your hands shoulder-width apart so they are directly below your shoulders. Be sure to keep your back flat rather than rounded to keep a neutral spine. Pull your abs in and slowly extend your right arm out directly in front of you. At the same time extend your left leg directly out behind you. Hold for three seconds. Slowly lower your arm and leg to the starting position. Repeat using the opposite arm and leg, and continue alternating.
Lie on your stomach, facedown with your chin on the ground and your arms extended straight out above your shoulders and head so your palms rest flat on the floor. Engage your back, glutes, and shoulders as you lift your arms, legs, head and chest a few inches off the ground. Your back will arch slightly as you elevate your hands and feet to the same relative height. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds and then lower your arms and legs to the starting position for a 30-60 second rest between sets.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Choose weights for this exercise based on your current strength and training goals. Heavy weight and few reps will build larger muscles; lighter weights and more reps will increase muscle tone. Stand alongside a bench and then place your bent left knee on it. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and let it hang by your side with your palm facing your thigh. Keep your back flat, and rest your left hand on the bench. Pull from the upper back muscles to bring the weight up towards your armpit. Your elbow should come directly up, rather than out. Hold for a second with muscles contracted before slowly lowering to the starting position. Repeat for your desired repetitions and then switch to the other arm.
Bent-Over Reverse Dumbbell Fly
Take a dumbbell in each hand and then stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend forward at the hips so your back is flat and your chest is almost parallel to the ground. Your hands should be together with your palms facing each other. With a slight bend in the elbows, lift the dumbbells out wide, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for a second and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat.
Strength Training as Part of Whole Health
Strengthening your back muscles is only one aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Strength training for other muscles as well as cardiovascular exercise, balanced nutrition, and quality sleep are all vital. If achieving and maintaining healthy body weight is a goal for you, we at The Woman’s Center offer specific resources to help through our Healthy Me program. Remember to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program. If you have a history of chronic back pain or injury, be sure to discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor. At The Woman’s Clinic, we specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, but we treat all aspects of women’s health issues. Our doctors value the whole woman and would love to discuss your health and wellness plans with you.
Ready to take the next step toward a healthier lifestyle? Schedule an appointment today.