Summer greetings to all of you my boys and girls! Or well, at least it’s high summer here at home in Malta 🙂
The temperature is boiling and energy levels often hit rock bottom these days but as long as God blesses us with good health our Mirror Friendly way of life will always lead us to the gym, regardless of the weather conditions out there. And today it’s going to be back day at the gym. The back is the body part which we do not often get to look at directly. Having said so, a thick and tapered back is a must if you want your physique to be an awesome all-rounder from whichever angle you and those around you gaze at it. With so many different muscles, your back can develop into a complex puzzle of curves and contours, a feast for the eyes and a proper tactile reward.
The Tactile Back Workout:
The back is made up of 4 main parts – the latissimus dorsi (known as ‘lats’), the rhomboids (also referred to as the ‘middle back’), the trapezius (also known as ‘traps’) and the erector spinae (referred to as ‘lower back’). Working out the lats will give your back that V-taper look making your waist look narrower, while hitting the rhomboids will give your back that 3D look making it look thicker.
In this article myself and Tanya will be featuring alternative exercises for each one of these back parts for you to choose from. Like we always say it is important that you mix and match different exercises in your training routine to keep your body guessing, this way achieving a better muscle response to your efforts.
In today’s workout we will be featuring 4 exercises x 3 sets each. My workout consists of 1 exercise for each of the 4 mentioned back parts while since Tanya does not want her traps to grow, she performs 2 exercises on the middle back instead.
LATS (or latissimus dorsi):
Pullups are a very effective exercise using your own body weight. I find it very helpful in building strength because you are actually engaging more than your back muscles while performing it such as the shoulders, arms and core.
- Grab onto the bar with an overhand grip. The wider the grip the harder the exercise will be.
- Engage your core and exhale while you slowly and steadily engage your upper body to pull yourself up as high as you can go.
- When you reach the top, hold for a count of 1 and then slowly lower yourself down to the starting position inhaling on the way down.
- Be sure you don’t just “let yourself go” when you lower yourself down. Resist gravity and use your strength to slowly lower yourself. Also, ensure you aren’t using momentum or swinging body to assist your pull up. That’s cheating and you really don’t gain any benefits by cheating.
- Do as many repetitions your strength will allow and aim to work up from there. Perform 3 sets to failure with sufficient rest in between (between 1 to 2 minutes).
Note: If you cannot do the pullup unassisted, you can use a pullup machine and take advantage of the knee pad which is there to assist you in your pullup by bearing some of the load of your own body weight. For this machine, if you use the knee pad, note that the lower the weight the harder you make the exercise.
Tanya likes this version of the lat pulldown because apart from the lats it also targets many other smaller muscles in the back as well as the triceps. She also really feels this one in her core as she engages it to stabilize when pushing the weight down.
- Set a bar to the top most position on the cable machine.
- Grabbing the bar with an overhand grip, step back far enough so that your arms are fully extended when in the up position (be sure to maintain a slight bend in the elbow).
- Contract the lats and abs and exhale as you pull the bar down, keeping arms straight, until your hands are beside your thighs. You can slightly push the bar into your front thighs to maximise contraction.
- Inhale as you slowly return to start position.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.
MIDDLE BACK (or rhomboids):
Bent-over barbell row:
The bent-over barbell row is one of the few exercises which hits the whole back placing particular focus on the rhomboids. The grip used for the bent-over barbell row can either overhand or underhand. Apart from targeting the middle back (rhomboids) the overhand grip engages the upper lats whereas the underhand grip recruits the lower lats; which is why in this session I chose to use the underhand grip since I have already hit the upper lats doing wide-grip pull-ups.
- Stand erect while holding a barbell with an underhand grip (palms facing up).
- Bend your knees slightly and bring your torso forward, by bending at the waist, while keeping the back straight until it is almost parallel to the floor.
- While keeping the torso stationary, lift the barbell as you breathe out, keeping the elbows close to the body and not doing any force with the forearm other than holding the weights. On the top contracted position, squeeze the back muscles and hold for a second.
- Slowly lower the weight again to the starting position as you inhale.
- Perform 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.
Note: When using the underhand grip, do not pull the bar into your upper ab area but aim for the lower abs. To ensure the bar ends up in the correct position be sure to actually drag the bar close to your quads.
Tanya’s first pick:
Seated cable row:
- Sitting on the ground (or mat) at a cable machine, knees slightly bent and feet anchored against the machine (some will have a platform for your feet), grip the bar, keeping the spine neutral and core tight to help stabilize you.
- Keeping your torso stationary, exhale as you pull the handles towards you until they are against your stomach. Squeeze your back muscles and hold the contraction for 1 count. Be sure to keep your arms close to your sides as you perform this movement and don’t swing your upper body back and forth.
- Slowly return to the start position inhaling as you go.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.
Note: Tanya uses the V-grip bar in the images, but you can use a straight bar and change to either an overhand or underhand grip for variety.
Tanya’s second pick:
Single-arm dumbbell row:
- Rest your right knee on a bench and bend forward from the waist until your body is parallel with the floor.
- Place the palm of your right hand on the bench to stabilize yourself (don’t lock out your elbow).
- Grab a weight in the opposite hand, palm facing in.
- Keeping your back flat, contract your back muscles, exhale, and draw the weight up towards your armpit (sort of like you are starting a lawn mower) keeping the arm close to your side.
- Hold for one count in the top position squeezing your back muscles.
- Inhale and slowly lower to the start position.
- Repeat the movement to complete 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions switching sides after you complete each set.
TRAPS (or trapezius):
One major action of the trapezius muscle is simply to lift the entire shoulder girdle, which means “shrugging” the shoulders upward. Doing a shrug exercise involves holding a pair of kettlebells, dumbbells, a barbell or the handles of a particular machine. I like to perform shrugs with kettlebells because they require each side of my body to pull its own weight, reducing the likelihood of muscle imbalances.
- Hold a kettlebell in each hand while standing upright.
- Raise your shoulders up toward your ears as far as you can without bending your arms at the elbow.
- Pause briefly at the top of your range of motion, then reverse it.
- Repeat to failure for 3 sets.
Note: While performing shrugs make sure you keep your head steady and look straight forward. Do not turn your head at any point during your set as this can easily injury your neck.
LOWER BACK (or erector spinae):
Bench back extensions:
The lower back must be one of the most underestimated muscle which is also why lower back injuries are so common. Even though the lower back is not half as appealing as it’s antagonist abdominals, it is very important that one hits the right balance between abdominal and lower back strength. An imbalance between these 2 muscle groups will most certainly lead to lower back injuries. I cater for this by finishing off my gym sessions with either abs or lower back, alternating between the two every other day.
- Lie face down on a hyperextension bench, tucking your ankles securely under the footpads.
- Adjust the upper pad if possible so your upper thighs lie flat across the wide pad, leaving enough room for you to bend at the waist without any restriction.
- With your body straight, cross your arms in front of you (my preference) or behind your head. This will be your starting position. You can also hold a weight plate for extra resistance in front of you under your crossed arms.
- Start bending forward slowly at the waist as far as you can while keeping your back flat. Inhale as you perform this movement. Keep moving forward until you feel a nice stretch on the hamstrings and you can no longer keep going without a rounding of the back. Never round the back as you perform this exercise.
- Slowly raise your torso back to the initial position as you inhale. Make sure you do not arch your back past a straight line. Also, do not swing the torso at any time in order to protect the back from injury.
- Repeat for 15 to 20 repetitions until you feel the burn in your lower back.
Swiss ball back extensions:
This is a great exercise to primarily work the lower back also engaging your glutes and hamstrings in the process.
- Lying face down on a swiss ball with your toes anchored against a wall, place your hands behind your head.
- In a slow and controlled manner bend forward from your hips over the swiss ball lowering your upper body towards the floor as you inhale.
- Engage your lower back and glutes and exhale as you reverse the motion to come up.
- Pause for one count at the top squeezing your glutes and back.
- Repeat the movement to complete 3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.
Note: Want to crank it up a notch? Grab a weight and hold it close to you at chest level for added resistance.
To fitness with love,