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When we look in the mirror, we rarely see our backs, but they are the unsung heroes of our bodies, keeping us upright and able to do complex functional movements. The back makes up your core along with muscles like your abs and glutes, so a strong back supports overall mobility, improves posture, and even supports breathing. You can build back muscle at home or at the gym with a combination of bodyweight exercises and strength training.

Anatomy of the back

The back muscles broadly fall into two groups: extrinsic and intrinsic or deep muscles which support the spine. The former includes four muscles you need to know about.

Latissimus dorsi, or the 'lats' as they're known, are broad muscles that span the lower back and reach the upper arm. They internally rotate, extend, and adduct the arms, so they play a role in lifting and bringing the arms to the body's midline.

The trapezius or 'traps' are also quite broad and reach the neck and shoulders. They rotate the head, twist the torso, and move the shoulder blades. The rhomboids lie under the traps and connect the shoulder blade to the spine, and the levator scapulae are neck muscles that rotate the shoulder blades.

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Benefits of strengthening the back

There are numerous benefits to strengthening the back muscles, from improved posture and performance in various sports and daily activities such as lifting grocery bags to a reduced risk of injury after bending or twisting movements, for example.

The back forms part of your core muscles, and sedentary modern lifestyles can result in a weak core. Whether you have a job that places you in front of a laptop for hours or you want to get better at swimming, running, climbing, or many other physical activities, back exercises will stand you in good stead.

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Core exercises for a strong back

Extensions, rows, and pull-ups are excellent exercises to work your core and form the cornerstone of a back-strengthening regimen. Beginners can start with the basic back extension, which requires zero equipment.

Lie on a mat on your tummy with your legs straight behind you. Straighten your arms out in front of you, keeping your head and neck neutral, raise your upper body and hold for a second before lowering back to the floor.

Engage your abs while completing the motion, and try and do between 8 to 15 reps when you first start training.

Best Back Exercises to Build Muscle and Prevent Injury

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Exercises to target the upper back

Movements like the reverse fly and face pull strengthen the upper back and improve shoulder health. Here's how to do a reverse fly.

You'll need a pair of light dumbbells of about 5 pounds each. Hold one weight in each hand and get into position by hinging your hips forward until your torso makes a 45-degree angle with the floor. Bend your elbows a little. Your palms should be facing each other. Look at the floor and keep your neck neutral before lifting your arms up and to the sides, squeezing your shoulder blades at the top, and then returning to the starting position.

Do between 8 to 12 reps. If you've got lower back pain, exercise caution with this one.

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Middle back exercises

T bar rows and seated rows focus on the rhomboids, lats, and middle trapezius muscles. You don't have to have expensive gym equipment to do seated rows—you can do them at home with a resistance band.

 

Sit on a yoga mat, extend both legs in front of you, and flex your feet upward. Place the band around the bottom of your feet and grab one end of the band in each hand. Fix your posture so you're sitting as upright as possible, and your chest pushes out a little. Now, pull the ends of the band towards your armpits, keeping your elbows close to the sides of your body, before returning to the starting position.

Do between 8 to 12 reps.

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Lower back safeguards

Dumbbell deadlifts are better for your back than standard deadlifts and strengthen the lumbar region and other muscles in your posterior chain, protecting it from injury. Here's how to do this functional exercise.

Grab a heavy dumbbell (between 5 and 20 pounds) in each hand with an overhand grip and stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees slightly, lowering the weights to your shins and pushing your bum behind you before returning to the starting position and squeezing your glutes. Try not to round your back.

Do between 8 and 12 reps slowly in a controlled manner.

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Bodyweight exercises for flexibility and strength

The plank is one of the best bodyweight core and back exercises to add to your fitness routines. Lie on your stomach on a yoga mat before rising onto your forearms and toes, keeping your back and legs straight, and gazing at the floor. Hold for sixty seconds, and you'll feel the burn in your abs.

You can modify the plank if you're new to the exercise and find it too demanding. The knees provide additional support, and you need only hold the position for three breaths.

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Using equipment effectively

If you're keen to move away from home workouts and resistance bands, get a professional at the gym to show you how to use the various pieces of equipment correctly for your needs. The lat pull-down is one of the most popular machines at a well-stocked gym because it can help with getting a coveted V-shaped back. Good form ensures you benefit from the exercise rather than put yourself in harm's way. Try not to lean back as you pull down, and keep your back straight.

Struggling to maintain good form? Lower the weight and see if that aids your cause.

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Routine integration

In strength training and muscle building, the consensus is that the bigger the muscle, the longer you must wait before working it again. While you let one set of muscles recover, you can focus on strength training another part of your body, do cardio, or rest. Muscles such as the lats and traps are large, so doing intense back workouts daily is not advisable.

Research shows that if you use the appropriate weight just one set consisting of 15 reps of a particular exercise can be effective, but you can choose to do up to three sets with a minute's rest in between.

On your at-home 'back day,' do at least a 20-minute routine and utilize a mix of back extensions, supermans, planks, seated rows with a resistance band, reverse flys, and deadlifts with dumbbells. Switch things up to use the muscles in different, beneficial ways and keep your workouts interesting.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.