Considering how big your back muscles are and how much they improve your looks and fix posture, there isn’t much of a conversation about them anywhere. Everyone is obsessed with how to get a six pack, how to get bigger pecs and what are the best bicep exercises.
As much as these are important topics and not to be forgotten about, there are plenty of other muscles on your body that need attention. It’s not like training the back is as obscure of a topic as how to get bigger calves or what is the best way to get bigger shoulders.
Probably the reason why no one really talks about back muscles is that – well – they are on your back so you can’t see them when you look into the mirror. This is only partially true, and also, if you trained your back properly, you will see more benefits than just your torso taking up a shape of a V.
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The best back workout can give you a more more muscular back, strengthening the rhomboids, trapezius, and the rest of these more obscure but vital muscles. A stronger back can help you improve your posture as well as ease lower back pain – although if you have lower back pain issues, please consult your GP before you start lifting fully-loaded barbells, and start light.
There aren’t many more satisfying things in the world when you do three sets of eight reps of deadlifts with one and a half times your bodyweight. When you drop (I mean, gently lower) the bar down on the rubberised floor at the end, overrun with adrenaline and serotonin, you just want to lay down and enjoy the sense of achievement.
Doing deadlifts are just one of the top 5 excises we recommend for you today to achieve a more toned back, one that won’t bother you all day long with petty pains and will also support your spine.
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The best back workout exercises
We can’t praise deadlifts enough. There are literally people out there in the gyms doing just this one exercise, called powerlifters. It should be on the top of your priority list of exercises to master.
Deadlifts activate almost all your muscles in your body, from your calves all the way up to your traps. It works the biggest muscles the most, your thighs, glutes and lats, as well as your arms are activated almost all the way through the positive and negative motion.
Form is very important performing deadlifts. You want to bend the hips the least amount while lifting. Keep your back is straight all the way through the motion.
Starting position is barbell on the floor, legs bent and shoulder-width, arms in alternate grip position (one hand under and one over), shoulders open. First, push with your legs and glutes, then when your legs are straight, lift your shoulders and stand up all the way.
The negative movement mirrors the positive, but the other way around. Make sure you concentrate on muscle activation all the way through.
If you are unsure about the form, get some help, either go to a local gym, or ask a personal trainer.
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2. Lat pulldown
Either performed using wide or narrow grip, lat pulldowns are an excellent way to work your lats. You will need a cable machine to do these, either at the gym or if you have the currency, you can also invest in a home gym too.
Set the weight, grab the handle and sit down on the bench, tucking your knees under the support pads. Bend slightly backwards so you are looking at the ceiling in an angle. Pull the bar towards your chest, not behind your neck.
You will see people advising alternating between the two methods but pulling the bar behind your neck will only result you spraining your shoulders.
Lat pulldowns work best if you do the whole motion slowly. Approaching weight training from a ‘slow and steady wins the race’ point of view is probably the best idea. You might be working your muscles with smaller weights, but you activate them for much longer than if you’d just jerk the bar up and down. Performing exercises slowly makes the training more effective.
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3. Pull ups
Bodyweight pull ups are the next step up from lat pulldowns. One of the exercises you won’t be able to perform for a while, it’s still a good idea to try and practice them as much as possible.
If you are frequenting the gym, you can use a pull up assist machine first. Same thing as doing a regular pull up, but you do it kneeling on a weighted pad.
If you really want concentrate on your lats, use a wide overhand grip. Chin ups use your arms muscles more (they are excellent nevertheless). Pull ups are a great way to achieve a ‘V-shape’ soon.
If you are exercising at home, get one a pull up bar and start doing pull ups your legs resting on a chair. Please, please, make sure the bar is fitted properly and that it can support your bodyweight before you start hanging off it.
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4. Bent over barbell row/one-arm dumbbell row
Bent over rows have been mentioned on our full body workout list, too, because they are one of the essential exercises you can perform in the gym and at home too. All you need is a barbell or a dumbbell (or dumbbells).
Bent over barbell row is performed stood up, knees bent slowly, holding the barbell with an underhand grip. Pull the barbell towards your belly (and not chest) in a rowing motion.
An alternative version is the one-armed dumbbell row. Rest one of your legs and one arm on the bench, holding the dumbbell with a hammer grip in the other, free-hanging hand. Pull the dumbbell towards your belly (again, not chest!) and then lower it back down. Once the set is done, do the same with the other arm.
Concentrate on muscle activation as you perform the row.
5. Kettlebell swing
Kettlebells are the perfect equipment for cardio fuelled session in the gym (or home). Originated from Russia, kettlebells became a gym staple in the last 10-15 years and are used for a variety of exercises, like the farmers’ walk or the kettlebell swing.
Kettlebell swing is performed with holding the kettlebell between your legs with both hands, legs in wide stance, slightly bent. Swing the kettlebell up so your arms point forward, then let them fall between your legs, then back up again.
It’s easy to underestimate the kinetic force of the bells and just let them swing back too much. Pay attention and activate your muscles all the way through the motion.
The kettlebell swing works your lower back quite significantly so make sure you do your warm ups before you jump in doing full-blown sets. Kettlebells can be bought in a variety of sizes and they are also available in gyms so pick a smaller one and do your warm up rounds first, please.
The rep range is higher with this exercise, you can do 15-20 reps in each set (aim at 3-4 sets).
Don’t forget your protein
In order to gain lean muscle mass, you will need to pay attention to what you eat. The saying ‘you are what you eat’ is in fact very true, your body can only use the food you ingest to build muscles. If you keep feeding it burgers and pizza, don’t expect fast results (or much results at all).
You won’t need a wide variety of supplements either to help your body grow. Apart from keeping yourself to a healthy diet, eating mainly ‘good carbs’ such as quinoa, buckwheat or oats and ‘good fats’ like those found in avocados, fish and nuts, you will only need protein powder and creatine monohydrate.
The former contains a high percentage of the essential amino acids required for muscle repair and therefore muscle gain, whilst the latter helps improving your performance.
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Always warm up!
Your back muscles are HUGE, the lats, for example, are the biggest muscles in your upper body. They will need some warming up before you can use them to their full potential. There is no need rushing into an injury because you couldn’t be bothered to do 5 minutes of warm up.
Do some cardio and basic stretches, followed by a set or two with smaller weights to properly warm your muscles up. You have been warned.
Important: if you are new to weight lifting, start with a smaller weights you can easily manage and work your way up slowly over a period of days, weeks and/or months.
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