Your back muscles help stabilize your spine while you sit or stand upright and move the spine through extension, flexion, hyperextension, lateral flexion and rotation, according to Dr. Susan Hall, author of the textbook “Basic Biomechanics.” Some of them also move your arms and scapula bones through various ranges of motion. These muscles include the erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, or lats, rhomboids, trapezius, or traps, and many smaller muscles. You should work to strengthen these muscles through resistance exercise to improve function and reduce injury risk. You can perform numerous exercises to achieve these goals.
Back extensions strengthen the erector spinae and other muscles that assist with extending your spine. They can be performed on a flat bench or an apparatus specially designed for the exercise. Start by lying face down on the bench with your upper body hanging off either end. Have a partner secure your legs to the bench if necessary. Then extend your spine until your upper body is parallel to the floor and slowly lower it back down. Repeat for your desired number of repetitions, or reps.
Bent-over rows exercise the muscles on your upper back that draw your shoulders backward. You can use a barbell or dumbbells for the exercise. Stand upright, then bend forward until your upper body is nearly parallel to the ground and extend your arms below your chest. Repeatedly lift the weight to the bottom of your chest and slowly let it back down.
As their name suggests, lat pulldowns strengthen the lats that run down your back on either side of your spine. They are performed on a pulldown machine with an overhead bar attached to an adjustable weight stack with a cable through a pulley. Start by holding the bar much wider than shoulder width. Then pull the bar to your chest, slowly let it back up and repeat for as many reps as you want.
Seated rows exercise the lats, rhomboids and traps of your upper back and the muscles that extend your lower back. Like lat pulldowns, they are performed on a machine with a handlebar attached to a stack of weights with a cable through a pulley. Sit on the floor and lean forward to grasp the handlebar with both hands. Then extend your back to build momentum and immediately pull the handlebar to your belly. Finish the exercise by reversing back to the starting position. Repeat for your desired number of repetitions.
Upright rows emphasize the traps on your upper back. They are typically performed with a barbell, but you can also use dumbbells. Stand upright and hold the bar in front of your thighs with your palms facing your body. Then repeatedly flex your arms and lift your elbows to pull the bar upward under your chin and slowly let it back down.