Building your back muscles can be a tricky endeavor. You can't see them without the help of a mirror and they're nearly impossible to target without the use of weights. But having strong back muscles is essential for not only looking great from behind but to facilitate everyday movements, too.
One of Hollywood's top trainer, Gunnar Peterson says your back muscles are an integral part of your posterior chain (the backside of your body). Peterson, who's personal training roster includes Jennifer Lopez, Kendall Jenner, Kate Beckinsale and the Los Angeles Lakers, tells LIVESTRONG that you need to balance all the pushing you do in training and life with some pulling.
From a performance standpoint, if one link is weaker than another, you're courting injury, he says. His advice? "Strike the balance in training by shoring up your weak links and watch your performance improve."
Tips to Keep Your Back Safe While Lifting Weights
Back injuries are common — just look at the search results for back pain. And an important part of preventing back injury is to strengthen that area. But you don't want your back workout to end up causing the very injuries you're trying to prevent, so follow these safety tips from Peterson.
- Focus on keeping your core engaged/braced as you lift increasingly heavier weights. Don't allow your lower back to arch.
- To begin with, use a lighter weight and move at a slower pace. It's not a speed competition here, and perfecting your form before adding weight is vital.
- Work to increase weight and pace as you perfect your technique.
The Best Back Workout You're Not Doing... Yet
Peterson's go-to back workout consists of two-exercise supersets for two rounds each. He says to perform this workout two times a week for two weeks and work up from there.
Here's the breakdown:
- 2 movements
- 2 sets each
- 2 times a week
- 2 weeks
Bonus: You can add a lower back movement (erector muscles) at the end of each superset. Choose from a good morning, Superman, opposite arm/leg Superman or back hyperextension. Perform eight to 10 reps of each of these exercises before moving onto the next superset.
1a. Lat Pulldowns
HOW TO DO IT: Sit facing a lat pulldown machine. Grab the long bar with a pronated (palms face away from your body) grip, wider than shoulder-width apart. Lean your torso slightly backward, keeping your core engaged. Pull down on the bar until it lightly touches your upper chest. Pause. Guide the bar slowly to the starting position. Perform 10 to 12 reps.
1b. Seated Rows
HOW TO DO IT: Sit down at a seated row machine and place your feet on the foot support. Bend your knees and hips and reach forward to grab the handles with a neutral grip. Pull the handles back toward your abdomen. Continue pulling the handles until your forearms or wrists press against your torso (or until the handles touch the abdomen). Pause. Guide the handles slowly to the starting position. Perform 10 to 12 reps.
Repeat superset #1.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand under the pull-up bar and grab the bar using a pronated grip (palms face out). While gripping the bar, lift your body off the floor. Pull yourself to the top of the bar (chin level with the bar). Pause, and then lower your body back down. Modify the movement by using an assisted pull-up machine. Perform 10 to 12 reps.
2b. TRX Horizontal Rows
HOW TO DO IT: Secure the TRX straps. While standing, start with the TRX handles at the side of your chest. Lean back and slowly lower your body, keeping your back flat. Pause. Pull your body back up toward the handles of the TRX. Perform 10 to 12 reps.
Repeat superset #2.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand under the chin-up bar and grab the bar using a supinated grip (palms face you). While gripping the bar, lift your body off the floor. Pull yourself to the top of the bar (chin level with the bar). Pause, and then lower your body back down. Modify the movement by using an assisted pull-up machine. Do this exercise for max reps — as many as you can with good form.
3b. One-Arm Dumbbell Row
HOW TO DO IT: Stand on the side of a weight bench, feet shoulder-width apart, with a dumbbell on the floor. Reach down with one hand and grab the dumbbell with a neutral grip. Place the other hand on the bench for stability. Bend forward at the hips so the torso is slightly above parallel to the floor with the dumbbell hanging down. Pull the dumbbell up toward your torso until it touches the side of your chest. Pause. Lower the dumbbell slowly. Perform 10 to 12 reps on each side.
Repeat superset #3.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand under the chin-up bar and grab the bar using a neutral/parallel grip (palms facing each other). While gripping the bar, lift your body off the floor. Pull yourself to the top of the bar (chin level with the bar). Pause, and then lower your body. Modify the movement with an assisted pull-up machine. Do this exercise for max reps — as many as you can with good form.
4b. Two-Arm Dumbbell Rows
HOW TO DO IT: Grab a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your knees slightly and bring the torso forward by bending at the waist. Keep your upper body still and lift the dumbbells to your side. Squeeze at the top and pause. Slowly lower the weights to the starting position. Perform 10 to 12 reps.