Some women may be scared of working their back, but the truth is your back is what shapes your physique. It gives you that beautiful V-taper that makes your waist look smaller and helps to balance your upper body better with your legs and glutes. If you have a small chest, a wide back also helps to create an hourglass shape.
But a lot of women have a hard time training their back and seeing results. There are a few major reasons for this, one being you can't see your back when training it, and another that you may not know how to "fire" your back muscles properly. This article contains my five main rules to help you build a nicer, sexier back for that impressive physique that will make people's heads turn.
First, though, we need to understand the anatomy of the back and its complexity. The main parts of your back include the latissimus dorsi, teres major and minor, rhomboids, and trapezius. There is also erector spinae, which is your lower back and runs up your spine, your posterior delts (rear shoulder), and your infraspinatus, which are found near your shoulder blades.
You need to know what these do in order to get a better understanding of what you are training and why.
Latissimus dorsi, which means broadest muscle of the back.
Primary movements: arm extension, adduction, and inward rotation
Secondary movements: scapular depression and lower-spine lordosis
Exercises: lat pulldown, chin-ups/pull-ups, bent-over barbell, and dumbbell rows
Erector spinae, which runs from the lower fleshy part of the back to the upper lumbar region.
Function: spinal extension
Exercises: hyperextension, good mornings, deadlifts, bent-over rows (mostly isometric)
Trapezius, which has three functional regions: the superior region (descending part), which supports the weight of the arm; the intermediate region (transverse part), which retracts the scapulae; and the inferior region (ascending part), which depresses the scapulae.
Function: elevation of the scapula (or "shoulder blade"), adductions or retraction of the scapula, depression and upward rotation and stability of the scapula
Exercises: shoulders shrugs, upright rows, and most shoulder exercises that require the trapezius to act as stabilizers
To make your back workout more effective and efficient:
Rule #1: Make sure you are contracting the muscles you are working and physically feeling it. I find that the best thing to do is the following: after the first few reps, hold the weight in a contracted position and squeeze for a couple of seconds. For example, the contracted position in a lat pulldown is when the bar is at the chest. If you don't feel the muscles properly when doing this exercise, re-adjust and work on your form until you feel them working.
Rule #2: Work on your biceps and forearm strength. Often your biceps and forearms are not strong enough to withstand the weight you need to really fire your back muscles. The truth is your arms often fatigue before your back does, unless you're some kind of supernatural being. I find that using wrist straps can work as a good tool for this. I don't often use straps, but back day is when they come out. With straps your arms become levers and your back takes over to do the majority of the work, bringing that mean burn you're looking for in the right places.
Rule #3: Don't lift too heavy. Let's face it, we are bodybuilders at heart and we want to go as heavy as we can, but with your back that isn't always necessary. This is a big reason why people do not feel their back engaging on workouts, because they are simply trying to go too heavy and using other muscles rather than the ones targeted. Sometimes your ego can destroy the effectiveness of your training. If you are swinging or swaying your body as you're doing the exercise, then you are not getting an effective workout. You might not look as cool going lighter, but you will look better in the end, so always focus on your form!
Rule #4: Visualize your muscles working. You cannot see your own back when you are working out, so you simply have to use your imagination and envision your back working. Close your eyes if you have to and "see" the muscles you are using firing and contracting. Practice doing "lat spreads" at home and visualize the muscles that are moving and flexing; see yourself in your mind as if you were standing behind yourself. Once you have mastered this, go to the gym and use visualization in your next back workout. Your mind is a powerful tool -- use it!
Rule #5: Stretch your muscles. Stretching helps muscles grow and helps them react to the eccentric mechanical load. You can stretch the muscles being worked either during your reps or even between sets. For example, during you're your lat pulldown, when releasing the eccentric phase, let the weight stretch your lats for a count of one before continuing with the next rep or finishing the set.
Here is an example of one of my back days:
- Back extension with weight for 4 sets of 10 reps (erector spinae)
- Assisted chin-ups with a slow tempo for 4 sets of 10 reps (upper back)
- Lat pulldown for 4 sets of 10 (lats)
- Close-grip cable row for 4 sets of 10 reps (mid back)
- Shoulder shrugs for 5 sets of 10,10,10, 8, and 8 reps (traps)
- Stiff-legged deadlifts 4 sets of 10 reps (lower back and glute medius)
Happy back day everyone! Do it right and see results. A woman or man with a nice back is so beautiful!
SAF Elite Pro