Most people have the same needs when it comes to strengthening back muscles. These muscles are typically weak compared to the muscles on the front side of our upper body. This is caused by daily activities that involve a hunched forward position (classic computer posture and almost any seated posture). In addition to consistent poor posture, most of us rarely do a considerable amount of pulling on a regular basis. This calls for the need to implement a back intensive program to your normal workout.
The commonly weak back muscles include the rhomboids, as well as the middle and lower trapezius. In general these muscles are responsible for keeping your shoulders back, down, and/or shoulder blades in proper position. This workout is focused around these muscles to help you become more proportional, symmetric, and have a confident posture.
Exercises and Rationale
Pullups are one of the best exercises because they are very demanding and make for a great general upper body exercise. The latissimus dorsi or “lats“ is the main muscle being worked here. Having strong lats is important, but many people tend to be tight in this muscle. One exercise targeting the lats is enough for most people to keep them strong, while not over working them to where they can become tight. Be sure to stretch your lats as most people are unaware how overly tight they are in this muscle.
Single Arm Dumbbell Rows are a great exercise for the rhomboids, as well as middle and lower traps. There is a tremendous amount of recruitment of these muscles when compared to any other back exercise. It is typically deemed a heavier exercise and it takes a considerable amount of core musculature recruitment to control the movement.
TRX Rear Delt Rows
I am not a TRX trainer, but I often include TRX rows in my client’s programs as it is an easily executed yet physically demanding exercise. As with most body weight exercises, it requires all the major muscle groups to be utilized. This version is a rear delt row with the elbows out and a pronated grip.
T’s and Y’s for middle and lower traps
Almost everyone is relatively weak in these muscles and for most people there is a need to work them in isolation in order to restore activation and control. In a sense, T’s and Y’s are used to “wake up” the muscles and can be performed in many ways. Form is crucial in these exercises especially for the Y’s. If done incorrectly they can do more harm than good. Keep them light and focus on feeling contracting the correct muscles
Doing all these exercises in one day is a great workout for the intermediate lifter. For beginners doing a wholebody or upper/lower body split, some these exercises can be done on separate days.
Can also add:
I don't always have clients do shoulder shrugs mainly because they often have over active or overdeveloped upper traps and levator scapulae muscles. This doesn't make it a bad exercise, but be aware of how often and intense you perform shrugs. For those looking to build their upper traps, shrugs are a must do exercise.
External Rotator Cuff Exercises
Since this program addresses posture, it would be a good idea to add in external rotator cuff exercises. Commonly weak in most people, these exercises can and many times should be done multiple times a week. The dumbbell version is a great place to start. Keep a folded up towel between your elbow and side as it makes muscle strain less likely. Focus on only doing a rotation motion without any elbow extension, or supination.
Get to it and have a great back workout!
References: 1)Arlotta M, Lovasco G, McLean L. Selective recruitment of the lower fibers of the trapezius muscle. 2011 Jun;21(3):403-10.
2)Ekstrom RA, Donatelli RA, Soderberg GL. Surface electromyographic analysis of exercises for the trapezius and serratus anterior muscles. 2003 May;33(5):247-58.
3)Andersen CH, Zebis MK, Saervoll C, Sundstrup E, Jakobsen MD, Sjøgaard G, Andersen LL. Scapular muscle activity from selected strengthening exercises performed at low and high intensities. 2012 Sep;26(9):2408-16.
4)Gregory J Lehman,corresponding author1 Day Deans Buchan,2 Angela Lundy,2 Nicole Myers,2 and Andrea Nalborczyk2. Variations in muscle activation levels during traditional latissimus dorsi weight training exercises: An experimental study. Published online 2004 June 30.
744 San Antonio Rd. Suite 2, Palo Alto, CA 94303: Breakthrough Personal Training. Expert and professional personal trainer specializing in fat loss, injury prevention, and strength. Back workout, pullups, DB rows, TRX rows, Y's and T's, muscle gain.
Jerry Yuhara, CPT, CSCS, CMT #75123
299 California Ave, Suite 120
Palo Alto, CA 94306
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