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5 Moves That Target Your Back Muscles

May 14 2021
7 min read
man's back up close as he stands in a black shirt with hands on hips taking a break after working out to look out over bridge

Your back is an often-neglected workhorse...

...tasked with absorbing the physical stress of everyday movements – bending, lifting, sitting at your desk, and other common maneuvers that can eventually cause pain.

That’s why keeping your back in mind when crafting your workout is essential to your health and well-being.

While this means incorporating exercises that focus on the muscles that support your back, it also means working in some moves that specifically zero in on building strength in the back muscles themselves.

These five back-strengthening exercises only require some simple equipment. Consider your strength level when doing each one: adjust the number of reps you perform and amount of weight you lift according to how well you’re able to execute each move. Pushing yourself won’t give you optimal results if you’re struggling to maintain correct form. Increase your repetitions (reps) and weight as you grow stronger.

Lat Pulldown

What it Does: Broadens and strengthens your middle back

Equipment Needed: Resistance bands and a door anchor to secure the band properly

How to Do It: From either a seated or standing position, grasp the handles of the resistance bands with your palms facing forward and your hands wider than shoulder-width. If you’re standing, split your stance with feet shoulder-width apart; if you’re sitting, lean backward slightly in your chair. Straighten your elbows and pull your shoulder blades down.

Begin with an inhale and then gently exhale as you pull the handles down to your upper chest, with your elbows gliding down toward your sides. Inhale as you slowly straighten your elbows and return to your starting position. Repeat for 10 reps.

Be Careful Not to: shrug your shoulders, which can put a strain on your neck. Keep your shoulder blades pulled back and your shoulders low to avoid pain later on.

Standing Barbell Shrug

What it Does: Works the back muscles that support your shoulder blades and arms

Equipment Needed: Barbell

How to Do It: With your barbell on the floor in front of you, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and your toes pointed forward or slightly outward. Squat down to firmly grasp the bar with your hands just outside of your knees, the palm of one hand facing you and the palm of the other hand facing away from you. Before you lift the bar, keep your back in a flat position, your chest lifted and your heels on the floor.

Straighten your hips and knees at the same time to come to a standing position, keeping the bar close to your body. Now standing, rest the bar against the front of your thighs. Make sure your elbows are straight and shoulders are down.

Inhale and then exhale as you slowly shrug your shoulders upward, keeping your elbows straight. Try to avoid rotating your shoulders. Inhale again and lower the barbell back to the front of your thighs in a slow and controlled motion. Repeat for 10 reps.

When your set is complete, carefully lower the barbell back to the floor, keeping in mind that your knees shouldn’t go too far past the toes. Your back remains flat as you set the bar down.

Be Careful Not to: arch the lower back during the shrug, which will put weight on your spine. Instead, squeeze your abdominal muscles (abs) and glutes (buttocks) to keep your body aligned.

Kneeling Reverse Fly

What it Does: Targets your upper and middle back, as well as your core muscles – essential for back strength

Equipment Needed: Resistance bands and a door anchor to secure the band properly

How to Do It: Kneel on a mat, facing the door where your resistance bands are attached. Hold the handles in each hand with your palms facing each other and your arms straight in front of your body. Your elbows should remain straight throughout the exercise.

Inhale, and then as you exhale, slowly pull your arms back and down to your hips, creating a wide arc, rotating your arms so that your palms face upward. Inhale and slowly return your arms back to the start position, keeping your elbows straight. Repeat for 10 reps.

Be Careful Not to: let your lower back arch, which will decrease the effectiveness of this move and could lead to injury. Try performing this exercise alongside a mirror to watch your positioning.

Stability Ball Reverse Extensions

What it Does: Strengthens the lower back to support good posture and help move your spine

Equipment Needed: Stability ball

How to Do It: Start with the ball under your torso and your hands and feet on the floor. Straighten your legs, keeping your toes on the ground and your heels stretched toward the back of the room. Your hands should be under your shoulders. Take a few deep breaths. Before you begin the exercise, be mindful of your abs: as you inhale and exhale, try to keep them pulled away from the ball.

Inhale and slowly walk yourself forward until your hips lie directly over the top of the ball. Exhale and, with your feet and legs pressed together, lift your legs off the floor until they are in line with your torso.

Inhale again as you slowly lower both legs back to the floor, keeping your knees straight throughout the movement. Repeat for 10 reps.

Be Careful Not to: bring your legs above your torso. This will arch your lower back and won’t allow you to fully benefit from the exercise.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

What it Does: Tones your upper and middle back, helping you extend and rotate your upper arms

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells, bench

How to Do It: Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, bend over to place your left knee and left hand on the bench; keep your left hand beneath your shoulder and your knees under your hips. With a dumbbell in your right hand, extend your right arm toward the floor, keeping your back straight and your head in line with your spine.
Inhale. As you exhale, pull the dumbbell up to your side, keeping your arm close to your body. Avoid turning your torso.

Inhale and gently lower the dumbbell to your starting position. Repeat for 10 reps and then switch sides.

Be Careful Not to: lose proper form by rotating your torso. Also, do not let your shoulders droop: maintaining a flat, square back during the exercise can prevent injury.