The back never stops working: a strong back is not only one of the best-looking things about the human physique, but also means huge strength overall and reduced chance of a number of annoying injuries and illnesses. The back is key to posture and strength throughout the back can keep you healthier and more active for longer, with a reduced chance of hunching or other postural issues as you age.
The back can be generally divided into upper and lower for strengthening purposes. The lower back includes the glutes and spinal erectors, whilst the upper back includes muscles like the rhomboids and lats. In terms of movements, the lower back hinges and the upper back pulls.
Lower back strength
Any discussion about building strength has to begin with multi-joint compound exercises. These are the big exercises that use many joints and muscles, and they’re key to strength because they allow you to move the most weight. The technique is absolutely crucial for multi-joint compound movements, with the Deadlift being the most common strengthening movement, but also being performed incorrectly very often. Variations like the stiff-legged and Romanian deadlifts also contribute to lower-back strength.
Lower-back strength is also developed through lighter exercises that intentionally increase the difficulty and keep weight low. Good mornings (seated or standing) are fantastic for hinging, whilst back extensions and “death marches” provide a great way to train different movements.
The upper back
The upper back is primarily used to bring weight or objects towards the body, like in a row. The upper back “pulls” and the shoulders are intimately linked to this movement. Strengthening the upper back starts with rows – whether you want to use a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell or machine, it is important to start with rowing movements. Once you have sufficient strength, chin ups and pull ups are some of the best exercises to develop well-rounded upper body strength.
‘Smaller’ exercises such as single-arm movements, external rotation of the shoulder or other isolation exercises. The upper back is very prone to injury and can interfere with the health of the shoulder blades, so be sure to use proper technique and focus on the upper back at least as much as the opposing muscles of the chest and shoulders.
General exercise principles
As with any other area of the body, it is important to focus on strengthening the back in a variety of ways. Whilst deadlifts and rows strengthen the back, they do not cover all the optimal movements. Exercises should cover rotation (such as landmine rotations), asymmetrical/unilateral movements (such as a single-arm row or single-leg deadlifts) and lateral movements (such as woodcutters). This will balance the strengths of the joints and improve the carryover from training to everyday life.
Supplements & Diet
Strengthing your back is just like any other high-intensity workout that uses a lot of energy. It’s important that you give your body the right nutritionist it needs to strength and repair itself before and after a workout. Eating a healthy balanced diet and taking the correct supplements will not only give you the energy to workout in the first place but help increase your performance, while also provide nutrients for your muscles grow.
Back strength is a key part of life because it is involved with all movement – protecting the back by strengthening it will protect the discs and improve movement quality and health, improving your chances of healthier ageing and a happier, longer life.
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