Lots of people don’t put as much effort into their back as they should, and they suffer because of a terrible back day workout regimen. Everything starts with the back.
Some people like to combine their back workouts with other muscle groups, like arms. While this isn’t ‘bad,’ having a separate day for each muscle group is a much better approach. Breaking up when you work different muscles gives each group the focus and intensity they need to grow.
Other people favor carving out ‘vanity’ muscles over training one of their biggest, most important muscle groups. To them, pectorals, biceps and abs are all they need to workout. Those people are wrong.
The back can be just as much of a vanity muscle as the rest. A V-tapered back is a magnificent thing. Having a strong, wide back can create an illusion of being much bigger than you really are. Truly great backs can even somewhat be seen from the front, whereas the chest cannot be seen from the back.
Besides the aesthetic, back provide incredibly useful benefits the other groups cannot.
Luckily, there is a good sized group that knows the benefits that a strong, healthy back can provide, so they set aside time each week to train it. They understand that a proper back day workout, performed consistently, can help in nearly every part of life.
Why is your back important?
Ask a chiropractor what a strong back can do for you. Proper muscle tone throughout your back can help to ease a lot of the aches and pains that we experience from time to time. Low back pain, thoracic pain, even some neck pain can be relieved by properly strengthening your back muscles, stretching them regularly, and overall taking good care of them.
Some women, for example, tend to experience back pain from the excess weight in their chests. This is because the back has to support that extra weight. A weak back tends to have more aches and pains due to the effect that extra chest weight has on posture. When the lower back muscles are strengthened, they have are less likely to become tired or strained, leading to less back pain.
How is it built?
Your back consists of one of the largest compound muscle groups in your body. Due to its size, it has a major role in how well you perform certain functions. Back muscles are responsible for pulling things inward or pulling ourselves upwards. We use them when we hug, do pullups, bring things close to us, or pull ourselves towards other things and people. Think about all the actions you do daily that fall into those categories. No wonder your back can seriously ruin your day over an otherwise minor pain.
While the back is a major “pull” group, it is also responsible for proper posture, balancing out the force from our chest and abdominal muscles, and overall stability. The back is tremendously important to us, and in order to properly conduct a back day workout, we need to understand its makeup.
Erector Spinae doesn’t refer to just a single muscle, but rather a collection of several muscles that follow along the spine on both sides. This group helps to stabilize and rotate your spine.
Latissimus Dorsi (“Lats”)
Your “Lats” exist midline on the back, near the sides and extend upwards towards the shoulder blades. These are the ‘wings’ that help make for a wide back. When paired with wide shoulders, these are what make an impressive back. Lats assist with the body’s ability to pull something towards you or push something away.
The trapezius makes up the bulk of your upper back. It spans from the neck downwards and across to the ends of the shoulder blades, and helps support neck and shoulder movements.
Rhomboids are muscles that connect your shoulder blades to your spine. They help to move your shoulders backwards, and create force when pulling.
When should you train it?
Since your back is a major muscle group, it should have a dedicated session at least once a week. Training it the day before or after your chest will help you to keep their progress even, but it isn’t necessary to do so.
You do not want to over train, however, so make sure that you don’t do a dedicated back day workout more than twice a week, and never stack those workouts back to back. This is especially important as a beginner, if your body isn’t used to heavy stress on its muscles. Putting two heavy days of any muscle group back-to-back could cause some injuries.
Back Day Warmups
As with any workout, warming up is just as important as the exercises themselves.
Begin with some moderate cardio to get your heart pumping and blood flowing. Take 5-10 minutes to slowly bring up your heart rate and warm up your muscles.
After you have sufficiently warmed up, take another 5 minutes or so to do some dynamic stretches. These types of movements will help loosen up your muscles, get the blood flowing, and really prime your muscles for what you are about to have them do.
Aim for specific stretches that target the muscles you are about to work. Try these:
Sit on the floor, pull your knees in, and grab your shins with your hands. Really compact yourself into a ball. As you pull your knees in close, you should start to feel a slight tug at your back muscles. Release your shins and stretch out. Repeat 10 times.
If you want to make it fun, rock back and forth, from head to butt 5-10 times. This will stretch your muscles, and warm them up a bit more.
Stand with your feet facing forward, arms by your sides, and your palms facing out. Raise them straight out and up, until they are above your head. Lower them back down. Repeat 10 times, and speed up slightly each time.
The classic yoga pose. This one helps loosen up tight traps. Kneel down onto the ground and lean forward until your arms are directly in front of you. Round your back, and breath.
Back Day Workout
Once your body is warmed up and your muscles are loose and ready to go, you’re ready to start your workout. The back is responsible for pulling in one form or another, so you will need to do a lot of row type exercises.
Start with the heavier, compound movements before changing into more isolation type exercises, as usual.
Make sure that you are breathing properly (exhaling while exerting). Pullups, for example, would see breathing in at the bottom of the exercise while you are hanging and exhaling while you pull yourself upwards.
Use a good tempo during these exercises, so you keep the stress on your muscles as long as possible without overdoing it. A 3-4 second exertion is a good goal to have.
Pull ups: 4 sets of 10
Everyone knows how to do a pull up, but not everyone CAN do a pull up. They are, however, great for your back and a back day workout isn’t complete without them.
Strict pull ups are the most well known variety, but you can use bands or stands to help you out a bit if you can’t knock out a few one your own power at first.
Grab the pull up bar with your palms facing out, and hang from it. Slowly pull yourself up until your chin hits the bar, and then slowly return to the starting position.
Pro-Tip: The wider your grip, the more difficult the pull up will be.
Bent Over Rows: 3-5 sets of 8-12
Bent over rows are a fantastic exercise to build back mass and thickness. First, find a barbell and load it with however much weight you are comfortable lifting. Pick it off the rack, let your arms hang, and bend forward, keeping your back straight. Slowly, lift the barbell up to your chest, and then lowering it back down to the starting position.
Single Arm Rows / Bench Rows: 4 sets of 10-12
Grab a dumbbell that you can comfortably (not easily) lift with one arm. Position yourself over a bench with one hand holding onto it for stability while you bend forward, keeping your back straight. With the dumbbell hanging freely in your other hand, pull your arm backwards and contract your back. Once your elbows reach become parallel with your back, reverse direction and lower back to the starting position.
Cable Pull: 3 sets of 10-12
Cable rows have the same concept as single arm rows or bent over rows. The main difference is that, instead of bending forward, you sit on the cable machine bench upright with a straight back. Grasp the row handles and pull them directly backwards, until the handle nearly reaches your lower chest.
Lateral Pull Down: 3-4 sets of 10-12
At a cable machine, choose a weight that is decently heavy, but doable for you. Grasp the handles that are dangling above, pull them with you and hold them as you sit on the chair.
Your starting position is seated in the chair with your arms extended above your head, grasping the handles. Pull down the handles, keeping them in front of your body (not behind your neck), until the bar is below your chin. Slowly bring the bar back up to the starting position.
As with any workout, when you are done, stretch. Take about 5-10 minutes and really loosen up the areas you worked.
A good cool down that aims to bring you down from high levels of activity slowly will go miles in helping you recover quicker, while keeping your joints and muscles healthy for years to come.
Not including stretches can age your joints and exponentially increase your chances of injury.
Additionally, stretching when your muscles are still warm helps increase flexibility, which in turn helps you work out better next time.
Your Back Will Take Care of You
A strong back makes for a strong body. It is the central force from where your body moves, and needs to be respected. People who find themselves with regular backaches, bad posture, and even a lack of confidence can go miles towards fixing those things just by throwing a few good back day workouts in place, consistently.
Warm it up, work it out, and cool it down at least once a week. Nearly every action you take in life will get easier.
Build it up. Show it off. Let your back do the work for you.
Your back is the centerpiece of your body and its strength dictates how strong the rest of your body is. Let the world see how well you take care of yourself!