Now, I don’t know about you ladies, but I’ve always wanted a smaller waist, and wanted to let you in on a little secret today…
Strengthening and shaping your back can actually help make your waist look smaller!
I mean, I get it ... our backs are not something we pay a whole lot of attention to. If anything, when I'm looking in the mirror, I'm paying more attention to my back end.
But focusing on your back muscles can really make a difference in how you look. On top of that, it can also help with your posture and how you move on a daily basis.
So let's talk about your back, why it's important, and 18 of the best exercises you can do for your back!
What Muscles Are In Your Back?
First things first, let’s start by talking some anatomy. Believe it or not, your back isn’t just one muscle ... you’ve got a total of 40 different muscles in your back!
Don't worry ... I'm not going to bore you with a full anatomy lesson. Today, we're just going to look at three of the "prime movers." When you focus on these muscles, the other muscles of your back tend to get stimulated as well.
Here are the major back muscles i'm talking about...
1. Latissimus Dorsi (Lat Muscles)
Also known as your "lats" ... the latissimus dorsi are large flat muscles that cover your middle to lower back. They also happen to be the widest muscles in your back!
A lot of people even call the lats "wings" because of their large, fan-shaped appearance.
2. The Trapezius
The trapezius is the triangular muscle that extends over your upper back. It is also broken into three subsets: the upper, middle, and lower traps. So, your traps are much bigger than you might think they are.
They literally span from your head to your tailbone.
3. The Rhomboids
These are the muscles that sit underneath your traps and connect your shoulder blade to your spine. So, your rhomboids are also considered part of your upper back.
Some other major muscles you'll find in your back include your rear deltoids, teres minor, teres major, and your erector spinae ... just to name a few. But as you can see, there are a lot of muscles in your back.
The good news is that you don't need to be an expert in anatomy to exercise them!
Why is it Important to Have a Strong Back?
Like I mentioned earlier, your back muscles aren't the first thing you think of, I know! But it is important to focus on them if you aren’t already.
There are a ton of benefits to training your back. Strengthening your back muscles can help:
• Improve posture
• Prevent and relieve back pain
• Improve spinal stability
• Increase mobility and balance
As you can see, maintaining a strong back is crucial ... especially as we age.
18 Upper and Lower Back Exercises
Below, you’ll find 18 great upper and lower back exercises that you can throw in during your next training session. All of these exercises are going to help work the many muscles of your back!
Bent Over Barbell Rows
Equipment: Barbell, Weight Plates
How to: Load a barbell with your desired weight and place it on the ground in front of you. Stand behind the barbell with your feet about hip-width apart. Hinge at your hips to lean forward and grab the bar. Make sure your back, neck, and spine are straight, with your shoulders rolled back.
Hold this position as you pull the barbell toward your belly button. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and bring your elbows straight behind your body.
Pause at the top, then slowly lower the barbell to the starting position and repeat for reps.
Close-Grip Seated Cable Rows
Equipment: Seated Cable Machine, V-Bar Handle
How to: Attach a V-bar handle attachment to a seated cable machine. Sit on the bench with your feet on either side of the bench and reach forward to grab the handle with both hands.
With the handle in your hands, sit up tall and straight. Pull the handle close to the middle of your body, directly below your chest. Make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades and pause.
Slowly return the handles to the starting position and repeat this movement for reps.
Cable Face Pulls
Equipment: Cable Machine, Double-Ended Rope
How to: Stand in front of a cable machine and adjust the height to be even with your eyes or slightly higher. Attach a rope and then grab either end with both hands (palms facing one another).
Pull the rope toward your face, bringing your elbow to either side of your head. Your palms should naturally rotate to face downward as the rope handles start to split.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pause. Then, slowly bring your arms forward to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows
Equipment: Flat Bench, One Dumbbell
How to: Stand on one side of a bench and place your inside knee and hand on the bench. Bend forward at your hips as if you're on all fours.
Your opposite leg will be straight and planted on the ground. With your free hand, grab the dumbbell and let your arm hang.
From here, pull the dumbbell along your body to form a 90-degree angle at your elbow. Pause for a second at the top before lowering your arm back to the starting position. Repeat this for reps before switching sides.
Equipment: Incline Bench, Two Dumbbells
How to: Set a bench to an incline of about 45 degrees. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and lay with your chest pressed flat on the bench. Your arms should fall to either side of the bench.
From here, raise both of your arms in front of your body in an upward motion. When your body and arms form an "I" ... pause, then lower your arms.
Next, raise both arms upward and slightly to the side to form a "Y" with your arms. Pause for a second, then lower your arms again.
After that, you'll raise both arms outward to either side of your body to form a "T" with your arms. Pause again here before lowering your arms for a third time.
Lastly, lift both of your arms diagonally behind you to form an "A" with your arms. Pause for a second, then lower your arms for the last time.
Keep repeating this cycle of I-Y-T-A for a set number of reps. Who knows, you may begin to feel like a cheerleader with this one.
Pec-Deck Reverse Flyes
Equipment: Pec-Deck Machine
How to: Pick your weight on a pec-deck machine and adjust the seat so that the top sits right at your collarbone. You'll sit with your chest facing the seat. Make sure this height keeps your hands, shoulders, and elbows in a straight line.
Position the handles to be as far back toward the weight stack as possible. Keep your shoulders down and back and chest pressed against the pad.
Grab the handles as you pull your arms out to either side, squeezing your shoulder blades. When your arms come back as far as they can, hold for a second, then slowly return the handles to center.
Equipment: Two Dumbbells
How to: While standing, hold a set of dumbbells by your sides, palms facing each other. Lift your shoulders up to your ears with the weight in your hands and hold this position. After 2-3 seconds, lower your arms and shoulders back down. Repeat this for reps.
Equipment: Lat Pull-down Machine
How to: Sit at the lat pull-down machine with your legs set snugly under the thigh pads and feet pressed on the floor. Keep your shoulder blades in a neutral position with your back and head straight.
Reach up to grab the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull the bar downward, bringing your elbows toward your body on either side.
Keep pulling until the bar reaches your collarbone/top of your chest. From here, slowly straighten your arms and extend your elbows as you return the bar to where you started. Repeat this for reps.
TRX Inverted Rows
Equipment: Mounted TRX Straps
How to: Grab the TRX handles with one in each hand, palms facing one another. Slowly walk your feet forward as you lean backward and keep your arms extended in front of you. Continue walking and leaning until the straps are tight.
From here, pull your upper body toward the handles. Squeeze your shoulder blades, then hold for a second before slowly releasing your arms. Repeat this for reps.
Equipment: Flat Bench, Two Dumbbells or One Barbell
How to: If you have a barbell, place it underneath the bench. If you have dumbbells, leave them at either side of the bench. Next, lie face down on the bench.
Extend your arms out and grab the bar or dumbbells with an overhand grip. Pull the weight toward your chest as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
When your elbows reach 90 degrees, stop and hold. From here, slowly lower the weight back down to its starting position. Repeat this for reps.
Equipment: Squat Rack, Barbell, Weight Plates
How to: Find a squat rack and set the safety bars directly below your knees. Place a barbell on the safety rack and load it with the weight you wish to use.
Bend your knees slightly, roll your shoulders down and back, and keep your neck and back straight. Next, hinge at your hips to lean forward slightly and grab the bar slightly outside shoulder-width apart.
Push through your heals (picture yourself pushing the floor down) and stand through your hips and knees to lift the weight. Hold the weight at the top for a second before slowly lowering your upper body to the starting position.
Equipment: Squat Rack, Barbell, Weight Plates
How to: Find a squat rack and barbell. Set the rack to about chest height, place the barbell on the rack, then load the barbell with weight.
Grab the bar slightly outside of shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip. While keeping your grip on the bar, step under the bar to rest it on your upper back/traps.
Un-rack the barbell by taking a few steps backward and position your legs with a shoulder-width stance. Keep your head neutral and your back straight with a soft bend in your knees.
Hinge at the hips, like you are closing a door with your butt, until your torso is parallel with the floor. Feel the stretch in your hamstrings and squeeze your glutes as you stand. This is one rep.
Equipment: Hyperextension Pad
How to: Lay face down on a hyperextension pad or machine with your upper thighs flat against the pad. With your body straight, cross your arms in front of you or behind your head.
From here, bend forward slowly at the waist as far as you can while keeping your back flat the entire time. Keep going until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
Once you do, slowly raise your body back to your starting position without arching your back. This is one rep.
Equipment: One Kettlebell
How to: Place a kettlebell on the floor and stand with your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees to grab the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip.
Next, hinge at your hips to push your butt backward and keep your chest up. The kettlebell should "hike" in-between your legs (although, don't literally hike it behind you).
Drive your hips forward in a thrusting motion, squeezing your glutes at the top.
The kettlebell should naturally swing upward to shoulder height with the momentum from your hip thrust.
Elevated Hip or Glute Bridges
Equipment: Weight Bench, Your Body
How to: Lie on your back, with your feet up on a weight bench. Your knees and hips should form 90-degree angles. From here, drive through your heels using your hips, glutes, and lower back muscles.
When your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees, hold for a second before bringing your hips back to the ground. Repeat this for reps!
Equipment: Your Body
How to: Lie face down on the floor, with your arms extended out by your ears. Lift your arms, upper body, feet, and knees off the ground so that your weight is mostly in your hips.
Squeeze your glutes and lower back to hold this position. After 3 seconds, lower your arms and legs at the same time before raising them back up again.
Equipment: Your Body
How To: Start on all fours with your wrists directly beneath your shoulders. Move your knees so that they are directly behind your wrists.
Keep your eyes between your hands so that your back and neck stay in a straight line. Extend one arm straight out, keeping it in line with your body. At the same time, squeeze your glute to raise your opposite leg.
Pause for 2 seconds at the top, then lower your arm and leg before repeating with the opposite arm and leg.
Equipment: Barbell, Weight Plates, Step/Elevated Surface
How to: Load up a barbell and place it on the ground in front of you. Stand on an elevated surface or an additional weight plate.
Make sure your feet are hip-width apart. Next, hinge at your hips and grab the bar with an overhand grip shoulder-width apart.
Lower your hips and bend your knees until your shins touch the bar. Keep your chest up, back and neck neutral, and drive through your heels as you stand.
Once you've stood up tall with the bar, slowly lower it back to the ground by hinging at your hips.
We're Here to Help
Look ... I get it. A lot of these exercises are surely much easier said than done.
But, no matter what your reason is for building your back muscles, we're here to help. We also want to make sure you earn the results you're after.
If you need more assistance with your workouts and nutrition ... download the 1st Phorm App! Inside the app, you'll get access to custom workout programs, nutrition tracking, and even 1-on-1 messaging with your own personal advisor.
It's the all-in-one tool to make sure you're making progress on your health and fitness goals.
You can also reach out to us anytime with any questions that you may have. We have a full team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Certified Nutrition Coaches that you can talk to for free!
In the meantime, give some of these exercises a try for your next back workout. You won't regret it!