8 simple exercises for a strong and toned back

Young woman training, looking in mirror while stretching arms in gym

Whether your goal is to strengthen your muscles for that oversized backpack, or to hone and tone your shoulders, we have the exercise for you.

I have shortlisted the top eight upper body moves you need to include in your workout. And remember, if you are new to weight-training or unsure about form, it is advised you always consult a personal trainer or expert to ensure you are doing the exercise correctly.

1. Press up & row: This is a move to master if you’re after a multi-tasking exercise for the upper body.

Start in push up position with hands holding a dumbbell beneath your shoulders. Lower into a push up and as you straighten up, ‘row’ the weight to chest height before lowering back down and repeating on the other side. Do 20 in total.

2. Bird dog: This is a great move for challenging the entire upper body, as well as the lower back and core.

From an all fours position, slowly extend your left arm out in front of you at shoulder height and your right leg behind you just below hip height. Your back should be flat and you should be using your stomach muscles to prevent your hips from rocking from side-to-side. Ensure you don’t lift your leg too high – this can cause the back to arch. Hold the position for 5 seconds. Change sides. Do a total of 20 lifts.

3. Superman: This popular exercise is a great back strengthener, and works glutes and hamstrings too.

Lie on your front with your arms outstretched in front of you and your legs extended behind you; your head should be face down on the floor. Lift arms, legs and head a few inches off the floor and pause before lowering – ensure your abdominal muscles are engaged beneath you. If this feels too tough, try lifting left arm and right leg, then vice versa, rather than both arms and legs at the same time. Try for 10-12 lifts.

4. Lat pulldown: Undoubtedly the machine to use if you’re in pursuit of a beautiful back, the lat pulldown is a must-visit next time you hit the gym floor.

Ensure before you start the thigh pads are adjusted so knees are at right angles and feet are touching the ground. With hands holding the bar just over shoulder width apart, pull the bar down in front of you, stopping at the top of your chest. Slowly return to your starting position by straightening your arms. Do 20 reps.

No access to a lat pulldown? Try a row with a resistance band (wrap a band or tube around an un-moveable surface. From a seated position, hold one end of the band in each hand and, keeping elbows close to sides, pull the band towards you squeezing shoulder blades together. Do 20 reps).

lat pull down

5. Deadlift: The deadlift is a must-do for maintaining a strong and healthy back.

Stand with feet hip width apart holding a weight in each hand in front of thighs, with a slight bend in your knees. Keeping your back straight, hinge forward from the hips and until torso’s nearly parallel to the floor, keeping the core engaged (brace the abs; maintain a straight back) throughout. Straighten and repeat. Do 15 reps.

6. Pullover: This traditional exercise works multiple upper body muscles – not just your back, but your chest gets involved too. Performed correctly, it’s a must-do.

Lie on your back on a raised surface (such as a flat bench) with feet flat on the floor. Extend arms above chest and, maintaining a slight bend in the elbow, slowly lower the weights back towards the ground behind you, stopping just behind your head. Return to your start position and repeat. Do 20 pullovers.

7. Reverse fly: As well as strengthening the back, this move is great for helping to improve posture, as it strengthens the muscles responsible for moving your shoulders forward and backward.

Hold a weight in each hand and stand with feet hip width apart, knees slightly bent. Bend forward from the waist so that your torso is nearly parallel to the floor – arms should be extended beneath shoulders with a slight bend in the elbow, wrists facing one another. Slowly lift your arms out to the sides and squeeze your shoulder blades, then return to your start position. Do 15 reps.

8. Single arm row: Good for posture, upper and mid-back muscles and very straightforward, the row is a great exercises for beginners.

Position feet a stride apart before hinging forward from the waist, so your back’s flat. Rest hand on the edge of a bench or sofa and hold a dumbbell in the other hand. Bend your arm, lifting the weight to the side of your chest keeping arm close to your side (like a sawing action). Lower back down. Do 20 reps on each side.

And the contenders for ultimate back cardio are…

  • Rowing: You have to go some to beat rowing when it comes to working out the upper body. The back muscles do much of the work, particularly as you pull back. Form is key though, so don’t be afraid to check out your form in a mirror.
  • Swimming: Whether you’re swimming breaststroke, crawl or butterfly, your back muscles are getting a good workout. And as far as your back’s concerned, it’s worth mastering a decent stroke as swimming with your head out of the water for any length of time puts a strain on both the neck and back.
  • Boxing/combat classes: Boxing’s great for the upper body. It works shoulder and arms but the back muscles also have to work hard too. And of course it’s a great stress reliever!

 

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