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3 moves to strengthen your back

Do these three times a week and you’ll soon feel (and look) invincible

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back

You rely on a strong back

Whether you’re working out with a DVD, carrying a sleeping toddler or simply sitting at a desk or in a car for long stretches, you’re depending on your back for support and mobility. Yet the back is one of the most neglected exercise areas, because many of us train only what we see in the mirror-the front of the body. But nicely toned back muscles not only make you look better, they’ll improve your posture, and protect you against bothersome backaches or painful injuries. Try these three strengthening exercises for the low, mid- and upper back to enhance your body’s total appearance and increase your everyday health.

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mat and weights

Get started

What you need:
An exercise mat or towel, and a pair of five- to eight-pound (two- to four-kilogram) dumbbells.  

Before you begin:
Warm up for three minutes with a brisk walk or by stepping from side to side on the spot. Then, standing with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent, raise your arms out to your sides and gently squeeze your shoulder blades backwards toward each other. Isolate the movement in your mid-back, and avoid waving with your arms; your shoulders should move only an inch or so. Repeat for one minute.

How often:
Begin with two sets of each of these three exercises; you can progress to three sets as you get stronger. Do this routine three times a week, on non-consecutive days, and reserve a few minutes afterwards for gently stretching the muscles that you have just exercised.

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pullover2

Pullovers

Works: upper back, sides of torso, backs of shoulders, backs of upper arms

A. Lie face up, holding one dumbbell securely in both hands, arms reaching toward the ceiling and dumbbell aligned over your chest. Bend your legs, feet on the floor and knees pointing up.

B. With abs tight and a firm grip on the dumbbell, slowly extend your arms over your head and behind you, keeping your elbows slightly bent and upper arms close to your ears.

C. When your arms are about parallel to the floor, return to starting position. Do eight to 12 repetitions.

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Superheroes

Works: low and mid-back, butt

A. Lie face down with your arms extended above your head and your legs straight, shoelaces facing the floor.

B. At the same time, raise your feet, arms and shoulders off the floor, contracting the muscles in your low back. Avoid jerky movements or looking up as you lift your arms and legs; keep your neck aligned with the rest of your spine.

C. Hold for two seconds and return to starting position. Do 12 to 15 repetitions.

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superheroes2

Superheroes

Works: low and mid-back, butt

A. Lie face down with your arms extended above your head and your legs straight, shoelaces facing the floor.

B. At the same time, raise your feet, arms and shoulders off the floor, contracting the muscles in your low back. Avoid jerky movements or looking up as you lift your arms and legs; keep your neck aligned with the rest of your spine.

C. Hold for two seconds and return to starting position. Do 12 to 15 repetitions.

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squeeze

Shoulder blade squeezes

Works: mid-back, backs of shoulders (Bonus: Strengthening muscles in your mid-back enhances your standing and sitting posture. Result? A more streamlined silhouette.)

A. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and take one step forward; keep both knees bent. Keep your right (front) foot on the floor but lift your left (back) heel, balancing on the ball of your left foot. (Switch foot placement when you do your second set.) Lean forward from your waist, keeping your abs tight, spine straight and neck in line with your back. Hang your arms toward the floor, keeping hands in line with shoulders and palms facing back.

B. Tighten your abs and use the muscles in your mid-back to gently squeeze your shoulder blades together and down. Bend your arms, lifting your elbows up and behind you, keeping shoulders away from your ears. Keep your neck in line with your back, wrists straight down with palms back, and abs pulled in throughout.

C. Return to starting position. Do eight to 12 repetitions.

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