The best exercises for your back
Improve your posture, prevent injury, build muscle and sculpt a strong silhouette with these eight exercises for your back
What you need:
An exercise mat and a pair of five- to 10-pound dumbbells. Choose a weight that challenges you while allowing you to complete 10 to 12 repetitions for two to three sets.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Single arm row (lunge position)
Works: rhomboids, lats, middle back and biceps
A. From a standing position, lunge forward with your right leg and hold a dumbbell in your left hand, palms facing back. Bend the torso forward by hinging at the hips while keeping your spine straight. Draw the belly button in toward the spine to protect the lower back. For added support, brace your right leg with your right hand.
B. Pull the dumbbell to your ribcage, keeping the elbow at a 90-degree angle. Squeeze the shoulder blade at the top of the motion. Hold this position for 2 seconds.
C. Slowly lower the weight to an extended arm position and repeat.
Bent over row
Works: lats, rhomboids, middle back and biceps
A. Stand with the feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent. Bend forward by hinging at the hips to a 45-degree angle. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing inward and arms extended down. Draw your belly button in toward the spine to support the lower back.
B. Keeping elbows close to the body, lift the weights until the elbows pass your back. Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of the motion. Hold the position for 2 seconds.
C. Return to start position for one repetition.
Works: middle back, lats, core, arms
A. Get into plank or push-up position, with hands directly under shoulders and a dumbbell beside each hand. Keep your spine straight, with a slight natural curve, from the top of your head to your tailbone-don’t let your back collapse. Pull your belly button in toward your spine and keep your core engaged.
B. Keeping your elbow close to the body, lift one dumbbell toward the ribcage until the elbow passes your back. Keep the abdominals tight and avoid moving the whole body.
C. Return to starting position and repeat with the opposite side. This equals one repetition.
Alternating arm and leg lift
Works: lower back
A. Lie face down on the mat with your arms fully extended in front of you, thumbs pointing toward the ceiling. Engage the core to avoid collapsing in the back and keep the neck extended.
B. At the same time, lift your right arm and left leg toward the ceiling, keeping them both extended. Keep both hips on the mat throughout the movement. Hold the position for 3 seconds.
C. Return to starting position and repeat with the left arm and right leg for one repetition.