Top 6 exercises for a strong back

Not only will keeping your back in good shape help you look and feel great, a strong back can help your posture and prevent painful backaches, too

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Swimming is the best exercise for strengthening the muscles that support your spine, warding off future problems.

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What it 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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What it 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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Shoulder blade squeezes

What it 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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Back Fly

What it works: Back and middle of shoulders, upper and mid-back

A. With a medium dumbbell in each hand, step your right foot forward about two feet. (Next time you do this workout, step forward with your left foot.) Bend your front leg into a semi-lunge and hinge forward slightly from the waist. Keep back straight, abs tight and body weight slightly forward. Roll your shoulders back and down.

B. Straighten your arms down toward the floor, hands and dumbbells aligned under shoulders. Slowly raise your arms to the sides, palms down and elbows slightly bent, until hands are just under shoulder height (shown).

C. Lower arms back to starting position. Do eight to 12 reps.

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Bent over row

What it 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.

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Modified plank row

What it works: Middle back, lats, core, arms

A. Get on hands and knees, 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.

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. 

Make it harder: Try doing the exercise from a full plank or push-up position, with body straight and core engaged.


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