Do You Have Your Back?
Our backs often don’t get enough love. When you look in the mirror, after all, which muscle groups are the most noticeable? It’s usually the abs, the shoulders, the arms and legs. But our back muscles are critically important to our core strength and health—and a back injury due to muscle weakness will derail all of our physical activity in an instant. Let’s take a look at some strength-building exercises you can do at home to build a healthy back.
1. Bent-over row
Stand with feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and a dumbbell in each hand. Bend forward at the hips and lift the weights until your elbows rise past your back, keeping your elbows close to your body. Hold for two seconds, then return to the start position.
2. Kettlebell swing
Stand with feet shoulder width apart with a kettlebell on the floor just in front of you (start with a lighter weight until you learn the form). Bend forward at the hips, bend your knees slightly and grab the kettlebell with both hands using an overhand grip. Swing the weight back between your knees, and then forward and up as you straighten your hips and knees. Repeat by swinging the weight back between your knees, then up in front again, for each rep.
For a low plank, lie on your stomach with your forearms on the floor, elbows stacked under your shoulders and hands palm-down in front of you. Lift your hips so that your body is parallel to the floor, keeping your core engaged and your pelvis tucked so that your back remains flat and straight.
For a high plank, get into the same position, except with your hands on the floor shoulder width apart (like the upper end of a push-up). Keep your core engaged and your body in a straight line diagonal to the floor.
4. Pull-ups and chin-ups
This simplest of exercises is still the king when it comes to wide shoulders and a V-shaped torso. Mix up your grip and speed to adjust the difficulty as follows (easiest to most difficult):
- Chin-up: Shoulder width, underhand grip
- Mixed-grip chin-up: One underhand, one overhand, shoulder width apart
- Pull-up: Overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width
- Start and stop: Do a pull-up, lower yourself halfway into a dead hang, pull up again, then lower all the way
- ISO pull-up: Hold at the top of the pull-up, with your chin above the bar, for several seconds
When you think of strength and fitness, which muscles come to mind? Is it your arms, your abs, your legs? While these muscle groups are the most eye catching in the mirror, you can’t forget the workhorse of your body—your back. Without a strong, healthy back, one wrong move could cause an injury and derail all your physical activity. Let’s look at some exercises you can do at home to help build strength in the often forgotten core muscles of the back.
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in both hands (one hand on each end) with arms reaching toward the ceiling. With elbows slightly bent, slowly extend your arms back over your head, reaching behind you toward the floor. Make sure you keep your core tight and your upper arms close beside your ears.
Lie on your stomach with your arms and legs extended straight in a line. Keeping your core tight, lift both your upper and lower body off the floor, watching your fingertips as they move to keep your neck and spine aligned. Hold for a couple of seconds, then return to the start position.
Lie on your back with knees bent and heels stacked below your knees, and arms at your sides with palms on the floor. Keep your pelvis tucked under and your shoulder blades pulled in and down (not shrugged), squeeze your glutes, and raise your hips toward the ceiling. Hold for 10 seconds.
4. Lateral plank walk
Start on all fours with your palms on the floor, shoulders stacked above your hands, and your legs extended so that you’re on the balls of your feet. This is called a high plank position. Keeping your core tight, take a step to your left with your left hand and left foot, and then follow with your right hand and foot. Do a set number of reps to the left, and then repeat in the other direction, taking steps to the right.
5. Straight leg raise
Lie on your back with your left leg straight in front of you, and your right knee bent and foot flat on the floor. Tighten your abs and raise your left leg a few inches off the floor, hold for a few seconds, then lower it back to the floor. Do a set number of reps, and then switch legs.