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If your rear view is lacking size, shape and muscularity, it’s time to face the truth — it’s probably not genetics holding you back. It’s effort. Stimulating the back requires a ton of focus and hard work because the muscles on your flip side are designed for high leverage. Collectively, your rhomboids, teres major and minor, trapezius, latissimus dorsi and erector spinae can handle a lot of reps and some serious poundage but they have to be given an adequate challenge.
To implement visible and lasting change you need redoubled dedication and a plan of attack, like the one outlined here by fitness instructor Patricia Friberg, creator of the Bottom Line & A Core Defined and Belly Beautiful workout DVDs, who has also trained aspiring NFL players and NBA athletes seeking to improve their strength (patriciafriberg.com). “This workout is for lifters who aren’t seeing progress in their back,” she explains. “It includes five proven exercises that target the key areas you’ll want to improve, whether for bodybuilding or sport-oriented power.”
“Arguably the top all-around bodyweight movement, the pull-up is one of the best ways to challenge the upper back and achieve that deep V shape,” Friberg says. For best results, use the dead-hang starting position and “set” yourself by drawing your scapulae and shoulders down away from your ears, engaging the lats before each rep. Those struggling with reps or who are trying to perfect their form can use a superband to increase endurance and strength. Attach the band to the pull-up crossbar and step into it with one foot to provide some extra assistance in the lift.
2. Renegade Row
A functional-training favorite, this move requires that you hold yourself in plank as you do alternating one-arm rows, pummeling your back and core. Friberg’s tips on form: Position your feet wider for added stability, press your shoulders down and away from your ears, tuck your tailbone slightly and push your heels toward the wall behind you to engage your glutes.
3. Barbell Deadlift
“This fundamental exercise will strengthen your back and legs,” Friberg says. “If you use enough resistance to make it a challenge without breaking your form, it’ll also help build lean muscle.” Set up with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold the bar with a mixed grip. “Your spine should be neutral with your chin parallel to the floor,” says Friberg. “Your shoulders should be open with the scapulae slightly retracted to avoid any rounding in the shoulders.” Inhale and hold that breath to create intra-abdominal pressure to protect your core and spine as you perform the lift, then exhale as you reach the top.
4. Seated Unilateral Cable Row
Done with a D-handle, this row hits each side of the body separately. “[Unilateral training] helps alleviate strength imbalances between the right and left sides, while also hitting the spinal stabilizers, including the multifidus [muscles] that attach to the spinal column,” says Friberg. To keep the focus on your back (and avoid pulling with your core and obliques), draw your shoulder blades together as you drive your working elbow back, keeping your shoulders square at all times.
This lower-back move is a great finisher, hitting the erector spinae, as well as the glutes and hamstrings. To get into position, extend your arms and legs so you form an X if viewed from above. “Flex your abdominals, drawing them gently inward and upward,” Friberg instructs. “Then exhale as you raise your arms and legs off the floor. Turn your palms slightly inward to keep the shoulders and chest open.”