A strong back isn’t just a head turner at the gym. It’s also one of the keys to keeping our spines happy and healthy over time. Upper-back strength also plays an important role in shoulder health. When we have deficits in our posterior chain (aka the upper back), it can cause early wear and tear and pain throughout the shoulder joint and neck.
For those of us who sit for long stretches of time during the workday, we’re predisposed to injury. Practice the following exercises to bulletproof your posterior chain. Take on the entire circuit or add one or two moves into your existing routine. The reps are intentionally low so you can focus on form and target very small muscle groups.
Bulletproof Back Workout
|Bent-Over Row With Barbell||3-4||10-12 each side (lighter weight)|
|Deadlift ||3-4||x 20 (Do 40 to 50 percent of one-rep max, if known. If not, do 50 percent of your bodyweight.)|
|Plate Raise in Quadruped||3-4||3 x 30 seconds with 2.5- to 5-pound plate each side |
|Plank With Row||3-4||2 x 5 each side (moderate weight)|
|Banded Pull-Apart||3-4||x 20 with light resistance band |
|Dumbbell Row ||3-4||6-8 reps each side (moderate to heavy weight) |
Bent-Over Row With Barbell
Hinge at your hips with your back in a neutral position and eyes looking forward. Using just the bar or a very light weight, perform sets of 10 with good control as you fully extend your elbow out of the row position.
When performed correctly, the deadlift is really a full-body workout. However, in order to keep your spine in a neutral position, focus on engaging your middle taps and lats in order to prevent any excessive rounding of your lower back. You can achieve this by pinching your shoulder blades together and making sure your knees are back so that tension is felt in your hamstrings before pulling up from the ground.
Plate Raise in Quadruped
Begin on all fours and make sure your lower back is in neutral. A good way to check in with your body is to bring your bellybutton to your spine by breathing in gently and holding this contraction throughout the exercise. Use a light plate no heavier than 2.5 to 5 pounds to perform plate raises in this position for 30 seconds on each side, repeating two to three times. You should feel this in the back of your shoulder as well as your midback. Try to keep your neck from tensing in order to decrease recruitment of your upper trap.
Plank With Row
Start in a plank position. Use the same strategies to achieve a neutral spine as directed for the previous exercise. Grab a pair of lightweight dumbbells and perform a rowing motion leading with your elbows. You should consciously think of pulling your shoulder blades down and back during this exercise.
Using a lightly weighted band, grab the ends so there is some tension before you begin to pull it apart. Pull the band apart until your shoulders are in a full T position. This exercise will target little muscles in your upper back called rhomboids and the more superficial musculature of your middle traps. It’s great to assist posture realignment, especially if you find yourself at a desk for most of the day.
Using a bench, set up in front of a mirror, if possible, to ensure you begin with a flat back. Use your opposite arm to support your weight. Bring your leg outside of the arm you are rowing with and press into the bench with the opposing arm for stabilization. Try to go heavier on this exercise, but only with a weight that still allows you to maintain a good back position.
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