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Back Workouts for Women

Your No-Blunder Back Blast

Make over your back moves to improve your results with these simple tips.

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Let’s face it: you know more about strength training than a highbrow Jeopardy contestant knows about Shakespeare. But despite your vast fitness knowledge, you may not know you’re doing more harm than good with some of your favorite back moves, stripping you of results and potentially putting you in harm’s way.

The good news is that Oxygen is here to help. Read on to learn more about the common mistakes associated with four popular back-building exercises as well as their corrective solutions, then give our back-boosting workout a try.

Your No-Blunder Back Blast

After you have familiarized yourself with these back-building no-nos, you will have the confidence to tackle this challenging but effective back program. Try it twice per week on nonconsecutive days and get ready to turn heads in less than a month.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Between Sets
Barbell Bent-Over Row 3 10–12 60 seconds
Wide-Grip Pulldown 3 10–12 60 seconds
Seated Cable Row 3 8–10 60–90 seconds
One-Arm Dumbbell Row 3 10–12 60 seconds

Barbell Bent-Over Row


Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, biceps brachii, rear deltoids

Blunder: Rounded back

Because of: Improper starting position

Breakdown: “A lot of people pick the bar up from the ground, rounding their backs, reaching with their arms and rotating their scapulae forward,” says Mike Hanley, CSCS, owner of Hanley Strength Systems in New Jersey. They then stay like this as they row.

Make It Better: Start with the bar on a rack instead of the floor. “Then get into a ‘shortstop’ position, with your back straight, knees bent, hips low and chest high,” explains Rachel Cosgrove, CSCS, co-owner of Results Fitness in Southern California.

Set Up: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and take a shoulder-width overhand grip on a barbell. Keeping your back straight, bend forward until your torso comes 45 degrees to the floor. Draw your shoulder blades together and tighten your abs.

Action: Pull the bar smoothly by driving your elbows up and back, keeping your arms in close to your sides, avoiding the use of momentum. Pause for one count at peak contraction, then slowly return to the starting position.

Wide-Grip Pulldown


Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, rear deltoids

Blunder: Leaning too far back when pulling the bar downward

Because of: Excessive weight

Breakdown: “When you use too much weight, you start to pull with your whole body instead of targeting your back muscles,” says Cosgrove. Excessive weight also pulls your arms out of position, causing you to round your shoulders and push your elbows back.

Make It Better: Lighten the weight, pinch your shoulder blades together and focus on moving the bar toward your collarbone, not your thighs. One note from Cosgrove: “Keep your elbows underneath the bar at all times, not forward or backward.”

Set Up: Hold the bar with a wider than shoulder-width overhand grip and secure your thighs under the pads. Retract your shoulder blades and lift your chest slightly.

Action: Pull the bar smoothly toward your chest, driving your elbows down and keeping your chest lifted. When the bar nearly touches your collarbone, reverse to the start.

Seated Cable Row


Target Muscles: rhomboids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi

Blunder: Seesawing back and forth to pull the weight

Because of: Weak core muscles and use of momentum

Breakdown: “Stabilizing yourself while rowing requires a strong core,” says Hanley. If your abdominals aren’t up to par or you are using too much weight, you’ll resort to the use of momentum, which puts you at risk for spinal strain or injury.

Make It Better: “Imagine someone has their knee in the center of your back, forcing you to sit up straight, then engage your core and lift your chest as you draw the handle inward,” says Cosgrove. Also reduce the weight and keep reps slow.

Set Up: Sit on a row machine and take a neutral grip (palms facing each other) on a V-handle. Sit up tall with your knees slightly bent, draw your shoulders blades back and lift your chest.

Action: Keep your torso steady and shoulders back as you draw the handle toward your belly, elbows driving back and arms close to your sides. Pause, then slowly reverse.

One-Arm Dumbbell Row


Target Muscles: latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, rear deltoids, trapezius

Blunder: Twisting and/or torquing of torso and upper body

Because of: Excessive weight

Breakdown: That lean you adapt when you hoist a too-heavy dumbbell doesn’t just look awkward — it can be downright dangerous. “Twisting can cause you to use your traps more than your lats, which can also put your lower back and spine in jeopardy,” says Cosgrove. And speed is a factor here as well. “You’ll also be using momentum, which detracts from the effectiveness of the move.”

Make It Better: Choose a lighter dumbbell and do the exercise facing a mirror to keep an eye on your form. And keep this trick from Hanley in mind: “Think about tucking your shoulder blades into your back pocket, drawing them down and back, before doing the row,” he advises. “This puts them in the proper position and engages more back muscles.”

Set Up: Place one hand and knee on a flat bench. Hold a dumbbell in your other hand with your arm hanging straight and your palm facing in. Flatten your back, drawing your shoulder blades together toward your spine.

Action: Drive your elbow upward and lift the weight toward the side of your rib cage, keeping your arm in close to your body. At the top, your shoulders should be square. Pause for one count, then slowly lower.