A Look At Different Types Of Back Workouts
There are various back workouts you can experiment with and depending upon what your goal is you may eventually settle on a specific workout routine or alternate between two or more types of workouts. We’ll take a look at two goals and the workouts associated with working towards those goals. One goal is working to promote a healthy back and avoiding back pain, the second goal is developing the back muscles, in other words, strength training and/or bodybuilding. Before getting into either of these topics, let’s take a look at the anatomy of the back to better understand what we’re dealing with.
The Anatomy Of The Back
The Spine- An understanding of the back’s anatomy is helpful in understanding the benefits to be gained from various exercises, be they stretching, relaxation, or working with weights. The primary anatomical feature of the back is the spinal column. The spinal column has two major functions, one being to protect the spinal cord, which runs down its center, the other being to support the upper weight of the body. The spinal column consists of a stack of over 30 bones, called the vertebrae, which are separated by structures of cartilage called intervertebral discs, or simply spinal discs. These discs help make our back flexible in movement. Ligaments and tendons keep everything in place and also serve to attach various muscles to the spinal column.
The spine has 7 vertebrae in the neck (the cervical vertebrae), 12 in the upper back (thoracic vertebrae) and 5 in the lower back (the lumbar vertebrae). The lumbar vertebrae do most of the work in supporting the weight of the upper body, so are those receiving the greatest stress, and also those contributing to most episodes of back pain.
Pilates Back Workouts
There are three relatively simple Pilates back workouts designed to stretch and strengthen the back muscles. Breathing is an important part of these exercises. The Cat Stretch and Upper Back Extension are performed with 4 breaths, while the Opposite Arm and Leg Reaches are performed using 2 breaths.
The Cat Stretch is sometimes called the “Angry Cat” as, starting on your hands and knees, you arch your back as an angry cat would. You begin with an inhale, tighten your abdominal muscles and curl your back upwards, with an exhale, inhale and hold the position, then exhale and reverse the movement, ending with a horizontal back. This exercise is usually repeated at lest 4 times.
Opposite Arm and Leg Reaches
Straightening of the spine is worked on with Opposite Arm and Leg Reaches. Still, on all fours, inhale, and then as you exhale extend one arm and the opposite leg straight out, lifting g them slightly. Inhale and return to all fours and on the next exhale, lift the other arm and opposing leg and reach out with your fingers and toes. Do this 3 times on each side.
Upper Back Extension
For the Upper Back Extension, you get to relax (for a moment anyway) and lie face down. Placing your feet together and at the sides of your shoulders, inhale, then with your exhale draw your shoulders up and towards your back, extending your upper body and neck off the floor. Inhale and hold the position and with the next exhale, return to the original position. You want to keep your abs tight during the entire exercise, which should be performed at least 4 times. These are great back workouts for the upper back and shoulders.
Three yoga poses are designed specifically to address the back and should be considered in any regimen of back workouts. Examined closely, these exercises closely resemble the Pilates exercises described above, but with a bit of a twist. For one thing, the positions are usually held somewhat longer in a yoga workout.
Yoga Back Workouts
Through various and sometimes complex poses and breathing techniques, the goal here is to provide physical and mental benefits, but in this case, specific benefits to the back. In most exercises both back muscles and abdominal muscles are worked as they complement one another in the workings of the spinal muscular groups. Back pain is often avoided when these muscle groups are well conditioned through stretching. Not only the back and abdominal muscles are necessarily involved. Stretching the hamstring muscles helps to decrease stress across the lower back.
The Cat Pose is identical to the Cat Stretch in Pilates, with special attention played to breathing and holding the pose a bit longer. The Cobra Pose is similar to the Upper Back Extension exercise in Pilates. The third yoga exercise, the Knee To Chest Pose is done by lying on the back and relaxing. Then slowly bring one knee up to the chest, grip the back of the leg with both hands, and pull the knee closer to the chest, holding for 15 seconds. This stretches the hamstring and also works the lower back muscles. Doing the Knee To Chest Pose to supplement the 3 Pilates exercises will give you a good back workout.
Back Workouts For Strengthening And Bodybuilding
The back is not the easiest part of the body to train, in fact, it is probably the most difficult. You can easily see what is happening while working biceps, triceps, or abs. Seeing what’s going on and measuring progress with the back muscles is not quite so easy. In addition, back workouts are seldom easy as you are working on very large muscle groups and the workouts can be grueling indeed. Some compound this problem by using weights that are much heavier than required. It doesn’t require the heaviest weights you can manage to adequately work for large muscle groups. You’ll be better of working with weights you can fairly easily handle, and let the number of reps do the work. Here then are 4 exercises you can perform that make up a good back workout, using either free weights or machines.
Dumbbell Pullovers work the lats and this exercise is a good one to start with, as it helps in loosening your body up for the remaining exercises. Use a fairly heavy dumbbell, but one you can handle, for a few reps and have a partner help you in a few forced reps, for a total of 8 reps at the end. Besides working the lats, this exercise is beneficial as it stretches your back as well.
Lat Pull Downs
Lat Pull Downs is the next exercise and can be a rather brutal one, especially if you’re using a wide grip, as you should be. Here you start with a heavier weight, do 3 or 4 reps, lighten the weight and do another 6 reps, and then lighten the weight still more and finish with 8 reps. The progressive lightening of the weights might seem to make things easier. No.
Dumbbell Row is another great exercise for the Lats. A combination of 8-6-4 reps works well. If using heavy enough weights, you’ll likely need a bit of help from a partner on the final set. The T-Bar Row is the last of the exercise and should be performed with a short grip (close grip handle). The weights here aren’t particularly heavy, but after finishing the other exercises you’ll understand why. The number of reps is the important thing anyway. In the above exercises specific weights haven’t been mentioned as that will depend upon your own strength, condition, and where you are at in your back workouts program.
The Lower Back Workouts
Don’t Forget The Lower Back Workouts – At times it can be difficult to find a set of routines designed to work the lower back. One reason for this is that the lower back muscles (Erector Spinae, or spinal erectors), which are involved in moving not only the spine but the neck, tie into other major muscle groups as well and are difficult to isolate. Many exercises designed to strengthen the abdominal muscles and work the hamstrings will also work the lower back. It is of course extremely important to have a strong lower back, for everyone certainly, but for powerlifters especially. You don’t want your lower back to be the weakest link! Three very good exercises for the lower back are the Dead Lift, the simplest of all heavy lifting exercises, the Good Morning, a combination squat and pull-down, and Hyper Extending, by lying face down on an inclined bench, locking in your heels, and raising and arching the back. You can start this one without weights, and gradually work up to holding a weight in your hands. This is a very good exercise, both for bodybuilders and for anyone simply wanting to strengthen and tone the muscles in their back.
Summary – As you can see, there is a variety of back workouts to select from. The Pilates and Yoga exercises are primarily for those wanting to strengthen the back and maintain good muscle tone. Even bodybuilders may find something to offer in these, but they will of course not add muscle mass. The exercises with weights should best be done with a partner, or in the presence of a personal trainer. This is particularly true of lower back exercises, where injury is always a possibility if an exercise is done incorrectly. Which you choose of course depends upon the goal you have in mind