Back training is unfortunately all too often neglected by most women. Frequent consequences: posture problems, tension, pain. A healthy body is characterized by one thing above all: good posture. The development of the back muscles plays an extremely important role in this. Here we clarify the most important questions about back training.
Why is back training so important?
“Most back problems and pain are due to weak muscles”, says personal trainer Luisa-Maxime Huss from Göttingen. A small upper body with rounded shoulders and large breasts in particular weakens the stabilizers of the middle back, especially since the upper body center of gravity is generally located further in front of the spine in women than in men.
“In addition, there are other stresses such as carrying handbags and high shoes, which promotes back pain,” says sports and physiotherapist Olivia Walus from Cologne.
A consequence of such pressures: Women have to tense their back muscles more to avoid tilting the upper body forward. “Well-trained back muscles are therefore particularly important for women to compensate for the imbalance in the upper body,” says Huss.
Which muscles should I train during a back workout?
First of all you should be aware of which muscles in the back are responsible for what. Experts distinguish between two different types of muscles in the back – the superficial and the deep-lying muscles:
1. superficial back muscles
Superficial back muscles are all back muscles that are visible from the outside. They move and shape the back. They include the trapezius muscle in the neck, the broad back muscle latissimus and the back extensor.
There are also smaller superficial back muscles, such as the posterior deltoid muscle of the shoulder or the small and large round muscle, which lie laterally below the deltoid muscle. The surface muscles are trained by muscle building, strength or endurance training.
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2. deeper lying back muscles
The deep-lying back muscles are located below the surface musculature and therefore cannot be directly seen in their development through training, but they do take on important functions! “The deep muscles are essential for the stability and flexion of the spine”, explains trainer Huss. “The main functions are stretching or straightening the body and lateral inclination and rotation of the spine.
The deep muscles are trained mainly through complex exercises in which you activate many muscles, and by varying the exercises, i.e. doing them sometimes standing, sometimes lying down, sometimes one-legged. “It is best to start with static holding exercises such as the forearm support. Once you have mastered these, you can strengthen your entire trunk muscles by moving your arms and legs,” explains sports therapist Walus.
Well-trained back muscles are essential for good posture. © Leika production / Shutterstock.com
What exercises are part of back training?
For a strong and healthy back, complex and functional exercises belong on your schedule. This way you train both types of muscles: surface and deep muscles. Furthermore, the more complex the exercise, the more muscles and joints are involved.
The 3 most important basic exercises for back training
1. cross lifting
Cross lifting is particularly complex, but when carried out correctly it is mercilessly effective. The exercise, also known as deadlift, has two major advantages: “Firstly, you don’t just train the back, but the entire posterior side, i.e. all the muscles that can be involved in pulling movements: upper and lower back, trapezius muscle, the leg flexor and even the buttocks,” explains Walus.
“On the other hand, you can also move much more weight with the barbell than with dumbbells or kettlebells during this exercise.”
Cross lift: Don’t start with too much weight, perfect the technique first! © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
But be careful with heavy weights: For effective deadlifts, keep your back straight throughout the movement. If you can’t do this, reduce the weight and practice the technique until it fits!
Here’s how it goes: Tense your back already in the low position and concentrate on mobilizing the power from the back muscles. Important: For heavy exercises you have to cause a so-called blockage. Remember this rule of three: Before lifting the barbell, take a deep breath – your chest will be inflated like a balloon. In addition, tense your abdomen – this will prevent your upper body from tilting forward when lifting the bar.
And be careful not to bend your lumbar spine – a must to prevent slipped discs.
Instruction: Cross lifting
Another effective exercise for the entire back is rowing. Rowing puts particular strain on the broad back, the back shoulder and the trapezius muscle. No matter if you row with the barbell, 2 dumbbells or with the cable pulley – your back always stays straight. In addition, you should always pull the weight in a controlled manner with the force of your back towards your navel. You should always use the entire range of motion. Important: Tearing is taboo.
No matter whether you row on one or both sides, your back must be straight! © UfaBizPhoto / Shutterstock.com
Tip from expert Huss: “One-armed rowing is good for compensating for muscular imbalances and thus becoming stronger during the exercises with both arms”. A little psychological trick for rowing: Imagine you want to crack a walnut with the middle of your back: Pull your back muscles together at the end point of the rowing motion and hold that moment briefly at maximum contraction. This way, even the hard to reach middle of your back gets an optimal training stimulus.
Even though most women have problems doing a chin-up, this is no reason to do without this top exercise completely. On the contrary: by using aids to get closer and closer to the perfect chin-up.
Pull-ups in the upper grip: the further apart the hands are, the harder. © Microgen / Shutterstock.com
Many gyms offer appropriate equipment with a supporting platform on which you can rest your knees. Alternatively, there are also resistance bands that you can attach to a pull-up bar and in whose loop you can also place your knees or feet. Or you can start from an elevation so that you can pull yourself up by jumping on the bar.
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This will help you overcome the power-intensive concentric phase and you can fully focus on the eccentric movement that you are letting go of – this is another way to get closer to the first pull-up, so get to the pull-ups, because they not only train your back, but also your biceps. Important: “You should always pull yourself up to the bar with your chest and use the complete range of motion, i.e. full extension downwards and chin up over the bar,” says expert Huss.
Depending on which grip and how wide you grip, the arms or the back will be put under greater strain. If you grip the bar roughly tight (less than shoulder width) from below, your biceps must give full power. If, on the other hand, you grip the bar a little more than shoulder width in the upper grip, you will hit the upper back muscles harder. Try the different variations, it’s worth it.
15-minute workout for a strong back Training on equipment has a great advantage: the guided movement ensures a clean execution. © Leika production / Shutterstock.com
Back training at home
However, you do not necessarily need a gym to exercise your back. After all, you don’t even need dumbbells or equipment. There are also effective back exercises using your own body weight: upper body lifting on the floor, forearm support, diagonal support, rowing.
Huss: “You can do rowing exercises with a resistance band or by using a broomstick as a barbell. Tense the whole body and pull the navel inwards.” There are also sturdy pull-up bars for the door frame.
Training schedule: Back training for women
For beginners, it is sufficient in the first few weeks to do one or two back exercises on two days per week – for example with your own body weight. Or they may first dare to do a light cross lift to learn the technique and get a feeling for back training. “Back training should be an integral part of the whole body plan for beginners. Two back exercises per training unit are sufficient”, advises trainer Huss.
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If you already have training experience, you should adapt the back training to your level. Basically, even then a maximum of three back exercises of 2 to 3 sets per training session is sufficient. If you train the whole body about twice a week, you can include complex back exercises in your training plan. Suggestion: cross lifting and chin-ups in the first session, cross lifting and rowing in the second session.
If you divide your training into muscle groups, you can train your entire back muscle chain in one training unit: back, buttocks, leg curl and calves. Cross lifting and rowing with the barbell are ideal exercises for this. You should also supplement the training of the surface muscles with exercises for the deep muscles.
Because according to a study in the US -science magazine Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed that test persons who trained their deep muscles through balance training showed better postural control after one month. Particularly in the case of back problems or postural deformities, the training of the deep muscles should be an integral part of back training.
Which repetition range is ideal for back training?
In principle, the hierarchy applies: technology before scope before intensity. Therefore always choose a weight that you can move at least 8 to 10 repetitions cleanly. Also: Make sure that you hit the target muscles with each repetition.
Once the technique is in place and you are getting the muscles in the right direction, you can start thinking about the number of repetitions. Heavy exercises such as cross lifting and rowing can be trained in the low range of 5 to 10 repetitions for maximum strength gains. In general, however, it is worth not training too hard when doing back exercises, as you will lose the feeling for the target muscles so quickly and your technique will suffer.
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What other sports are good for the back?
However, it does not necessarily have to be weight training for back training. “Dancing, rowing, swimming, yoga or apparatus gymnastics are excellent sports for training the back without weights,” says sports therapist Walus. Rowing on a rowing ergometer, for example, requires little previous knowledge and is both cardiovascular and back training. In addition, rowing on an ergometer is a joint-gentle training – ideal for regeneration and rehabilitation.
Swimming is even easier on the joints. However, movement in water requires a higher degree of exercise than other endurance sports, which is why untrained swimmers tire more quickly. Trainer Huss: “Pilates is also a good way to mobilise the back or spine. It is best to combine sports such as Pilates, yoga or swimming with an appropriate weight training – the ideal combination for a healthy, strong back.
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Also from a health point of view: A trained back can be delightful. No matter whether you train your back with specific exercises or practice a back-friendly sport: You will only benefit from a strengthened back musculature. With our tips you can get started right away.