By Lisa Leath Turpin, Health & Wellness Coach
Everyone wants a strong and sexy back, but all too many times your back – especially the spine – takes the brunt of weakness and improper lifting. The back has different muscle groups that work together to allow movement. Some have multiple responsibilities to move the head, shoulders, arms, hips, legs and spine itself.
There are 40 muscles in the back. These muscles are combined into five main groups: (from top to bottom) Trapezius, Rhomboids, Latissimus Dorsi, Quadratus Lumborum… and Erector Spinae (runs vertically along each side of the spine). You want each side to mirror each other in strength, coordination and flexibility to create balance and stability.
If you have a job or sport that uses one side dominantly over the other, you should work on keeping your muscles balanced through some type of strength training, pilates or yoga. This balanced strength is what will help protect your spine from degeneration and injury. Note: Your back is your second largest muscle group in your body; therefore think strong, but work up to it. Also, your back has assistance. Biceps and shoulders get a lot of work from performing back exercises and your back gets that help. Think team instead of single player; there’s power in numbers! Look at two functional and essential exercises for the back.
Seated Back Row: Works lats, rhomboids, traps, erectors (all the major and minor back muscles are involved). Sit with your legs loosely straight, feet preferably against a foot platform to counterbalance the pull (you should have to reach to get the handles). To keep your spine safe, when you reach, hinge from your hips with spine elongated, head lifted. Pull the handles to you, aiming for your ribs, depress and pinch back your shoulders squeezing your shoulder blades together, then control resistance, taking the handles back to “home” or start position. Rowing can be done with cable pulleys, resistance bands, dumbbells or bar. Each has positional variations, but the principles are the same.
Next is LAT PULLDOWNS: Focus is on the Latissimus Dorsi, but you also use the lower traps, rear deltoids, and biceps, depending how narrow your grip is. Generally seated, reach up for a bar attached to the high pulley. Basic grip is overhanded and just outside shoulder width. Look up at the pulley, lean back just slightly, depress your shoulders and pull the bar into the top of your chest under your chin. Keep abdominals engaged to protect your back. Your back should stay somewhat neutral. Slowly resist the bar back to “home.” Note: Lat pulldowns are the machine version of a pull-up which allows you to work the lats at varying strengths and a great way for someone who hasn’t mastered pull-ups to strengthen and shape their lats. Also, lats are wing shaped. When they are developed and toned they can make your waist smaller.
Don’t forget Back Extensions: Focus is erector spinae and considered a “core” exercise. Erectors support your spine and keep you upright (when strong). Easiest way to work is on a mat is face down, hands clasped behind the lower back. Keeping your feet anchored, lift the upper body off the floor about an inch or so for about 20 reps. There are hyper-extension machines where you can graduate to using weights. Questions? BeActive850@gmail.com.
Can be performed seated or standing, with both hands or single handed.
Lisa Leath Turpin is a degreed and certified health and fitness lifestyle coach and consultant who has devoted her life to motivating and strengthening the body and mind of others. With over 20 years’ experience, Lisa has a B.S. degree in Sports & Fitness Management from the University of Alabama, developed and managed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Health & Wellness Facility and programs in Huntsville, Ala., is board certified by the National Board of Fitness Examiners and possesses certifications from AFAA, Polestar/Balanced Body, Reebok U, SCW Fitness and American Heart Association. She is currently a group exercise leader at Destin Health & Fitness and an independent personal trainer in the Destin area, diversely and extensively trained in classical and modern Pilates, lifestyle management, personal training, group exercise and post-rehabilitation. Have a fitness question for Lisa? Email BeActive850@gmail.com.