Here's Why You Need to Strengthen Your Back

Even if you’re the most diligent of gym goers or at-home fitness fanatic, chances are you might be neglecting your back in amongst your training. “Typically, when people train on their own in the gym or at home, they tend to focus on the anterior muscles or the pushing muscles,” says Workshop’s founder Lee Mullins. “Things that work the chest or shoulders or exercises like squats and lunges.” It may not be intentional though; you may just lack the kit or the knowledge of what’s actually needed to be able to train your back. Which is, according to Lee, some sort of resistance tool to work against, whether that’s a TRX strap, a rope or a pull-down machine. Being able to train your back is, however, more important than ever as our day-to-day lives aren’t often set up to support good back health. “Being on phones and laptops constantly is really bad news for our backs,” says Lee, while the poor posture we all naturally gravitate towards during the day, is also to blame. “Unless you’re super conscious or have implemented things like a standing desk to negate that forward head posture, the chances are you could do with some proper strength training in that area,” adds Lee. Here are three of the best exercises to try to build up your back.

 Segmental cat-camel stretch

“The segmental cat-camel is very effective at mobilising the spine and restoring your ability to properly flex and extend across the entire spine,” says Lee. “It isn’t an exercise that will necessarily strengthen the back, but I believe it’s a fundamental movement to master that will help provide full function of the spine and enable a solid foundation for strength to be created in the back.”

  • Begin on hands and knees. Your neck should be aligned with your spine with a tucked chin. Your low back should have a slight arch, and your arms should be pressed into the ground so as not to sag between the shoulder blades.
  • From here, start by tilting your tailbone towards the ceiling. This will anteriorly tilt the pelvis which starts the ‘cat’ – extending the spine from the bottom up.
  • Next, imagine your spine is being pulled toward the ground and actively arch your back, one segment at a time.
  • When you reach the mid back, (thoracic spine) extension becomes a bit more challenging. Think about your chest or sternum being pulled toward the ground and contracting the muscles of your back to hinge/arch, one segment at a time.
  • When you are in a fully arched position, look up towards the ceiling.
  • Next, reverse the movement. Imagine each vertebrae of your spine is attached to strings, like a puppet. Lightly press your arms into the ground and lift your spine one segment at a time until you reach the pelvis. It also helps to think about squeezing the abdominals.
  • Tuck your tailbone to finish the ‘camel’ / fully rounded spine position
  • From here, arch your tailbone to tilt the pelvis and continue in this manner for 3-5 full cycles.

Face pulls

“This is my go-to exercise to strengthen the muscles that often are generally weak in most people,” says Lee. “Face pulls help strengthen the chronically weak muscles in our upper body that get stretched out all day as we sit in a slumped position at the computer or driving our cars.”

  • For Cable Face Pulls, start by setting up a rope attachment on a cable in a high position, or if you’re training at home you can anchor a band to something high.
  • Begin standing in a staggered stance position.
  • Grab the ends of the rope attachment with your thumbs pointing backwards.
  • Keep your elbows down below your shoulder. You don’t want to raise them to the level of your shoulder.
  • Then you turn the hands slightly and pull. By turning and rotating out you’re getting the external rotation of the shoulder to hit the rotator cuff which never gets worked in most conventional training programs.

Inverted rows

“TRX inverted rows are a great way to strengthen your back by first mastering your own bodyweight,” says Lee. “They can be used as a steppingstone to chin ups and pull ups. Using a TRX rather than a barbell to perform inverted rows places constant tension, in a good way, on your back muscles, and also places less stress on the elbow, shoulder and wrist joints.

  • Anchor the TRX safely and adjust the straps to a mid-length position.
  • Grab the handles and hang down directly under the straps.
  • Brace your abs and squeeze your glutes to form a straight plank position with just your heels touching the ground.
  • With your palms facing inwards pull your body up to the handles just below your chest. Make sure your shoulder blades go down and your shoulders roll back.
  • Lower yourself back down while keeping your core engaged.
  • Repeat for 8 – 10 repetitions.