A strong back provides practical support for your everyday movements and prevents injury. A strong upper back helps when you carry heavy items, and it gives your torso an athletic appearance. A strong lower back helps throughout the day, whether you’re sitting or exercising. No matter the size of your back muscles, a strong back can be developed through body-weight exercises.
Chin-ups primarily work the lats (latissimus dorsi) and teres muscles, which sit just above the lats. In “The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding,” Arnold Schwarzenegger explains that the lats are the largest muscles of the upper body and give an athletic torso its attractive “V” shape. Despite the size of the lats, body weight is all you need to strengthen them with chin-ups and pull-ups. Just grab a bar and pull your body up until your chin or upper chest reaches the bar, depending on your grip. Lower yourself in a controlled manner, and feel the stretch in your lats, but keep a slight bend in your elbows. Some people define chin-ups as “palms toward you, thumbs apart” and pull-ups as “palms forward, thumbs together.” Both are good exercises, with “palms forward” focusing on the lats and “palms toward you” putting more focus on the biceps. Perform these exercises in sets up to 15.
The exercise requires only a bar hanging at a height slightly higher than arm’s length above the floor. A Smith machine is a good piece of equipment to use. A reverse row looks like an upside-down push-up, and it develops depth in the back. Hang from the bar with your torso and legs in a straight line. Your heels are the only point of contact with the ground. Pull your chest to the bar, then lower yourself back down, keeping your body straight throughout the movement. This exercise is more challenging than it looks, and you can increase the difficulty by putting a bench or another sturdy object under your heels. The higher your feet, the more body weight hangs from your arms. Perform this exercise in sets of eight to 12.
The Superman is an excellent exercise for safely strengthening the lower back. Lie on your stomach with your arms out in front of you, palms down. Lift your legs and arms, contracting the erector spinae muscles of your lower back. Think about reaching forward with your arms and backward with your legs. Hold for several counts, then relax. To make the movement easier, do one leg and arm at a time. First, lift your left arm and right leg, then switch. As you get stronger, you can increase the amount of time you hold the contraction and the number of reps.
This is another lower back exercise, but, unlike the Superman, it also uses the glutes and hamstrings. It requires a piece of equipment called a Roman chair, which allows you to hover parallel with the ground by supporting your weight against thigh pads and then keeping you in place with pads behind your heels. Some versions of the Roman chair are done at a 45-degree angle to the ground. Let your body fold forward at the hips, then raise your torso up by flexing your glutes and hamstrings until your body is in a straight line. Perform sets of 10 to 15 reps. In “Strength Training Anatomy,” Frederic Delavier suggests that you hold the top position for longer periods as you get stronger to make the exercise more difficult.
About this Author
Jeffrey Rice became an ACE-accredited personal trainer in 2007, and began writing about fitness to support his business. Soon, however, he found himself writing more than training, and has since written health, fitness and supplement articles for numerous websites. He holds a M.F.A. in creative writing from Cleveland State University.