7 Best Exercises to Strengthen Your Back
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March 4, 2015
By Joseph Strongoli, Contributing Columnist

Lower back pain occurs in 85-90% of the adult population at least once
throughout an individual’s lifespan according to a 2004 study
conducted at the Boston University Medical Center by Dr. C.M. Bono.

Another study, by Drs. Krabak and Kennedy at the University of
Washington in 2008 showed “that back pain can cause muscle atrophy
and inhibit muscle firing, which leads to altered spinal mechanics which
may exacerbate the pain-spasm-pain cycle, leading to increased
dysfunction and decreased muscle function.

The muscles of the back are sometimes overlooked in weight training
programs, often in favor of the more visible and showy muscle groups,
like the biceps, triceps, shoulders, and pectoral muscles.

But neglecting the back is not just a mistake in weight training
programs—along with the core it forms the base of a lot of our power
and movement, and working out the arms without working out the
back is like building a house’s roof before you install its foundation—
but it’s a mistake with consequences in everyday life as well.

According to the CDC, back pain is the leading cause of disability and
missed work in the U.S., and costs $50 billion annually in doctor visits,
surgery, pain medications, treatments, therapy, and missed work.

Many Americans today live sedentary lifestyles working desk jobs, or
spending a lot of  their free time on the computer or in front of the
television. This lack of movement and upright position causes the
muscles to tighten and stiffen, and over time causes them to atrophy.
Weakness or tightness in the back’s muscles, hamstrings, and hip
flexors can pull the back out of alignment, causing erosion, wear and
tear, and pain. Poor muscle tone in the back can also cause bad
posture, leading to further back pain.

The muscles in the back form a complicated and interconnected system
of muscle groups. Together they make up one of the body’s biggest
and strongest body parts. They can be divided into four main regions:
the upper and outer lats, the lower lats, the middle back, and the lower
back. Each group serves different purposes and are used in diverse
motions, so diverse exercises are needed to strengthen each. With
careful exercise, the proper strengthening of the back and persistent
stretching of its muscles can improve posture, keep the back in line,
and provide a strong base for movement and flexibility, decreasing the
risk for injury.

Here are 7 ways to strengthen your back muscles:

Core Strengthening Stabilizes Your Back

A 2006 study by Dr. W.B. Kibler et al. at the Lexington Clinic Sports
Medicine Center in Kentucky found that the strengthening and
neuromuscular reeducation of the core muscles plays a significant role
in restoring stability to the spinal column and in turn minimizing pain
associated with instability.

The core consists of the abdominals in front, the paraspinals and
gluteals in the rear, the diaphragm at the top, and the pelvic floor and
hip girdle musculature at the bottom. Some exercises to strengthen the
core include ab crunches, sit-ups, bridges, and planks, squats, lunges,
hip lifts, and oblique twists.

Wide Grip Pull-Up

Grasp the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, hands spread out wider
than the shoulders. This will ensure that your upper and outer lats
receive the brunt of the load.

Fully extend your arms and relax your shoulders to stretch your lats.

Keep your elbows out to your sides, squeeze your shoulder blades
together and pull down to raise yourself up while contracting your lats.

Use your arms and back to lift up, and don’t swing your legs.

Pull yourself up as high as possible, and then lower slowly (don’t just
drop, as you could damage your shoulders). Repeat!

Lat-Pull Down

This exercise requires a machine, and focuses on your lower lats. Find
the Lat Pull Down machine at your gym. Take an underhand, shoulder-
width grip: this will allow you to pull your elbows back as far as
possible. Keep your back slightly arched and shoulder blades pinched
to concentrate the exercise on the lower lats. Once you have the form,
pull your elbows down and back as far as you can. Make sure to use an
appropriate weight setting that is manageable for you. (
Pull-ups can
also work the same muscles.)

One-Arm Dumbbell Row

This exercise requires a bench and a dumbbell weight. It will train your
middle back muscles, on both sides.

Standing over a bench, lean forward at the waist and put one knee and
the same hand on the bench. The other hand clasps the dumbbell, and
the corresponding foot stands flat on the ground.

Let the weight hang down and slightly forward with your arm fully
extended. Pull the dumbbell toward your hip, perpendicular to your

Keep your elbow close to your body, back flat and at the top pinch
your shoulder blades together. After some reps, switch arms.

Back Extension

This exercise is essential for the lower back. It requires a bench, and a
weight for more practiced trainers. Otherwise, bodyweight and gravity
should to the trick. Situate yourself on the bench so that your legs are
laying flat and with your thighs facing downwards.

Let your upper body hang off the edge of the bench, starting at the
hips. Crossing your arms over your chest or behind your head (more
difficult), lower your torso until it is perpendicular to the bench. Now
raise up again to a level parallel to the bench. Repeat! You should feel
the strain exclusively in your lower back.

Cable Row

This exercise will work on your middle and lower back. It requires a
row machine. Keep a slight bend in your knees, your torso upright and
a slight arch in your lower back. Pull your shoulders and elbows back
as far as possible, until the bar touches your midsection.


This exercise requires a barbell. Its important because it works out
nearly all of the regions of the back, in addition to the hips, the glutes,
the legs, the forearms, and the abs.

Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, with the balls
of your feet lining up directly under the bar.

Slightly bend the knees and grip the bar outside of the legs. With the
bar close to your shins, keep your head up, eyes forward, chest out,
and back flat.

Driving through the heels—not the toes—straighten the legs and bring
the bar up past the knees.

Keep your core flexed throughout and finish by thrusting the hips into
alignment and squeezing the glutes.

Stop once you are fully upright. Maintain a straight back and hinge
forward at the hips, while allowing the knees to bend at the same time.
Lower the bar back to the ground.

Repeat! It may be a good idea to practice with no weight until you get
the proper form down.  (Read more about
how to improve your

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