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The back muscles are just there and your back is easily hurt. Is training your back a good idea or should you just leave it alone? Here’s what you need to know.
The back is an important body part for everyone to keep in shape. It’s important for all types of movement, spine health and longevity. Exercising the back with good form and reasonable intensity won’t hurt your back but increase strength.
Let’s take a look at the different fitness goals people have and what’s best for those goals.
If training any body part is necessary depends on what your needs/goals are. Everyone has different goals but there are some common ones.
The most common reasons why people think about training their back are; Looking bigger, getting stronger, athletic performance, preventing/recovering from injury and getting a good posture.
Let’s look at the different goals people have for their back and what is necessary.
Unless you have a job where you pick up many heavy things every day, your back muscles are probably undertrained.
To grow any muscle to any significant degree, you’ll have to train them directly. And to get a good physique, it’s actually a little more complicated than if you’re just going for strength.
There are a lot of different muscles in the back and to get a fully developed back, most people will have to target many of them in isolation on top of a base of larger compound exercises. Muscle growth requires a good amount of volume. That means enough sets and repetitions per workout. You can’t do this with heavy compound exercises like deadlifts and good mornings, it’s just too taxing on your body.
If you want to grow your back muscles only for looks, you can get away with a lot of small isolation exercises although forming a base with compound exercises is always a good idea. I’m always a fan of combining training for size and strength because most people actually need a combination of both. Strength is more important for most people since it has massive benefits for daily life but even if you just care about looks, strength will get you further in the future.
In general, heavy compound exercises done with low repetitions are better for building strength and lighter isolation exercises done with more reps is better for muscle growth. But for most beginners and intermediates, both types of exercise will build muscle and strength to some degree.
On top of the compound exercises, you can do isolation exercises for the upper back like one arm rows, reverse flies, face pulls.
Together with the core, the back muscles keep your upper body connected to the lower body.
It really depends on your specific sport and if you feel your back is a weak part if it’s necessary to train separately. For most sports, your back will catch up to your needs sooner or later. If you want it to get up to speed faster, some extra workouts that just focus on the back are a good idea.
For many sports, the basic but effective compound exercises like deadlifts, squats, etc are also good for most athletes. However, you might want to do some sport specific exercises. That would be movements that mimic a movement you often need while playing your sport.
Also, if you do a sport that involves a lot of pushing, the front of the body probably overdevelops compared to the back. To compensate for that and keep everything healthy and in balance, training the back is a good idea.
Wether you care about general, real-world strength or just becoming as strong as possible, the back muscles are a huge part of this. Pretty much any weight you want to lift involves at least some of the back musculature to actually do it. If only to keep standing up straight. Even exercises that you perform sitting down usually involve some back.
The heavier the things you want to lift are, the more stress there is on the spine and the more important it is to have strong back muscles to stabilize it. And of course for many movements, you need the back strength to be able to pick it up in the first place. No matter if it’s a barbell or a treadmill, lifting heavy things requires a strong back.
To strengthen the back, heavy compound exercises are the way to go. Deadlifts, squats, bent over rows, etc are perfect to build a strong back. Use heavy weights and low repetitions per set. That way you focus more on strength instead of size. However, for complete beginners, those exercises are quite technical and you have to use good form to do them right and minimize risk.
For beginners, using the machines in the gym are actually a really good option. These machines help you to train certain parts of the back without having to think about it much. Also, floor exercises like the superman and bird dog are great exercises to start off with if you’re a beginner.
Something many people don’t often think about is injury prevention or recovery from a previous injury. Some people might even think that training your back could cause back problems.
If you have an acute back injury, strengthening the back muscles isn’t going to do you much good, you’ll have to seek medical advice for that first.
However, for prevention or rehab, training your back is very useful. The stronger the muscles around your spine are, the more your spine can handle. Both strength and endurance of those muscles will greatly improve your resilience. Especially if you’ve got a desk job, your back muscles will likely be quite weak. Training them can greatly reduce the stress on your spine and therefore the injury risk. The same goes for recovery although you’ll have to be a bit more careful.
For good spine health, your core strength is also very important. It stabilizes the spine from the other side. It’s like building scaffolding that supports the spine from all sides. The back muscles are only on the back of the spine. The core supports it from the front.
To address the concerns about hurting your spine while exercising your back; yes there is a possibility for this. All movement has risks. And since your spine is quite vulnerable (believe me, I know first hand), moving it has a risk of injury. However, if your back muscles don’t get any exercise at all, the risk that any movement causes an injury gets bigger because the less strength there is, the less stabilization the muscles can do.
During exercise, you can be mindful of your exercise form which minimizes risk while maximizing strength increases. As long as you use the right exercise form and don’t go overboard with the resistance, working out your back is safer in the long run.
I’ll stress again that strengthening your core is also a very important factor for spine stabilization. It’s also necessary to have a strong core to safely do some of the back exercises properly. Technically the spinal erectors could even be called a part of the core since the core is the cylinder around your belly and back. When I mention core here, I mean the front so the abs and obliques.
For spine health, the spinal erectors are by far the most important muscle. Those are the two muscles that run next to the spine. Those aren’t the most visible muscles but they are the most important. The spinal erectors do exactly what the name suggests. They straighten the spine when it’s bent or resist bending when a force is applied.
As an extension of injury prevention, there is also your posture. Again, with a desk job you will get a pretty bad posture from sitting all day and not using the right muscles. The spinal erectors keep you upright which is pretty important. Also, the mid and upper back muscles help you keep your chest up and your shoulders back. All those things are important for proper posture.
Doing strength training for your whole back will make a big difference in your posture and how easy it is to keep the correct posture for a longer time. Even when you’re sitting it’ll be easier keeping a good posture with a stronger back.
Once again, heavy (for you) compound exercises like deadlifts, squats, kettlebell swings are great for this as are bodyweight exercises like; Bird-dog, superman and back extensions.
So if you want a visible six pack or better athletic performance, the best way to get them is to train your back. But what about normal people? You work out for general real world strength, health and longevity. but don’t care about athletic performance or necessarily how good you look. Is back training useful for you?
As already mentioned above, the back is a weak body part for most people, especially if you’ve got a desk job. And since they play a vital role in allowing your body to produce strength and preventing back injuries, training it is very important for everyone. And if you’re just going for looks, a big back makes you look much more muscular.
For daily life, the strength and injury prevention are very important for most people. You don’t have to aim to deadlift 500 lbs. but a basic level of strength is a good idea. You never know when you’ll need it.
There are quite a few good back exercises you can do at home on the floor. Just a yoga mat is necessary. However, to build some real strength, you need some resistance. One heavy back day is usually enough if you have some other activities throughout the week that also involve the back muscles.