Top Exercises for Back Strengthening (U.S. News & World Report)

Posted: May 18, 2023 in In the News

This article originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report on May 18, 2023.


Top Exercises for Back Strengthening

By Cedric X. Bryant

Understanding the functions of all the muscles in the back is complex, but training them does not have to be. The muscles of the back help us do everything from standing up straight and opening doors to rotating our upper body to throw a baseball or hit a golf ball. Strengthening back muscles can also help reduce some types of back pain.

These muscles have a variety of different functions and help your body move in different angles and directions. This is why fitness facilities typically feature a number of machines (e.g., the lat pull-down and back extension machines), as well as pull-up bars and free weights, that can be used to train the many muscles and movements of the back.

Back Muscle Overview

Of course, no one has the time to spend all day at the gym doing exercises to target every individual muscle in the back, which is why the American Council on Exercise sponsored research to figure out how you can efficiently and effectively train the back muscles.

The study focused on five muscles: the middle trapezius, lower trapezius, latissimus dorsi, infraspinatus and erector spinae. The idea was to evaluate muscles from the top to the lower part of the back. Here is a quick rundown of the functions of each of these muscles:

 Middle trapezius. This muscle helps pull the shoulder blades together to maintain an upright posture.
Lower trapezius. This muscle is used to lower the shoulder blades from a raised position and stabilize the shoulder blades during arm movements.
Latissimus dorsi. You use this muscle to extend and rotate your arms toward your body. The latissimus dorsi, sometimes called the "lats," also assists in deep breathing.
Infraspinatus. This muscle rotates the arm away from the body and stabilizes the shoulder joint.
Erector spinae. Bending to the side and maintaining an upright posture use this muscle.

Exercises for Your Back

The researchers had the participants perform the following exercises while measuring how intensely each muscle was working.

? Lat pull-down
? Seated row
? Bent-over row
? Inverted row
? Pull-up
? Chin-up
? TRX row
? I-Y-T raise

If you have time to perform only one back exercise during a workout, the bent-over row is the best option. The study showed that this exercise worked three of the five back muscles most intensely middle trapezius, infraspinatus and erector spinae) and was the second-best option for the other two muscles lower trapezius and latissimus dorsi).

The study found that the second-best back exercise is the I-Y-T raise, which also effectively targeted all five muscles tested. Chin-ups and pull-ups best targeted the latissimus dorsi specifically.

In total, these results reveal the need to perform a variety of exercises to effectively train the entire back, but also show how multiple muscles can be targeted by a single well-chosen movement.

Sample Back Workout

One approach for organizing a resistance-training program involves targeting pulling muscles – the back muscles and the biceps – on the same day. The following is a sample upper body pulling workout that you can integrate into your overall training plan. This workout combines exercises from this study with a variety of biceps exercises to create a fun, challenging and effective workout. It's organized into three blocks, each of which should be completed independently. To complete this workout plan, follow these steps:

? Complete eight to 15 repetitions of each exercise in each set.
? Complete both exercises in each block with little or no rest between exercises.
? Perform one to four sets of both exercises in each block, depending on your goals and fitness level.
? Rest for up to two minutes after every pair of exercises. For example, in block 1, you would perform one set each of the bent-over row and concentration curls, rest for up to two minutes, then either perform additional sets of those two exercises or move on to block 2.
? Complete this workout two or three days per week.

An appropriate amount of weight or resistance should allow you to complete at least eight repetitions but not more than 15 before you reach fatigue at the end of each.



Block 1

Bent-over row
Concentration curl


Block 2

I-Y-T raise
Biceps curl


Block 3

Seated biceps curl
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