Look after your back and it will look after you. It’s a mantra we should all heed, because we often don’t really consider our backs until injury strikes. Looking after your back means giving it the same attention you give to other parts of the body in the gym, and to do that you’ll need some top-notch back exercises.
You’ll find six of them below, courtesy of trainer Lisa Lanceford, who goes by the name Lisa Fiitt and is the founder of the Strong and Sxy fitness app (available on the App Store and Google Play).
“Over the past 10 years as a trainer, experience has taught me that the best results come from movements and routines that involve the barbell,” says Lanceford. “Outside of having a barbell as my go-to, compound movements should be staples of your training if you’re trying to gain strength and build muscle.”
T bar row
“This targets a large range of muscles in the back, including the traps, lats and rear delts,” says Lanceford. “It’s a great exercise for building that back thickness and strength.”
Load one end of a barbell and secure the other end (try wedging it into a corner – protect the skirting board and floor with a towel) so you can lift the weighted end safely. Stand facing away from the secured end with your feet either side of the bar. Keeping a flat back, hinge forwards at your hips and take hold of the bar in both hands. Row the weighted end up towards your chest by drawing your elbows up past your torso. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the move, then lower the bar slowly.
“You may recognise this movement as the top half of a deadlift,” says Lanceford. “It targets the lower and upper back, traps and erector spinae, making it a great all-over back exercise.”
You’ll need a rack to perform the exercise, and it should be set up so you can rest a barbell at knee height or just above. Hinge at the hips to reach down and grab the bar with an overhand grip, keeping your back straight. Lift the weight by driving your hips forwards and straightening your knees.
“If you’re looking for an exercise to work the posterior chain – all the muscles in the back of the body – this is it!” says Lanceford. “The deadlift is a compound exercise involving multiple muscle groups including the legs.”
Stand with your shins close to a barbell on the floor in front of you. Hinge at your hips and reach down to grasp the bar with an overhand grip. Keeping your back straight, lift the bar up to your thighs by driving your hips forwards.
Single-arm dumbbell row
“This exercise should be a staple if you’re trying to build a sculpted back,” says Lanceford. “Although it is focused on the lats, you can still engage the entire back during the movement.”
Stand side-on to a bench and rest your nearest leg on the bench as well as holding the far side of the bench with your nearest hand. Lean forwards so your back is parallel with the floor. Hold a dumbbell with your free hand and pull it up to your chest, concentrating on lifting it with your back and shoulder muscles rather than your arm. Lower the dumbbell with control. Do all your reps on one side, then switch.
“Build strength and thickness in one fell swoop with this compound exercise,” says Lanceford.
Hold a barbell in an overhand grip by your thighs. Lean forwards from the hips, bending your knees slightly and keeping your back straight. Bring your elbows up past your torso to row the barbell to your chest, then slowly lower it again.
“Complement your compound movements with this isolation exercise which targets the lats,” says Lanceford.
Stand in front of a cable machine holding the handle in front of you with your arms extended. Pull it down to your thighs, keeping your arms straight the whole time – this will help ensure you’re using your back muscles rather than your arms.