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Build a strong back

Personal Trainer Julien Bertherat.

Back exercises are important when building a balanced physique, but they can lead to exhaustion or injury if not delivered with good technique and reasonable amounts of weight. Injuring the back is to be avoided, as there is nothing more debilitating than struggling with a sore back!

So, below are four exercises to exercise and build and strong back while minimising the risk of strain or injury.

Seated one arm lat pulldown

Personal Trainer Julien Bertherat.

Step by step:

  1. At a Lat pulldown machine select a D-handle attachment to use during this exercise.

  2. Attach the D-handle and position yourself as you would for a regular lat pulldown.

  3. Reach up and grasp the handle with a neutral grip (palm facing in), with your torso fully erect, arm fully extended and chest out. (You may need to stand up first to pull the handle to you, then sit down on the seat.)

  4. With your working arm fully extended, lean back 10-15 degrees and look straight ahead.

  5. Drop your shoulder by depressing your clavicles, and avoid pinching or shrugging your neck.

  6. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, take a deep breath and pull the handle to your upper chest, focusing on the lats and pulling your elbow back and down.

  7. Pause, then slowly release the bar back to the start.

  8. Initiate the pull with slow, even force from the lats; jerking will cause your lower back and biceps to initiate the movement.

  9. For variation and to hit the muscles from a slightly different angle, change your grip so your palm faces forward or backwards.

  10. To increase your lat involvement and range of motion, lean back as you pull through the movement.

  11. To focus on the middle of your upper back (rhomboids, traps and lats), lean farther back and start your pull with your torso at a 45-degree angle.

  12. For increased rear delt activation, flare your elbow out to the side, keeping it high throughout.

One-arm dumbbell row

Personal Trainer Julien Bertherat.

Step by step:

  1. Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, bend over to place your knee and left hand on a bench to support your body weight.

  2. Your hand should be placed directly under your shoulder and your knees should be positioned directly under your hips.

  3. Gently contract your abdominal/core muscles ("bracing") to stiffen your torso and stabilise your spine. Your back should be flat and your head aligned with your spine.

  4. Depress and retract your scapulae (pull your shoulders down and back) without arching your low back and maintain this shoulder position throughout the exercise.

  5. Extend your right arm (holding the dumbbell) towards the floor without allowing your torso to rotate or your shoulder to move towards the floor.

  6. Exhale and slowly pull the dumbbell upwards, bending your elbow and pulling your upper arm backwards.

  7. Keep your arm close to the side of your body and continue pulling the dumbbell upwards until you are unable to lift any further without rotating your torso.

  8. Avoid rotating your body or changing the position of your spine throughout the lift.

  9. Inhale and gently lower the dumbbell to your starting position while maintaining a flat back and retracted (pulled back) shoulder position.

Seated row

Personal Trainer Julien Bertherat.

Step by step:

  1. Sit on the bench with your knees bent and grasp the cable attachment.

  2. Position yourself with your knees slightly bent so that you have to reach to grab the handle with outstretched arms yet without curling the lower back over.

  3. Brace the abdominals and you're ready to row.

  4. Pull the handle and weight back toward the lower abdomen while trying not to use the momentum of the row too much by moving the torso backward with the arms.

  5. Target the middle to upper back by keeping your back straight and squeezing your shoulder blades together as you row, chest out.

  6. Return the handle forward under tension to full stretch, remembering to keep that back straight even though flexed at the hips.

  7. Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions.

Front pull down

Personal Trainer Julien Bertherat.

Step by step:

  1. Sit comfortably on the pulldown seat, with your feet flat on the floor.

  2. Check the height of the bar. You may need to adjust the bar height by shortening or lengthening the chain or cable that supports the bar, or your seat height.

  3. The bar should be at a height that your outstretched arms can comfortably grasp the bar without having to fully stand up, but you should also be able to still extend your arms to achieve a full range of motion.

  4. If the station has a thigh pad, adjust it so that the upper thighs are tucked firmly under the pad. This will assist you when you apply effort to the bar.

  5. Grasp the bar with a wide grip with an overhand, knuckles-up grip.

  6. Pull the bar down until it's approximately level with the chin. Exhale on the downward motion.

  7. While shifting just slightly backwards is OK, aim to keep your upper torso stationary. Keep your feet flat on the floor and engage your abs as you pull.

  8. The bottom of the motion should be where your elbows can't move downward anymore without moving backwards. Be sure to stop at that point and do not go lower.

  9. Squeeze the shoulder blades together while maintaining square shoulders.

  10. From the bottom position, with the bar close to your chin, slowly return the bar to the starting position while controlling its gradual ascent.

  11. Continue until you complete eight to 12 repetitions in a set.

  12. Rest, then continue to complete your program of sets.

The best way to exercise the back, in my experience, is to start precise, slow and with light weights using equipment that can be controlled. That way you have a solid foundation to build up and vary your back workout as best suited to you.

If you have any questions about exercising your back, let me know!


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