By Marta Ustyanich
Photos of Jessica Renee by Michael Neveux
We get it: mustering the motivation to work your back isn’t always as easy as gearing up to flex your bis or crank out a set of squats. Though you may rarely glimpse your progress and covertly check out your physique in every mirror and store window you pass, the importance of training your back goes far beyond turning heads in a strapless number — though that’s definitely a sweet perk! (And it’s a good thing you’re not hitting the gym to look cute for Instagram, because all that hard work doesn’t exactly lend itself to the perfect gym selfie — awkward over-the-shoulder mirror snap? Fess up, you’ve done it, too!)
“A strong back is the cornerstone of muscle building,” says Magda Wilk, IFBB Figure Pro, personal trainer at Ontario-based Wilk Fitness, and designer of this tough-but-effective workout. Not only will a strong back help you lift as much weight as possible with every move you do, as Wilk explains, “Your back muscles are used in almost all power moves which, without a strong back, would be almost impossible to perform.” A strong back also goes hand-inhand with a strong core. “The abdominals and back work together to support the spine when we sit, stand, bend, exercise, and so on,” says Wilk. It’s also the key to perfect posture, helping to keep everything in alignment and creating a tapered waist. All this makes back training a non-negotiable part of a well-rounded training program.
This routine works all the major muscles of your lower, mid, and upper back in just six moves. “It’s very important to target all three portions of the muscle group, or you can develop muscle imbalances, which can lead to injuries,” says Wilk. Since your back is one of your biggest muscle groups, you’ll be performing straight sets to give yourself time to recover while staying focused on using good form.
Though women typically have less upper-body strength than men, there’s one thing that every fit chick knows: we can do anything that men can (if not better!), and this applies equally to the prized pull-up. First up in this routine, the pull-up calls on most of the muscles in your upper body and requires explosive energy, so you don’t want to exhaust your muscles before taking on this power move. We’ve left the single-muscle-group moves for last, and you’ll be upping your number of reps for your Good Mornings to really feel the burn. Perform this workout two or three times per week with 48 to 72 hours between workouts for a stronger, sexier rear view in just six moves!
Grab the pull-up bar with a wide grip, bend your knees, and cross your legs behind you at the ankles. Bend your elbows to pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar, then lower back down. Extend all the way down, and squeeze your back at the top of the move.
Tip: For an added challenge, fasten a belt with a weight plate to your waist.
Bent-Over Barbell Row
Take a slight bend in the knees and hinge forward at the hips to bring your torso about 45 degrees to the ground. Grab a barbell with a shoulder-width, underhand grip (palms facing forward), and bend your arms to raise the bar close to the bottom of your ribcage. Keeping a straight spine and your elbows tucked in, squeeze your back muscles at the top of the move. Stretch your lats as you extend your arms to return to the start.
Tip: Switch up your grip with every workout to hit your muscles from different angles.
One-Armed Dumbbell Row
Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your arm extended. Kneel on a bench with your left knee, keeping your right foot on the floor and your leg straight. Bring your upper body parallel to the ground and place your left hand on the bench. Bend your elbow to bring the dumbbell up beside your ribcage, keeping it tight to your body and pausing at the top. Reverse fluidly to lower the weight. When your set is through, repeat on the opposite side.
Tip: You can get a better pump by skipping the rest periods between sets.
Kneeling Cable Pulldown
With two D-handles attached high on either side of a cable machine, grab each handle with an underhand grip and kneel in the centre, keeping your torso upright and arms extended. Bend at the elbows to bring them close to your ribcage, and squeeze your back muscles before slowly releasing to the start.
Tip: Bring your shoulder blades down and back and don’t lean your head forward to maintain proper alignment.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a barbell on the ground in front of you. Grab the barbell with a shoulder-width overhand grip and look straight ahead, keeping your legs and spine straight. Straighten your hips to stand, squeezing your glutes and back muscles as you come up. As you lower, keep the bar close to your shins.
Tip: Don’t jerk the weight — use a smooth, controlled motion.
Place a barbell on your shoulders and bend your knees slightly. Look directly ahead and keep a straight spine as you bend forward at the hips as though bowing to bring your torso parallel to the ground. Don’t allow your upper back to round as you lower or lift to return to the starting position.
Tip: Up the burn by taking it slow but avoid pausing between reps.