One of the most common complaints among people is back pain. And yet, when it comes to workouts, the back muscles are the most neglected muscle group of the body. “What you can’t see you usually do not train; that bit is very much true when it comes to training your back muscles. Right from the top of your neck all the way down to your tail bone there are many secret workers that go unnoticed just because you can’t readily see them in the mirror. Out of sight is out of mind,” says Gagan Arora, celebrity trainer and founder of Delhi’s Kosmic Fitness.
One of the root causes of back pain is muscle atrophy in our backs due to our sedentary lives. We spend far too much time sitting in one place, usually in front of our screens, and very little time walking or doing any other physical activity. This can be easily addressed through consciously adding workouts for strengthening the back.
Along with protecting the spine and providing rigidity to it, the back muscles are also designed to have a braking effect on the upper half of the skeletal system, explains A.K. Abhinav, Bengaluru-based coach and founder of Namma Xfit. “The muscles of the back are synchronous to the corresponding muscles in front.” Several muscle groups in your back are used for pulling movements, stabilising your scapulae and, most importantly, moving. Strong back muscles assist in all pulling activities and in the day-to-day work of your shoulder joints. Even basic human locomotion, including standing straight, walking, running, climbing stairs, lifting bags or suitcases—every activity you do all day needs some sort of back and spinal strength and stability.
Your back muscles are divided into three broad regions, namely cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back) and lumbar (lower back). “It’s important to address all three regions of the back as a deficiency in any one of them, could adversely affect the health of the others. For example, if the lumbar region becomes weak, it could result in the thoracic spine becoming tight and less mobile. The upper back muscles work opposite to the chest muscles and, in a way, keep the chest muscles humble. If your upper back is weak, the force produced by the chest muscles will overpower the structures of the shoulder joint complex resulting in injury. A strong upper back would ensure there is balance and it would help the shoulder withstand high levels of force production. A weak upper back could also result in the neck trying to compensate and perform a function that it isn’t intended for. And this could easily lead to an injury,” says Abhinav.
A strong back has many benefits including better posture, lower chances of back aches, good movement and also improves body aesthetics. “Strong lats give you a V-shaped taper that is much sought after. Muscles in the mid-back are used for scapular stability, which improves posture and reduces chances of suffering slip discs. Lower back muscles stabilise the spine and help in better mobility of your hips making walking and running gait seamless,” adds Arora.The muscles of the back should be trained with three objectives in mind, namely injury reduction, general strength and aesthetics.
A.K. Abhinav’s Workouts for the Back
Workout 1 (Injury Reduction)
Scap Push-ups: 10 reps
Elbow Plank Scap Push-ups: 10 reps
Elevated Bridge: 10 reps
Single Leg Elevated Bridge: 10 reps
Passive 3D Neck Isometrics: 10 seconds
Dynamic Chakrasana: 5 reps
Reverse Grip Wall Slides: 10 reps
Prone Cobra: 30 seconds
Workout 2 (Strength)
Barbell Bent Over Row: 10 reps
Pull-ups: 5 reps
Hanging Shrugs: 10 reps
Renegade Rows: 10 reps
Barbell Shrugs: 10 reps
Five Giant sets
Sorenson’s Hold: 30 seconds
Reverse Sorenson's Hold: 30 seconds
Wrestlers Bridge: 30 seconds
Workout 3 (Aesthetics)
Dumbbell Bent-over Row: 15, 12, 8, 8 reps
Dumbbell Bent-over Lateral Raises: 15, 12, 8, 8 reps
Single Arm Dumbbell Row: 15, 12, 8 reps
Dumbbell Pullover: 15, 12, 8 reps
Dumbbell Shrugs: 15, 12, 8 reps
Body Rows: 15, 12, 8 reps
Back Extensions: 15, 12, 8 reps
Prone Neck Extensions: 10 reps
Gagan Arora’s Back Workout
Deadlift 10-12 reps
Chin-ups or Lat Pull-downs 10-12 reps
Bent-over Rows (dumbbell or barbell) 10-12 reps
Bent-over Dumbbell Lateral Raises 10-12 reps
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.