Even though it’s winter, that doesn’t mean our upper backs and shoulders won’t be peeking out of little black dresses at special events all season long. And what woman doesn’t dread the feeling of a much-too-tight sweater that only last season fit her perfectly? We have all been there.
Clients tell me all the time that they want to get rid of what they call “back fat”. Others describe wanting a toned, defined back and shoulder area for a special event or dress they want to wear. I have helped brides prepare for their big day, with wedding dress workouts, that help show off this sexy back and shoulder area. What ever your reason, lets get to it!
Your back is made up of large, strong muscles such as the latissimus dorsi and trapezius as well as lots of smaller muscles, like the rhomboids, teres major and minor, and infraspinatus to name just a few. You also have deeper stabilizing muscles such as the quadratus lumborum, the psoas major, the multifidus and the spinal erectors. The posterior deltoids, or rear part of the shoulders also play a significant role, in back definition and toning. That is just the tip of the iceberg. In order to define, tone, and protect your back, you need to diversify the exercises and build up to an appropriate level of intensity, safely. Here, I will cover some simple exercises that will have you looking super-sculpted for that upcoming fall event! Even if you just want to feel more comfortable in your favorite fall wear, start today!
Swiss Ball Super(wo)man This is a wonderful exercise because it works your deeper core muscles, your lower back, and middle back while engaging your upper back and shoulders. It even works your glutes! Place your hips on a Swiss ball and straighten your legs out behind you, without locking your knees. Keep your feet wide, at least shoulder width apart, and balance on the balls of your feet. Place your hands behind your head. While squeezing your gluteals (buttocks), lower your upper body from the hips, down toward the floor, then back back up again, with a slight extension (lifting) of your upper back, only about an inch or so! You don’t want to stress your spine. Exhale as you lift your body up. Give your glutes an extra squeeze and hold this upright position for 1-2 counts. Inhale as you lower your back toward the floor. Repeat for 12-25 repetitions. Pause for 30-60 seconds, then repeat for a total of 2-3 sets.
Lat Pull Down This move is a classic back move because it engages so many of the intricacies of the back. It emphasizes your Latissimus Dorsi, the muscle that is responsible for firming and toning a majority of the sides of the back, the upper and middle back, and even part of the lower back. The “lats” are often called upon to help firm up that dreaded “back fat”. This exercise also involves the Teres group and other helper muscles. Sit at a lat pull down station (or kneel if that is the type of machine your gym has). You will find a fairly heavy weight, such as 30 or 40 lb., will probably be no problem, even from the start. However, I urge you to use caution with the level of intensity if you are a beginner. Keep your back straight, and pull the bar down to the front of your chest, at the level of your bust line. Do not bring the bar behind your head, as this will cause undue stress to the shoulder and neck area. You can pyramid with this exercise as you feel comfortable. Start with maybe 20-30 pounds and do 12-25 repetitions. Exhale as you pull the bar down toward your body slowly, hold for 1-2 counts, and inhale as you release the contraction and raise the weight. Rest for 30-60 seconds and increase the weight by 10 pound for your next set. If you are now doing 40 pounds for example, you can drop the number of repetitions to 8-15. If you like, you can do another pyramid as you get stronger and raise the weight to 50 pounds and drop to 10 repetitions. Or you can stay the same with the reps and weights. As long as you feel challenged, that is what is important. You can do 1-3 sets, depending on your level or time constraints.
One Arm Dumbbell Row This hits your posterior delts (back of the shoulder), Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids, Trapezius, and Teres Major. Basically, it gets the whole shebang! Pick up a medium-sized dumbbell in one arm—I stay around 8-10 lb. Put your left knee and left hand on a bench with your knee at a 90-degree angle and your elbow slightly bent. With the dumbbell in your right hand and the palm facing the bench, lift your elbow up and toward the ceiling as you exhale. Keep your arm close to your body and your chest facing the floor throughout the entire repetition. Do not lift your elbow higher than an inch or so above the level of your body, and do not jerk your back to lift more weight or to lift higher. Hold for 1-2 counts at the top of the repetition and inhale as you lower the weight. Don’t lock out your elbow as you lower the dumbbell. Exhale as you repeat the lift again for 12-25 repetitions. Pause for about 30-60 seconds in between sets, then repeat with a slightly heavier weight. In classic pyramid fashion, drop the number of repetitions in this set. For example, if you started with 5 lb. for 20 repetitions and are now using 8 lb., you will probably fatigue at 10 or 15 reps. Again, shoot for 1-3 sets and challenge yourself appropriately.
These exercises are a few of my favorites for a strong, toned back! You can do them about 2 times per week, on non-consecutive days. Follow your workout with a LiveRite whey protein shake for maximum muscle sculpting and recovery!