Back exercises are arguably the most important to include in your training program. If you spend your days sat down, hunched over a desk, then you need to train your back. Opening up the chest, strengthening the back and pulling your shoulders back is key to improving your posture. Having a strong back will also improve your chest strength, providing stronger antagonist muscles and a more solid base. We will focus on the anatomy, then muscular emphasis for back exercises, with a short section on links to our recommendations for back exercises.
Back exercises we recommend
Whilst the back is comprised of many muscles, the largest two are the Latissimus Dorsi and the Trapezius.
The Lats originate along the spine and upper pelvis and spread across your lower-mid back and insert on the upper arm underneath the shoulder. Their function is to adduct (bring inwards), extend (bring backwards) and internally rotate the arm.
The Traps originate in the skull and all the way down the spine and thoracic vertebrae, inserting on the clavicle and in and around the scapula. As the Traps are so largely spread, inserting into the ‘floating’ scapula, their function is to control the scapula. The upper fibres can elevate and upwardly rotate the scapula, pulling the neck backwards. The middle fibres adduct the scapula, pulling it inwards, and the lower fibres depress the scapula, pulling it down.
Back exercises and changing the muscular emphasis
As the Lats and Traps cover the back from top to bottom there are many fibres from only two muscles running the length and width of the back. When performing row exercises by simply adjusting the angle and position of the hand-elbow upon contraction, it will emphasise different fibres.
To maximise your workout, ensure to train with a variety of different angles. Varying pulling your hands to your chest, ribcage, abs and hips to change the muscular tension.
During a row, by pulling the hands higher up the body, the emphasis will be shifting to the mid traps.
Likewise when pulling the arms closer to the hips it will place more contraction on the lower fibres of the lats.