Best Back Workouts for Women (updated July 2019)

Back Workouts for Women

Why Train your Back?

In order to get that sculpted body you’ve always wanted, training the muscles in your back is essential. Working out all sections of the back, primarily the latissimus dorsi, is a key element to widening your upper body. This gives your waist a narrower appearance and also helps to round your shoulders.

So what are the best exercises for training back? Because the back is such a large muscle group — it travels from the shoulder blades and sculpts downward to the tailbone — hitting these muscles with a lot of power and tension is crucial. Muscle needs to break and reform in order to grow, and since the back typically holds a lot of weight it needs even more weight applied to it to change it.

Using free weights are the best way to target any muscle group because it mimics typical, everyday movement. Training your back is no different. Using hand-held dumbbells and barbells are a key way to target your back. However, using some machines, such as a seated cable row or lateral pulldown, or iso-lateral strength machines, are prime elements in sculpting your back muscles.

Best Latissimus Dorsi (Lat) Exercises

Lateral Pulldown

image @ www.bodybuilding.com

This movement is best for beginners because it is a machine-based exercise. However, the amount of force that can be applied to the muscle is intense enough to sculpt the back to give that “winged” appearance and silhouette your waist.

This exercise can also be done with a single arm by using a handle attachment on the machine, which can more directly target any imbalances on the right versus left sides.

To perform this exercise:

  • Adjust the weight by moving the pin into the appropriate weight.
  • Hold the handles at either end with your thumbs facing upwards.
  • Keeping your chest up and your shoulder blades down and back, pull the bar
    down to the tip of your chest — the bar should come within an inch of your
    chest but not necessarily touch it.
  • Keep pressure on the bar as you let it up so that you don’t release the tension
    on the lats.
  • Do not let the bar back into the starting position because it will release the
    pressure on the muscle. Instead, keep your arms bent at at least fifteen
    degrees and begin the next repetition.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions.

Barbell Row

image @ www.seannal.com

Any form of row is a great back builder because the bar needs to fight gravity. Any exercise that needs to fight gravity will add more tension to the muscle, which will tear more muscle fibers. Using a barbell is also a great tool because, like a dumbbell, it more closely resembles everyday movement and is more natural to the body.

This movement can also be done with an EZ Bar with the same motions. However, instead of placing it back on a spotter rack, keep your hold on the bar and continue through the full set (as shown above).

To perform this exercise:

  • Secure the spotter racks on either side of the squat rack at knee-height.
  • Load the barbell on either side with an appropriate weight — make sure it’s
    even on either side and that the clips are securely on!
  • Grip the bar with either a pronated (fingers facing downwards) or supinated
    (fingers facing upwards) grip.

    • a pronated grip will better target the lats and the elbows should be
      pointed outward.
    • a supinated grip will better target the rear delts, which are located
      over the shoulder blades, and the elbows should be pointed
      downward and close to the body.
  • Pull the bar from the spotter racks and up toward the chest while squeezing
    the back. Imagine that you’re trying to meet your elbows behind your back as
    you complete the movement.

    • The bar should meet at the lower chest.
  • Slowly release the bar back down to the starting position by placing it on the
    spotter rack.

    • This stopping motion allows the lats to be activated at the beginning
      of each repetition.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 6-10 repetitions.

Iso-Lateral Row

image @ www.bodybuilding.com

This is another machine-based exercise, but the difference lies in the weight distribution. Instead of a weight rack you must load plates onto the machine, which can increase the tension applied to the muscle. Like any other machine-based back exercise, though, it can be performed with a single-arm to fix muscular imbalances.

To perform this exercise:

  • Load the machine on either side with an appropriate weight and fix the seat
    so that the cushion comes in line with your entire chest.
  • Hold the handles at either side with a pronated grip.
  • Tense your lats, keep your chest up, and keep your shoulder blades down and
    back as you pull the handles straight back. Again, imagine like you’re trying to
    make your elbows touch behind you as you complete the repetition.
  • Slowly release the handles forward so to not lose the tension on the muscle.
  • At the top of the movement, keep the arms bent to keep the muscle activated
    and begin the next repetition.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions.

Seated Cable Rows

image @ www.zerostepsback.files.wordpress.com

Any variation of rows are a great way to directly target the back. It also has several variations and can be performed on several different machines. One of the easier movements can be performed on the low row machine while gripping either a handle attachment, a bar attachment, or a wide-handled bar attachment. Each attachment will target the back in a different place, but all have the same general form.

*A handle attachment will more closely target the rear delts and inner lats, a wide-handled bar attachment will target the outer sweep of the lats, and a bar attachment can target the outer lats with a pronated grip and the inner lats and rear delts with a supinated grip.

This exercise can also be performed with one hand to directly target muscular imbalances.

To perform this exercise:

  • Sit on the bench with your feet on the pads after setting the weight with the
    pin.
  • Grip the attachment with both hands with your thumbs facing upward and
    your hands in the same place on either side.
  • While bracing your feet against the pads, keeping your chest up, and your
    shoulder blades down and back, pull the attachment toward your lower chest.

    • Keep the attachment within an inch of your chest.
  • Release the attachment slowly to keep the tension on the muscle; at the end of
    the movement, your arms should remain at about a forty-five degree angle to
    withhold muscular tension.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

Dumbbell Pullovers

image @ www.bodybuilding.com

This is a relatively simple movement, but also a great back finisher because it demands intense pulling on the lats. The key to this movement is to choose a weight that is easy enough to move and hold without awkwardly rotating your shoulder, while also holding enough tension on the muscle to tear the fibers.

To perform this exercise:

  • Set yourself up on a bench with your shoulder blades resting on the bench
    and your feet far enough away to create a flat plank.

    • This movement can also be done by lying your entire body on a
      bench and hanging your arms off the end, but it takes a significant
      amount of tension off of the core.
  • Start with your hands cupping the dumbbell over your chest, body up in a
    plank position.
  • Bring the dumbbell back over your head while keeping your arms bent at
    roughly a forty-five degree angle to prevent unwanted tension on the
    shoulder.
  • Draw the dumbbell back until it’s about 2-3 inches from the floor behind you
    (this gives a great pull on the lats).
  • Brace your lats and pull the dumbbell back to the starting position. Keep your
    arms bent the whole time.
  • Complete for 4 sets of 12-15 repetitions.

Remember to Train Heavy!

What’s most important, and most intimidating, to women is the aspect of lifting heavy weights. Moving heavy weight is nothing to fear! The female body does not have enough testosterone to have that “bulky” look of a male who trains at the same intensity. Instead, training your muscles with heavy weight can: increase your metabolism, build muscle mass, reduce body fat, and give you those curves you’ve been chasing after.

While these back exercises can be effective while training with a lighter weight, the impact will not be the same. For maximum results, choose a weight that exhausts you by the sixth or seventh repetition for a set of 8-10. This ensures that the muscle is tired, torn, and able to be repaired.

The Mechanics of Deadlifting (updated July 2019)

Mechanics of Deadlifting

What is a Deadlift?

The Exercise Overview

A deadlift is a compound power exercise, most commonly used by powerlifters. It engages more muscles during one movement than any other compound lift. This makes it ideal for not only strengthening those muscles, but also is more efficient for those who lift with a time constraint.

image @ www.bodybuilding.com

Deadlifts are also the easiest exercise to lift the heaviest amount of weight with. There are two main reasons why:

  1. The distance between the floor and the top of the movement is relatively small, averaging only a couple of feet. As compared to a squat or bench press, this makes heavier weights much easier to handle.
  2. You really only perform half of the movement. Unlike a squat or bench press where you need to control the bar for the concentric and eccentric part of the lift, gravity takes over for the eccentric half of the deadlift. As soon as you bring the bar a third of the way down after locking out (or reaching the ending point of the exercise), gravity takes over and gets that bar to the ground. You just have to make sure that it doesn’t squash your toes.

Recruited Muscles

The deadlift is primarily a hamstring and glutes movement because the lifter uses his heels as the driving force. However, both the thoracic and lumbar spine are activated at the top of the movement, as is the latissimus dorsi and rear deltoids of the back. In addition, the triceps are recruited when lifting the bar off of the ground. Tricep activation is due to the pushing motion of the lifter relative to the bar — against popular belief, the first movement in a deadlift is pushing the bar off of the ground, not pulling it, to lift it. Therefore, the triceps and not the biceps are utilized to complete the movement.

The Mechanics

image @ www.cdn-mf0.heartyhosting.com

There are two different forms of deadlifting, conventional and sumo, but both have the same core mechanics. The trick to a deadlift is to keep your back relatively straight — no rounding at the top! Your feet should be planted firmly on the ground so that the heels are used as the primary driving force. Any additional pressure at the front of the body will just cause you to fall over.

The deadlift should be one continuous movement. Because of the heavy weight, some individuals have a tendency to lift the legs first and let the bar follow. This puts intense strain on the lumbar spine. Instead, the whole body needs to move as one. Ideally, the bar should travel up the path of your legs and follow the same path back down to the ground. It will make sure you keep control of the bar and prevent your back from being thrown out during the eccentric portion.

Another key component to completing the deadlift is to activate your latissimus dorsi before lifting the bar. Located right at the base of the armpit, the lats are the stabilizing force of the entire upper body. To prevent your back from rounding or your shoulders from slumping forward, pressure is applied to the upper back to keep it rigid. It’s a similar notion to locking your shoulders during a bench press. In order for the upper body to stay put and not ruin the rest of the lift, it needs to be activated. And stay activated until the bar touches the ground again.

The Equipment

A deadlift can be done with no outside equipment. There are some daredevils deadlifting a raw bar with no shoes on, and that’s great for them. However, the heavier the lift the more outside equipment will help. Here are some key tools for optimal deadlifting:

  1. Flat-soled shoes.
    image @ www.rougefitness.com

    Running shoes are bouncy for a reason: they keep half the foot off of the ground. However, since the primary driving force in a deadlift is the foot, the entire sole should remain planted on the ground. This gives the lifter better stability, which ensures a better lift. Powerlifting shoes or even Converse are great picks because they provide ankle mobility and keep the entire foot on the ground. Or any flat-soled shoes work, really. Just leave the running shoes at home.
    Powerlifting shoes can be found here, and Converse can be found here.

  2. Wrist straps.
    image @ www.roguefitness.com

    Lifting an iron bar off of the ground puts a lot of pressure on weak wrists. To avoid this, wrist straps are a great tool. They’re made of a combination of tough fabric and elastic, so one size really does fit every wrist. Wrist straps keep the wrists locked in place and prevent them locking out or bending. In addition, some wrist straps will loop around the wrist and then wrap around the bar to increase grip strength.
    Wrist wraps can be found here.

  3. Lifting chalk. Lifting chalk is messy but effective for those who hate using straps. Also, if you tend to sweat during exercise, chalk will soak up the liquid to prevent slipping grips. When trying to lift heavy barbells, a firm grip is the best grip. Chalk is also applied to the legs when wear shorts to prevent chaffing.
    Lifting chalk can be found here.

Choose Your Best Deadlift

So now you have the knowledge of deadlifting basics and key tools for the best lift. But what stance do you use?

image @ www.peakperformance365.com

Conventional V. Sumo

There are two types of deadlift: conventional and sumo. Conventional is a close stance deadlift where the hands are kept outside of the legs. Sumo is a wide stance deadlift where the hands are kept inside of the legs. Both get the bar off the ground by primarily activating the glutes and hamstrings. However, conventional deadlifts equally target the quadriceps, or the front of the leg. Conversely, sumo deadlifts work the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus and leave the quadriceps virtually untouched.

But Which to Choose?

Choosing your stance is primarily based on your physical build. Typically, individuals with long legs will choose sumo because they can get closer to the bar. Conventional deadlifts, while effective, make it more difficult for taller lifters to get down into the starting position. Similarly, individuals with longer torsos may also choose sumo deadlifts for the same reasons.

If you’re someone with short legs or a short torso, however, you may choose conventional. Having smaller limbs allows more room around the bar while still being able to get the full range of motion during the exercise. Similarly, someone with longer arms may choose conventional deadlifts because their arms are held farther apart. This actually reduces the space between him and the bar, making it easier to complete the movement.

Although, choosing your stance is also based on personal preference. You can learn one way but prefer the other way, or lift heavier, or have a higher repetition range. You can also lift in both stances if you’re indecisive. There really is no wrong way to deadlift. As long as your form is good and your back is not rounded during any part of the movement, deadlift away!