How to Develop an Effective Back Workout

A toned woman standing on the beach, seen from the back.
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The back can be your best body part if you know how to build a proper workout. It isn't just doing a few reps and sets with one or two exercises to create a back worth showing off.

Back Anatomy

If you don't know how the back is formed, you can't design workouts that make it the best. Your back is made up of three major muscle groups. The latissimus dorsi is located on each side of your back and helps you extend, rotate, and pull your arms toward your body. The erector spinae is made up of three muscles that run the length of your back from your neck to your fanny. The erector spinae is involved in flexion and extension of the upper body, as well as rotation.

There are also muscles known as your "posture" muscles. These are the rhomboids (major and minor) and they are located between the shoulder blades and aid in rotation, elevation, and retraction of the shoulder blades.

Why Work Out Your Back

Your back muscles are involved in just about every activity you do each day, so it is important that they're strong enough to handle all that work. Strength training your back muscles will add muscle mass to your upper body, which can help make your waist look smaller. Like your chest, your back is made up of big muscles that can handle heavyweight and, therefore, help you burn more calories.

How Often to Train

Like all muscles in your body, you can perform back exercises up to three non-consecutive days a week. If you're lifting heavy weights — enough that you can only complete six to eight repetitions — you'll need two or more days of rest before you perform the exercise again. For this reason, you might only work your back once or twice a week.

However, if your goal is to gain endurance and strength, stick with one to three sets of 12-16 repetitions lifting a weight that fatigues your muscle in that rep range. If this is the case, you will want to make sure that you take at least one day of rest before you perform the exercises again. Doing more and not allowing your body to heal after workouts can lead to overtraining, which will eventually negate any training gains you make.

Suggested Exercises

Just as sets and rep ranges are determined by your goals, so are your exercise choices. Choose a mixture of different exercises to target your back from a variety of directions and make sure you vary your routine every 4-6 weeks to avoid plateaus.

Back exercises are divided into the compound, multi-jointed movements and isolation movements. The compound exercises activate all heads of a muscle emphasizing a particular head depending on the type of movement.

Pullup and lat pulldowns exercises will help build width of your back, while rowing motions, like in the seated row, dumbbell row, and rear delt row, will build thickness of the midback.

Isolation exercises, such as the back extension and reverse flies, will provide the least amount of stimulus to the back muscles. However, they should not be shunned as these types of exercises can help target areas that are not growing equally to the rest of the back muscles. They help bring balance when muscles are lagging. And, remember, as important as working out your back is, don't neglect your other muscle groups.

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