Previous installments of Feel the Burn can be found here.
Gentle (yet mighty and powerful) readers, I have been begged by one of you to explain how best to get your back into fighting shape. “I do stuff for my legs, and I lift things with my arms and chest, but what about my back? It seems important!” This is such a worthy goal, my stony heart was quite moved by it. Let us begin. BEFORE we begin, please to consult our post on posture, because the two concepts are so beautifully linked, and doing the things I recommend there will set you well on your way to back strength. This is almost just a part II to that post.
We are all so terrified of our backs, are we not? If you have ever done something to your back, even thinking about it may cause you to freeze like a Weeping Angel, knowing that the slightest twitch in either direction might send you into paroxysms of agony. This, too, is why so many people are in thrall to their chiropractor. He knows about my back, they say, and the idea that someone is a bulwark between themselves and having no one know about their back causes them to also believe the nonsense their chiropractor then tells them about vaccinations and ley lines.
Backs, in other words, are no joke. I have spent a lot of time working on mine, and am quite happy with it. One thing I’ll tell you right off the bat, because it’s been of great use to me? You probably over-arch yours when you’re trying to do a better job by it. There’s the slump (you can slump for a minute now), and then you realize you’re slumping, and you UN-slump, and suddenly you’ve created this massive hollow in your back that does you no better! Ideally, you want your back to be nice and flat, with a natural curve, of course, the one provided by your spine, but without being able to store a bale of hay back there.
DISCLAIMER: IF THERE IS ANYTHING ACTUALLY AMISS WITH YOUR BACK, AS OPPOSED TO GENERALIZED MALAISE AND WEAKNESS, CLOSE THIS TAB AND CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL. ALSO, I HOPE JUDY BLUME’S DEENIE IS COMFORTING TO YOU AND YOU LEARNED A LOT ABOUT THINGS YOU CAN DO IN THE PRIVACY OF YOUR BED BEFORE FALLING ASLEEP.
Now, let’s just run through some stuff you can goof around that will get you some results. Again, we’ve got bent-over rows and reverse flys and lat pulldowns and stuff in our posture post, those are all good for you. Let me also say, at this time, that MOST exercises we will ever talk about–squats, lunges, etc.–are good for your back, and will help strengthen it, if done with correct form and while attempting to hold your body with physical integrity. If you start feeling your back gravitate inwards or outwards or your shoulders start doing wonky things, let it simmer for a moment and try it again.
1. BIRD DOGS
God, these are the easiest fucking things to do. They’re great for you, and they work your abs and your glutes and your lower back, but a CHILD could do them, coma patients can do them, and what you’ll do to get better over time is really make sure you’re extending nice and high at the end point of the movement and so you truly feel that glute engage, and work on keeping the portions of your body that AREN’T moving beautifully still. The video I picked to demonstrate this is from a real back-medicine type, but is also weirdly sexual, like all good workout clips.
2. FAKE DEADLIFT STRETCH
What I am about to describe for you is not even a deadlift, because deadlifts are something you IDEALLY want to work through while a physical human being looks at you and offers a spot. Look, you’re grown-ass women and weird men, you can totally do deadlifts, but we’re going low-key today. This is more of a stretch with resistance, and I do them a bunch because I feel really good after, and it’s something I like to do if I need to let my heart-rate simmer back down between things like box jumps, and it’s DYNAMITE for the back.
Get a broomstick, if you’re at home, or, if you’re at the gym, one of those long skinny sticks that are usually in a pile somewhere.
Now, you should look like the above cheerleader, but the stick would be behind your back, part of it invisible behind your outstretched arms, while you hold it in a light underhand grip. Spread your legs to shoulder width apart, keep them straight, and hingggggeeee forward at the waist, slowly, slowly, slowly, ALWAYS keep your shoulders back and your chest up. Your butt will push back some, that’s cool. You may be able to go an INCH and no more at first, and that is fine! That is just fine. Come on back up slowly, after hanging out for a lil bit. The stick helps keep your shoulders open, you’re stretching your hamstrings, you’re training your posture, you’re strengthening your back. Goooood.
3. BACK EXTENSIONS ON THAT WEIRD THING THAT GOES UNDER YOUR JUNK
That THING is called a ROMAN CHAIR. (In our posture post, I showed you how to do back extensions on a stability ball, but this is a little more idiot-proof for noobies, and a good way to feel like you know what you’re doing at the gym.) Please enjoy this GIF, and then we’ll change it a bit!
Yeah, let’s not go so high with ours. End the upward motion when your body is STRAIGHT, you get just as much as if you hyperextend, and then you can’t mess it up. I also like to keep my hands on the back of my head with my elbows sticking straight out, not pulling on my neck or anything, just, again, a trick to keep your shoulders back. And do it slowly! OOOOOOZE UP, OOOOOZE DOWN. After this becomes old hat, take your hands down and use them to lovingly cushion a weight to your chest. You can also adjust where the pad sits, and as your back becomes stronger, you’ll be happier supporting more of your own weight and can keep the pad on your crotch. At first, you may have it a little higher. YMMV.
A pleasant variation!
Toss in a little twist! I like doing ten where I twist up to look at the left, ten where I twist to look up at the right, and then ten normal ones. Works you alllll over.
4. STANDING DUMBBELL UPRIGHT ROWS
(You do not need dumbbells. You can hold anything you want, but ideally something which you can hold without becoming distracted by dropping it on yourself.)
As this charmingly bored-looking woman so aptly demonstrates, this is an easy move to figure out. Now, it’s definitely going to work your arms, but it’s ALSO going to work your traps, which are very sexy-looking and important. Men get super-obsessed with their traps, and that’s why sometimes their necks look all fucked-up, but you will almost certainly not manage to get there, but IF YOU DO I bet you look gorgeous and you should email me pics.
5. ACTUAL DEADLIFTS, BECAUSE OKAY
I love meatheads so much. Sure, they grunt a lot, but they’re usually super happy to help you out, and they also LOVE DEADLIFTING. Mark Rippetoe is a God to their people, so let’s let him walk you through this. I’m not going to tell Mark Rippetoe shit.
So, I hope you have enjoyed these two posts on back strength! The one exercise that you can’t do without here is pull-ups, but we’ll save that for another day. Pull-ups are Gatsby’s green light, you know.
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.