Everyone talks about growing bigger glutes or rock-solid abs, but what about those shoulders?
Having a strong back and shoulders is important for everyone, but there’s more to it than just being able to lift heavy in the gym. It also keeps your posture looking (and feeling!) good and can even minimise unhelpful upper-body rotation when you run, making you more efficient so you can log more miles.
Outside of fitness, shoulder and back strength is vital for daily activities, like cleaning up and carrying in the shopping. It also helps to open up your chest, giving your lungs more room to expand, which helps you to breathe easier throughout the day.
Here are six of our go-to exercises that will work the different parts of your back and shoulders and help you to really start seeing those gains.
Ready? Of course you are!
1. BENT-OVER ROWS
The bent-over barbell row can be performed with either dumbbells or a barbell. A barbell will allow you to add more weight, which in turn helps to build more muscle mass, but do what feels comfortable for you.
This movement is one of the best back exercises, as it targets a large range of back muscles, including your lats and spinal erectors.
Your form is key for the bent-over row, so make sure your spine is kept in a neutral position. Focus on keeping the shoulders retracted and imagine trying to touch your elbows together behind your back at the top of each rep.
HOW TO (DUMBBELLS):
Start by standing with your feet under your hips and holding the dumbbells at your sides. Keeping knees slightly bent, hinge at your hips, so your torso is close to parallel to the floor and extend your arms straight in front of your legs, with your palms facing each other.
From here, engage your core and row the dumbbells up towards your sides until your upper arms are at least parallel to your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Then, slowly reverse the motion to return to start.
Perform 10 to 15 reps.
2. DUMBBELL FRONT RAISES
Frontal raises work the anterior (front) deltoids, more commonly known as the delts. When working your back and shoulders, it’s important to make sure each exercise is targeting different areas to promote muscular balance.
Start by standing straight with your feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in either hand in front of your thighs with your palms facing your body. Brace your core and without locking your arms, raise your arms in front of you to shoulder height. Hold for a few seconds and slowly return to the starting position.
If you find you’re rocking side to side or backwards and forwards, you either need to engage your core to enhance stability or reduce the weight to ensure your shoulders are reaping the full rewards.
Complete 10 to 12 reps.
3. SEATED CABLE ROWS
The seated cable row works the muscles of the back, shoulders and forearms, including the lats, rhomboids (between the shoulder blades), traps and biceps. It’s an excellent all-round compound exercise for developing the middle back - and even doubles up as a useful arm workout too!
Before you start, if necessary, adjust the seat. Once sat, position yourself with your knees slightly bent, so you have to reach to grab the cable attachment with outstretched arms and without curling your lower back.
Brace your core and pull the handle and weight back toward the lower abdomen while trying not to use the momentum of the row too much. Target the middle to upper back by keeping your back straight and squeezing your shoulder blades together as you row, keeping your chest out. Next, return the handle forward under tension to full stretch, remembering to keep your back straight even though flexed at the hips.
Complete the exercise 10 times.
4. LAT PULL DOWNS
This exercise targets the lats, which is the muscle just under the armpits and spreading across and down your back. By isolating the back muscles with this exercise, you can focus specifically on them without tiring out your biceps or triceps.
Targeting your back muscles will help to improve posture while easing pulling movements, like opening a door, or even performing a pull-up. Having strong lats is even said to help relieve some forms of back pain.
Sit comfortably on the seat with your feet flat on the floor. You may need to adjust the bar height, so that your outstretched arms can comfortably grasp the bar without having to stand up entirely.
Grasp the bar with a wide, overhand grip. Pull the bar down until it’s approximately level with your chin, exhaling on the downward motion. Make sure to keep your upper torso stationary, your feet flat on the floor and engage your abs as you pull. The bottom of the motion should be where your elbows can’t move downward anymore without moving backward. Here, squeeze the shoulder blades together while maintaining square shoulders.
From the bottom position, slowly return the bar to the starting position while controlling its gradual ascent.
Perform eight to 12 reps.
When you think of back exercises, the deadlift is likely not to be the first that springs to mind. However, the deadlift is one of the best free weight back exercises there is. The movement requires engaging your back muscles, from your rhomboids to your erector spinae, in order to prevent any injury.
Not to mention, it’s also a great way to target your legs and glutes.
HOW TO (BARBELL):
Position your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes under the bar, pointing straight ahead. Your heels should remain flat on the floor and when you lift, the bar will travel close to the shins. For this movement, maintain a neutral spine position.
Brace your core, then squat down by bending at the knees. Grasp the bar just outside the line of your knees with an overhand or mixed grip. To lift the bar, push upwards with your legs from your knees, breathing out on exertion. Be careful not to raise your hips first, so that your back becomes rounded. Your arms should also stay extended under tension while gripping the bar as the legs push up.
The bar should almost graze the shins and rest around thigh level. Pull your shoulders back as much as possible without bending backward. Then, lower the bar to the floor with a reverse motion, ensuring you maintain a straight back.
Repeat for eight to 10 reps.
6. SEATED DUMBBELL SHOULDER PRESS
The overhead press is one of the most effective movements for establishing baseline strength and building a completely balanced physique.
Using dumbbells rather than a barbell will allow you to strengthen each side of the muscle equally.
This particular shoulder exercise targets the triceps, pecs (major and minor), traps and delts, which are most responsible for the size and shape of your shoulders. So, if you want shoulders that look as if they’ve been sculpted by the Gods, this is the exercise for you.
Set up an adjustable angle bench to 90 degrees and sit comfortably. Hold one dumbbell in each hand and rest them on your thighs. Then, using a controlled motion, hoist the dumbbells up so you’re holding them just above your shoulders with your palms facing away from you. Take a deep breath and press the dumbbells toward the ceiling until your elbows are almost locked, contracting the delts. The dumbbells should naturally drift toward each other, but not clash.
Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position until they’re just above your shoulders - the handles should almost line up with your ears.
As you do the overhead press, keep your shoulder blades ‘down and back’ and your feet flat on the floor. Also, keep your mid and upper back pressed into the backrest and avoid over-arching your lower back.
Perform eight to 10 reps.
Don’t forget to bookmark this blog, girls, and add some of these exercises to your back and shoulder workout to really work those muscles!
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