Fit Friday: Top 4 Back Exercises for Women
Published Jul 11, 2014, Updated Mar 20, 2023
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Happy Friday! I just got home from a early morning Pure Barre class and I’m so pumped for today’s post because Monica Nelson, a friend of mine who is a personal trainer out in LA, is here to chat with us.
Monica (Moni) is awesome! Not only is she a personal trainer, but she’s also an accomplished snowboarder, chef and much loved health and fitness expert. She’s been on the blog before (giving me a sample workout schedule before our wedding) and I’m happy to have her back again today. When she and I were brainstorming ideas for about what topic she would talk about this time, I immediately piped up and asked her to spill the beans on how to get a strong back and sculpted shoulders.
If anyone knows how to get a sexy back, it’s Moni.
See why I wanted her to share her secrets?!?
I sincerely hope that you are excited for this post as much as I am! Now I’ll stop gushing and let Moni do the rest of the talking…
“Moni, how do I get those arms and back muscles so toned?” is something I get asked nearly every day. I am thrilled to get asked this because as a trainer, I specialize in this area — especially with my ladies. I did not always have the biceps and back muscles that I do today — and I say that so you realize that you too can change your body. I am in hopes that when you are done reading this — you feel inspired to work the “backside!”
The backside means your “entire back of your body” (that you most likely don’t look at or see at in the mirror when you are working out). So today I am going to focus on the “back muscles” which are probably the most underworked area, especially with women. These muscles are also some of the most important. When I am not training my cleints, I am cooking and baking for Moni Meals and strong back muscles are essential so one does not say “hunch” over a yummy tray of cookies for example! The stronger your back is — the less pain you will experience. So get ready — I am going to share my top favorite four moves that are effective, efficient, and are certainly hard enough. Yes, I have dozens of other moves that I love to also incorporate into workouts (just ask my clients!) but to keep things simple — we are going to focus on the four mentioned below.
Remember that eating healthy and working hard will get you the results you want but you also have to be smart and keep good form especially when working the upper back. Many have already two strikes against them because they are already tight and then weak on top of it. Sound familiar? Do you drive a lot, have a desk job, or are constantly chasing after the kids, etc.? The good news is that if you work out your back muscles properly and incorporate foam rolling you can change all of this.
BONUS: Strengthening the muscles on your upper back and shoulders have a tremendous impact on your posture too and will only improve the way you look and carry yourself. Knowing this , you would think everyone would focus much more on their back! Unfortunately many women (and men) overlook training their upper back simply because they don’t see it when they look in the mirror. Makes sense right?
I actually never trained my back when I started working out many years ago until I learned (and noticed) so much about posture and muscle imbalances. As a sponsored and competitive snowboarder growing up — it was my job to slam and take falls and boy had I done some damage to my back and spine. I am sharing this because it is NEVER too late to change your body. Maybe you have a desk job or are already feeling hunched over all the time. Or even worse — maybe you are already experiencing pain or unconformable moments due to muscle weakness or imbalances. Well if you said yes to any or all of this — you should really consider incorporating back movements to your workout routine. As I mentioned a foam roller should be your new best friend too. Just because you eat right and workout out hard, you have got to be aware of your posture too. Much of the time many people are lifting far too heavy and only creating more imbalances and tension on their poor body. So the rule is form before function. If you can’t do any of the movements with proper form do not even try to lift heavier, deal? Start with lighter weight and then go up when your body is ready.
Let’s get started! Here are my 4 favorite exercises to target the back.
Top 4 Back Exercises For Women
We’ll start off the with Lat pull-down, probably the most widely known and popular exercise for the back. This is your movement for when you want to show off your sexy back in those summer dresses! If performed correctly it can be a great exercise to improve back width and add some great tone. It has been suggested through good research that grip width is not a major factor in promoting muscle contraction, and that performing the pull-down in front of your head is more effective than behind the head. It should be noted that the behind the head lat pull-down can potentially cause damage or strain to the rotary cuff if not performed with proper form and technique. Back in the day – this was a very common way to do this. I do not recommend it.
Make sure you are mindful and take safety precaution to protect the rotary cuff whilst doing this particular movement. Although you may not hurt your rotary cuff, there is potential to strain them if they are not well rested or you have bad form. This certain exercise hits the lats (latissimus dorsi) more than any other group of back muscles, which is responsible for adding more width to the back.
Time to go old school (but with good form!). The weighted pull up is easily one of the best back exercises that one can perform for back development. There are many variations of this exercise but they best one is with a pronated grip. The movement uses your own bodyweight as resistance but additional weight can be added with the use of a weight belt. I would try it with just your body weight when just starting out. Plus there is a bonus tip: This movement is great for building a strong core! The exercise utilizes every muscle in your back like no other exercise.
This exercise is considered by many as the king of back exercise and has been proven over decades to be an exercise that is great for adding mass to the back. Weighted is your next step. Most people are not here right away so you can use a band to keep perfect form. You do not want to do these with bad form! I personally (and with a few clients) have no problem using an assisted band for this movement.
Back Extensions (also known as “Super Man”)
This move is great for anyone and everyone. I do this with my youngest and oldest clients from the age of 10 up to the age of 82! This movement is not only great for the backside but it is an all-around great move to have in your weekly workout routine. A strong lower back will reduce your risk of injury to your vertebral discs. This exercise is very similar to “cobra” in yoga. You lie face-down on a mat or well-padded floor, arms straight by your sides, palms up, forehead facing the floor. The tops of your feet should be flat against the floor. Now slowly lift your head and shoulders off the floor, lifting your arms, squeezing your shoulder blades together and hold for five seconds. Lower to start position and repeat. Once you have that – you can add your arms straight above your head for a deeper movement. Do 1 to 2 sets of about 15 repetitions each.
Set a bar to the appropriate height in a squat rack. TIP: The lower the bar, the harder the exercise will be. Get underneath the bar and grab it with an overhand grip, palms facing away from you, hands slightly wider than shoulder width. While keeping your body flat, chin slightly tucked, and shoulders down , row your chest to the bar. Keep your elbows at about a 45-degree angle from your body. Try to touch your chest to the bar.
Reverse the motion by slowly lowering your body, keeping your chest up, body flat, and shoulders back and down until your arms are fully extended. Pause at the bottom and repeat. REMEMBER: If this is too challenging, try starting with TRX high rows until you build more strength. I love switching up my workouts and trying new things like TRX or body weight movements for example.
So there you have it! I hope you are now inspired to work out the backside. Always remember that it is a good idea to work your entire body too, not just the areas you do not like for example. Unless you are in physical therapy or doing muscle rehab — try to work your entire body as a unit.
So who’s ready to hit the gym and try out these moves? I know I am! 🙂 Thanks again to Moni for sharing her knowledge. Be sure to check out Monica Nelson Fitness for more workouts/tips, grab a healthy recipe or two from Moni Meals and make friends with Moni on Twitter and Instagram.