Working Your Back: Getting a Ripped Posterior While Avoiding Back Injury
The Importance of Back Exercises
The muscles in the back are often neglected for more popular muscle groups, like the chest, arms and abs. But a solid back is not only an impressive sight, it's important to the health of your joints. Here's why. The chest is traditionally built up by performing pushing exercises, like push-ups, dips, bench press and dumbbell press.This works and strengthens the muscles in the front of the upper torso (chest, medial and anterior deltoids, and shoulders), supporting the front of the shoulder joint. Without similar support from strong muscles behind the shoulder joint, the shoulders are succeptible to injury from anywhere to straining, stretching, tearing and even dislocation. Without even support from infront and behind the shoulders, injury is inevitable. So here's some good ideas on how to build up you back musculature and create a healthier atmosphere for your shoulders.
Primary Back Exercises
The pull-up might be the most common exercise for working the back. This shouldn't be confused with the chin-up, which does engage the back somewhat, but targets the biceps more than anything. Pull-ups can be performed with the hands at various positions, just remember to keep them wider than shoulder width to recruit the back and shoulders. I cannot stress how important form is when performing pull-ups. Some people might believe in "rocking" back and forth or pulling the legs up to give them more momentum, however, this will only cheapen your workout. If you want to bring your back muscles to failure, then use only your back muscles during the exercise. Of course the shoulders and biceps will be targeted as well; this is natural and obviously not considered cheating. Another thing to consider (which also applies to many other exercises) is the speed at which you lower your body down to the starting position. Remember to "explode" up from the bottom of the movement, followed by a slow lowering of the body. This prevents the tendons and ligaments involved in the exercise from being yanked and possibly injured.
The row is also a common pulling exercise that works the back muscles. Rows can be performed in several ways, from machine rows to bent-over rows, one-hand dumbbell to barbell rows and so forth. The important thing to remember is to protect the lower back by maintaining a firm stance and not bending at the waist too much. You should be able to tell when you are bent over too far; your lower back will feel tight and burn as you finish the exercise. Some of this is normal, but excessive lower back pain means you're doing something wrong.
Lat Pull Down
The lat pull down targets the lats (obviously), and can provide a burn to the upper back that will not quickly go away. I do not advise performing only lat pull downs; the back needs to experience the variation that other types of exercises, including the many types of rows and pull-ups have to offer. Despite its simplicity, I see the lat pull down ill-performed quite often. Remember to stabilize the entire body when performing this exercise. There should be no puffing of the chest or straightening of the knees; simply pull the bar down to the upper chest with the elbows pointing back and slightly down, then slowly and steadily control the movement back up to the starting position with the bar above and slightly in front of you. I have found that leaning back slightly may help me get a better stretch of the back and hit the lats better, however I avoid doing this with large amounts of weight in an effort to spare my lower back.