Have you ever had one of those stinging back aches at one of the most random times? Recent studies show that about 7.5% of the global population experiences lower back pains. The majority of these cases are attributed to a modern lifestyle that largely involves people being in sedentary positions (6). It is then important for you to always work on improving the strength of your back muscles to avoid such health risks. Now there are several ways to do that and working out with dumbbells is one of them. Keep reading to find out how.
Back Muscles Anatomy
In order to appreciate the importance of strengthening your back muscles, you must first understand the basics of your back anatomy. This basically involves answering the questions: What they are, where they are and what they do.
What Are Your Back Muscles?
Your back comprises several different muscles with different functions. Some primarily support your trunk and spine while the rest help you stand, move your body and assist in breathing. These muscles are classified into 3 major categories (1):
- Superficial muscles: These include the latissimus dorsi, levator scapular, rhomboids, and trapezius.
- Intermediate muscles: These include the serratus posterior inferior and serratus posterior superior muscles.
- Intrinsic muscles: These are divided into two major groups including the erector spinae and transversospinalis, each consisting of several muscles.
Since your back muscles support most of your weight and aid many movements, it’s not uncommon to pick up an injury or two. The injuries are what ultimately lead to conditions like lower back pain (3). That being said, you should ensure that you always warm up before any physical activity while working on your overall muscle strength.
Where Are Your Back Muscles Located?
Starting just below your skull, back muscles generally extend across your shoulders then go down to your lower back, just above your hips. The muscles are primarily attached to your vertebrae, ribs, neck and shoulder blades. Here’s where each of the 3 groups of your back muscles are found:
These muscles are sometimes referred to by experts as extrinsic back muscles since they are found closest to your skin. The muscles make up your upper back with only a few of them extending to your lower back. They include:
- Latissimus dorsi (lats): The largest muscles in your upper body starting from under your shoulder blades and extending to your lower back.
- Levator scapulae: They are smaller muscles starting from the side of your neck and extending to your scapula (shoulder blade).
- Rhomboids: They are 2 muscles which connect your scapula to your spine.
- Trapezius (traps): Starting from your neck, these muscles go across your shoulders then extend to a “V” in your lower back.
The intermediate muscles are divided into 2 groups: Serratus posterior inferior and serratus posterior superior. They practically sit in your shoulder girdle, which is located between your shoulder blades.
These muscles lie deep under your skin. They are split into 2 groups: Erector spinae and transversospinalis, each comprising several different muscles. Intrinsic back muscles run up and down along your spine on either side of your spinal column.
What Do Your Back Muscles Do?
Your back muscles are the primary structural support of your trunk. However, each of the 3 muscle groups have specialized functions that include:
These muscles are primarily responsible for the movement of your arms and shoulders. They include (1):
- Latissimus dorsi (lats): They aid in extending and rotating your shoulder and arms.
- Levator scapulae: They are responsible for raising your shoulder blade (scapula).
- Rhomboids: They work simultaneously to pull your scapula inward towards your spine.
- Trapezius (traps): They help in moving your body, raising your arms and maintaining a good posture.
These muscles assist in breathing. They are also attached to your rib to facilitate the expansion and contraction of your chest whenever you inhale or exhale (1).
These muscles are primarily responsible for the stabilization of your spinal cord. They also assist in bending, rotating, flexing and extending your back while helping you control your head, neck and trunk (1).
Health Benefits Of Strong Back Muscles
Back muscles are often neglected when working out in the gym and most of the time they come to mind just as an afterthought. However, experts have suggested that every strength workout should have some focus on strengthening your back muscles. Why? Let’s find out:
Strong Back Muscles Can Improve Your Posture
Several studies have shown that using the right posture is an excellent way of preventing back pains (4). Some exercises that can help correct your posture by strengthening your back muscles include yoga poses and weightlifting. So next time you hit the gym, be sure to try some back workouts to improve the strength of these muscles.
Strong Back Muscle Can Improve Your Overall Stability
Research has indicated that strengthening your back muscles can help free the joints of your spine from any restrictions. Chiropractors have pointed out the stability of your spine is reliant on your back muscles which support it and help relieve some of the stress on it (5).
Strong Back Muscles Help Alleviate Back Pain
There are several factors that can lead to back pain and one of them is a sedentary lifestyle. According to this study 75% of employees from 64 call centers reported chronic back pains that were directly linked to their sitting behavior (3).
Sedentary lifestyles usually lead to the accumulation of fat and atrophy of your back muscles. As a result, these muscles grow stiff and get fatigued easily, leading to worsened pain. This results in a situation where movement is limited and your back muscles are incapable of providing the needed stability to your spine (3).
Since back muscles are among the largest in your body, working on them will go a long way in increasing your overall lean muscle mass and strength. This means it’ll be easier to lose body fat while improving your balance and mobility hence relieving back pains.
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Best Back Workouts With Dumbbells
There are several exercises you could do to strengthen your back muscles with or without equipment. In this section look at some of the best chest and back workouts with dumbbells and how you can use them to strengthen your muscles.
Before getting to the good stuff, we first look at how you can warm up and prep your back muscles for the exercises.
The Warm Up
Preparing your back muscles for either cardio or strength training goes a long way in reducing exercise induced injuries. To come up with a warm-up routine, you should understand the different ways your spine moves.
You can either extend your spine backward, flex it forward, or bend or rotate it to the right or left. Most people usually ignore bending and rotating their spines when warming up and as such end up limiting what the spine is capable of.
This warm-up routine involves you flexing your lumbar and cervical spine in the egg role and toe touch. Additionally, you’ll extend your thoracic spine in the foam roller back extension and finish off with a simple rock-back rotation.
The workout routine will be done in sets with 30 to 45 seconds of rest between the exercises. Perform each set at least two times before moving to the next. Finally, remember to rest for about 60 seconds between each set.
- Reverse fly, 10 reps
- Kneeling single arm rows, 15 reps
- Shrugs, 15 reps
- Upright row, 10 reps
- Renegade row, 10 reps
- Romanian deadlift, 15 reps
- Bent over narrow row, 10 reps
Here are the 7 best back workouts with dumbbells you can try out in a gym or at home:
Reverse flies are one of the most popular dumbbell workouts out there.This move targets your rhomboids, traps, rear deltoids and erector spinae. Here’s how you do it:
- Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Ensure your arms are hanging down in front of you with the dumbbells together while your palms face each other.
- Next, lean forward at your hips, carefully pushing them backwards while maintaining a small bend in your knees.
- Now put a small bend in your elbows before performing a reverse fly. Open your arms out wide then squeeze your middle back together.
- Hold the top position for a second and return to your starting position.
Pro tip: To ensure you’re using the right form, your torso should remain still throughout the workout.
Kneeling Single Arm Row
This move targets your traps, lats, rhomboids and rear deltoids. Here’s how you do it:
- Start by kneeling on one knee, resting it on a horizontal bench. Your other leg should be out wide with your foot on the floor.
- Support your upper body using your non-working arm, placing your palm down on the bench. Ensure that your chest faces the bench and maintain a natural spine and neck.
- Now use your working hand to grab a dumbbell.
- Next, row the dumbbell up towards the bottom of your rib cage and pull up your elbow and back, skimming past your side.
- Hold the top position for a second then return to the bottom. Allow the stretch through your rear deltoids then move on to your next rep.
Pro tip: When getting into your starting position, fully extend your working arm until you feel a slight stretch in your rear deltoids.
This move targets your rhomboids and trap muscles. Here’s how you do it:
- Start by placing your feet shoulder-width apart then grab a dumbbell in each hand. Ensure your arms are fully extended by your sides and your palms facing behind you. Finally, the dumbbells should be perpendicular to your legs.
- Next, pull up the dumbbells using your traps and bend at your elbows. Make sure the dumbbells are moving up in a straight line while your elbows go out wide.
- Continue pulling the dumbbells until they reach your collar bones and your elbows are aligned with your ears. Your upper traps should also be fully contracted.
- Hold this position for 2 seconds and return to your starting position over a few seconds.
Pro tip: Keep your elbows above your forearms’ level when lifting and don’t raise your arms above parallel to avoid impingement.
This move targets your traps, lats and rhomboid muscles. Here’s how you do it:
- Start by getting into a push position, but holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Once you stabilize yourself in a strong, straight line from your head to your toes, begin alternating rows from left to right.
- Now pull up the dumbbells towards your rib cage, letting your elbow skimm past your side. Slowly return it to the ground and repeat on the other arm.
Pro tip: Try to avoid twisting your shoulders or hips with each row. Also, ensure your wrists are kept in line above your hand thus restricting excess flexion through them.
This move targets your erector spinae, longissimus, iliocostalis, spinalis, quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings. Here’s how you do it:
- Get into your starting position by setting your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Next, grab the dumbbells in front of your thighs and ensure your palms are facing you.
- Now hinge at your hips to push back your butt while maintaining a tight core. Carefully lower your torso until the dumbbells move past your knees or you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
- Thrust forward your hips then stand tall into your starting position.
Pro tip: Actively engage your core to straighten your back to improve your efficiency.
Bent Over Narrow Row
This is one of the best shoulder workouts with dumbbells you can ever try out.The move primarily targets your rhomboids, lats, and erector spinae. Here’s how you do it:
- Start by grabbing a dumbbell in each hand then stand with your feet hip-width apart. Ensure you have a slight bend in your knees.
- Now bend forward at your knees to an angle of about 45 degrees.
- Carefully pull up the dumbbells towards the bottom of your rib cage, letting your elbows skim past your sides.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together for about a second then steadily release the dumbbells to your starting position.
Pro tip: Fully extend your arms and ensure they’re hanging in a straight line from your chest and your palms face each other when getting in your starting position.
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This move targets your rhomboids and lats. Here’s how you do it:
- Get into your starting position by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand before extending your arms by your side.
- Now slightly retract your shoulders then raise them as high as possible towards your ears while fully contracting your upper traps. Ensure your arms remain straight throughout this process.
- Hold this top position for about 2 seconds before using a controlled motion to lower down back to your starting position.
Pro tip: To obtain the best results, avoid spending too much time in the bottom position between each shrug.
Your back muscles are key in facilitating your day to day movements. As such, you should always ensure they are strong and healthy enough to perform their functions. This article gives you some of the best back workouts with dumbbells you can try out next time you hit the gym.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Back Muscles (2021, clevelandclinic.org)
- Low back pain and its relationship with sitting behaviour among sedentary office workers (2019, pubmed.gov)
- Low Back Pain Fact Sheet (2021, nih.gov)
- Prevent back pain with good posture (2021, mayoclinic.org)
- Segmental stabilization and muscular strengthening in chronic low back pain – a comparative study (2010, nih.gov)
- The Global Burden of Low Back Pain (2021, iasp-pain.org)