The Top-to-Bottom Back Workout | Oxygenmag

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Is your back workout not delivering the results you expect? If your efforts to create a well-defined rear view are leaving you less than impressed, perhaps its time for a new approach — a “friendly takeover” of your regular routine may be in order, shaking non-responsive muscles out of their complacency and into higher levels of performance.

This top-down back workout approach begins with the upright row, which activates the upper reaches of your back muscles, including the trapezius. While women don’t necessarily strive for a protruding, defined trap muscle, that result is not a danger, especially as used here in more of a warm-up role.

Next is the pull-up and kettlebell row, which focus on the latissiumus dorsi — the large fan-shaped muscles that extend from your spine to the back’s outer edges — as well as various muscles of the mid-back, including the infraspinatus, lower traps and erector spinae.

A classic powerlifting movement, the barbell deadlift, follows, although you won’t do it with maximum strength in mind during this back workout. Instead, you’ll use a moderate weight for 8 to 10 reps per set, stimulating a series of muscles in the posterior chain from the legs to the hips to the lower and upper back. You’ll finish with a dynamic posterior chain move, the kettlebell swing, and finally the back extension, a bodyweight move that directly targets the erector spinae of the low back.

All together, these six exercises can provide a comprehensive overhaul, ensuring no key area of the back escapes scrutiny. Give this back workout a month or two — your morale should get a boost next time your back is up for review.

Top-to-Bottom Back Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Upright Row 3 25, 20, 15
Pull-Up 3 As many as possible
Bent-Over Two-Arm Kettlebell Row 3 20, 15, 10
Barbell Deadli 3 8–10
Kettlebell Swing 3 15–20
Exercise-Ball Back Extension 3 20

Barbell Upright Row

Photos: Cory Sorensen

Setup: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a barbell in front of your thighs with an overhand grip just outside shoulder-width.

Action: Maintaining a slight bend in your knees, eyes forward and core engaged, flex your shoulders and pull the barbell straight up toward your chin, leading with your elbows and keeping the bar close to your body. At the top your elbows will be pointed up and out to the sides. Hold for a second before slowly lowering the bar to the start.

Bent-Over Two-Arm Kettlebell Row

Bent-Over Two-Arm Kettlebell Row - Back Workout

Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and grasp a kettlebell in each hand. Hinge at your hips until your torso is roughly 45 degrees to the floor with the weights hanging straight down, and your head is aligned with your spine.

Action: Drive your elbows up and back and pull the weights toward each you’re your abdomen as high as you can. Hold at the top for one count, then slowly reverse the motion. (If you don’t have kettlebells, you can substitute dumbbells.)



Setup: Grasp a fixed overhead bar with a wide overhand grip. Hang freely, arms fully extended and ankles crossed behind you.

Action: Pull your shoulder blades in toward one another then drive your elbows down toward your sides to raise yourself as high as you can. When your chin rises above the level of the bar, pause briefly then lower back to the fully extended position.

Barbell Deadlift

Barbell Deadlift - Back Workout

Setup: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes turned out slightly and positioned just beneath the barbell. Kick your hips back then bend your knees while keeping a flat back to grab the barbell on either side of your legs with an alternating grip. Your hips should be higher than your knees, shoulders over the bar, shins perpendicular to the floor, head neutral.

Action: With your back flat, lift the bar from the floor by extending your hips and knees. Keep your arms straight as you drag the bar up your legs until you are standing. Squeeze your glutes then lower the bar downward along the same path until it touches the floor.

Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell Swing - Back Workout

Setup: Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width, holding a kettlebell by its handle with both hands in front of your hips.

Action: Keeping a flat back, swing the kettlebell back between your legs, then snap your hips forward and swing it forward and upward in an arc with straight arms until it reaches shoulder height. Allow the kettlebell to swing back down under control and back between your legs. Continue linking your reps together.

Tip: All the power from this move comes from your hips — the arms are just along for the ride!

Exercise-Ball Back Extension

Exercise-Ball Back Extension - Back Workout

Setup: Lie facedown on an exercise ball with your hips centered on the ballyou’re your legs extended behind you, spaced wider for balance or anchored underneath a stable object. Cross your hands over your chest or place your fingertips lightly behind your ears.

Action: Lower your torso down along the ball as far as you can without rounding your back, then flex your glutes to lift yourself up until your body makes a straight line. Continue, lowering and raising for reps.


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