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Back Strengthening Exercises Every Athlete Should Try

March 11, 2019 5 min read

rear view muscular manWhen we do something as simple as look in the mirror, we instinctively focus on the parts of our body that we are able to see. We take the time to convince ourselves that our visible characteristics are the most important parts of our anatomy, or that they deserve the most attention. But what about your back? Without a healthy back, it becomes difficult to walk upright and can easily take away the simplicities of life.Without a strong back, athletes can struggle mightily to stay in good physical shape and on the field. By not focusing on the many muscles that comprise the back, athletes can put themselves in a very dangerous and vulnerable position. Strengthening the back should undoubtedly be at the top of every athlete's list.

Benefits of Back Exercises

A strong back helps keep your posture pristine and your spine healthy. As long as you're also working out the front side of your body, back exercises can be crucial to creating muscle balance. By only focusing on the front, you make yourself susceptible to injuries, especially to the back. This happens frequently when people spend too much time focusing on their abs and fail to address their back muscles which can lead to lower back pain.Back exercises can also improve your spinal stability. This is especially important for athletes who value their performance and need a well-functioning spine to do so. Athletics can involve twisting, turning, lifting and complex movements that would become more difficult to perform without a strong back.By having a stronger back, you can also help improve your body's metabolism. This occurs when the body has more lean muscle mass. For many people who work out or participate in athletics, the building of lean muscle mass is mostly ignored because the focus is always on the front of the body—abs, legs, arms, chest. With larger muscles on the back, your body's metabolic potential can be greatly increased due to the number of muscles in your back that are used daily. Here are some exercises that will assist in strengthening your back.

Pull Up

muscular bodybuilder pullupsIt's one of the most common exercises and one of the easiest to perform–if you have a bar. The act of a pull up itself can be difficult without a strong and healthy body.You grab the bar with your palms facing away from the body and start from a dead hang. The goal is to pull your head above the bar for a successful repetition. You then return to the bottom and pull yourself up for another repetition.

Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown, either done with bands or weights, addresses both the lower and upper back. In a seated position, grab the band or whatever may be pulling the weight with a grip as wide as your shoulders. Pull the band down behind your head, making sure to maintain the pinch between your shoulder blades for the full effect.

Seated Cable Row

This exercise is a great back stabilizer and focuses on the upper back muscles. Seated and with your elbows at 30 degrees, focus on scapular retraction when you are pulling on the bar. With straight wrists, make sure to pull back on the bar with the weight of your back and your chest up.


fit people deadlift gymThe deadlift is an exercise that undergoes a lot of debate. It receives a lot of flak when talking about strengthening the back. This is because the deadlift can easily lead to injury if not done with the proper form. But, the deadlift is in fact one of the best exercises for the back because of all the muscles that it works, from the lower back to the upper back.Wildly enough, the deadlift can be a good workout for preventing lower back injuries. This should always be done with caution due to the importance of form, but it should not keep people from using the deadlift as a way to increase their strength.

Bird Dog

The bird dog is an exercise for athletes who are just beginning and want to work on the basics of strengthening their back muscles and their spine.You begin on all fours with your knees hip-width apart and under the hips and with your hands flat and shoulder-width apart. Squeeze your abdomen by pulling your stomach toward your spine making sure to keep your spine neutral. Without arching the back or rotating the hips, extend your right leg back and your left arm out in front of you. Be sure to hold this for a few seconds while maintaining form the entire time. Continue with more repetitions and proper form for the full effect.The bird dog helps improve muscle balance and stabilizes your spine in a way that makes it easier to do everyday things such as walk, run, dance and carry weight. It focuses on the lower spine and upper back all while helping to keep the spine supported.


This is a simple one and will probably make you scratch your head, but the evidence is there.According to a study that examined links between movement and disc health, running is a way to a healthy spine. Without a healthy spine, the back faces all sorts of vulnerabilities.

Suspension Trainer Two-Arm Row

Begin by grabbing the handles of the suspension trainer. Walk your feet out in front of you, dig your heels into the ground or floor, point your toes upward and point the backs of your hands up.With your back at a straight angle, pull your chest toward the suspension trainer handles and your arms back toward your chest. As you perform the exercise, rotate your hands so they end up facing each other when they make their way to the chest.To receive full effect from this exercise, move your feet farther from your body as you continue with repetitions or add more weight if possible.

Side Plank

woman side plank yoga classThis is another exercise for athletes that may not develop a large amount of strength but is an exercise that is integral to back and spine health.You begin by lying on one side of your body in a straight line from your head to your feet, while resting on your forearm. With your abdomen region contracted, you lift your hips up in the air while being aware of the straight line. Make sure to keep your hips squared and your neck in line with your spine. Hold this pose for at least 30 seconds and then switch sides.Although this exercise is best for building strength and endurance in the core, it helps to maintain stability in your lower back.

What to Avoid

Overhead Lifts

Like the deadlift, overhead lifts can be a very dangerous exercise to perform no matter which parts of the body you are trying to address. Slight breakdowns in form can lead to back injuries and because of the full range of motion that is required to perform an overhead lift, they are frowned upon.

Leg Press

Almost everyone at one point in time has seen the guy at the gym who is trying to leg press more weight than they can handle. Seated and with your back at a strange angle and your legs above your head, your back is situated in an awkward and uncomfortable position. Even though you may not suffer a back injury during the time of the exercise, it puts you in a position to feel something later on.


There's a reason that squats made it on this list. For even the most frequent gym goers, proper squat technique is hard to come by.Improper technique in the gym can result in serious back injuries and can sideline you. Because so much of the focus of squats is placed on the stance and form, no athlete should be taking time out of their workout regimens to include squats.

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