Though, when it comes to the importance of strength, the core gets all the love, back muscles, often ignored at the gym, support our core and stabilize the spinal column. We asked 2017 Best of Westchester winner Manny Alayon, owner and head coach at NorthEast CrossFit, to recommend five simple workouts to strengthen your back.
1. Stiff-Legged Deadlift
According to Alayon, this workout is great for the lower back and can be performed with a dumbbell, kettle bell, or a barbell. “Start with the knees very slightly bent and with an overhand grip,” instructs Alayon. “Holding a flat back throughout the movement, begin descending until you are past the knee and feel a nice stretch in your lower back. Come back up by squeezing your glutes until you return to a full standing position.” Alayon recommends three to four sets of eight to 12 repetitions at a manageable weight.
Alayon calls this mid-back-strengthening movement one of the most classic bodyweight exercises of all time. “With an underhand grip, pull the chin over the bar and descend until your arms are at full extension,” he says. “Can’t do a pull-up? No problem! Grab a bench or a chair, and start with your chin over the bar. Then take three to five seconds to lower yourself down until the arms are at full extension with your knees bent on the object.” Alayon recommends four sets of four to six reps.
3. Reverse Hyperextension
For this lower-back exercise, lay across a table, a bench, or any stable and flat surface that will allow you to lie belly-down with your legs hanging off. “Your body should be parallel to the ground and legs start pointed down,” says Alayon. “From here, raise both legs up at the same time, until they reach their end range. Hold for a quick two-second count at the top and repeat for 10 to 15 reps for three total sets.
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4. Dumbbell Rows
“This is one of the most popular exercises for developing a strong back, and, more specifically, your lattisimus dorsi or ‘lats,’” explains Alayon. “Your lats give you that nice lean V-shape.” Alayon says a simple variation of the exercise is to lean with one hand on a bench, table, or even a chair. “Keeping your back strong and flat, pull one arm up until the dumbbell reaches your chest and control the dumbbell back down,” he says. “Perform three to four sets of eight to 12 reps on each arm.”
Alayon adds that those looking for more of a challenge can perform renegade rows. “You do these by starting in a pushup position with the dumbbells,” he says. “Perform a pushup and then pull one arm up until the dumbbell reaches your chest, and then the other.”
5. The Superman
“This is a great finisher to any lower-back-strengthening routine,” says Alayon. “This is a static-hold exercise that you start by laying face-down. Lift your chest and thighs off the ground and hold for 30 seconds. Perform a total of three to four sets.”