Hellooooooo everyone! This Friday’s post is a little bit different than usual. Usually you see a recipe, but this time you get a glimpse into my new love of lifting weights! Since November of last year, aka my 30th birthday (Eeeek!!), I’ve been kicking my workout routines into high gear. For me, that means not losing my agility, flexibility, strength and muscle just because I’m a full-blown grownup. My mom-in-law always says she lifts weights because it’s great for building bone and she also says your bone density reaches its peak at 30. She’s a nurse, so I trust her;) but you can look at this awesome article in Time magazine for further information. Needless to say, I’ve been trying to create good habits that go with my theme of aging gracefully. Hopefully none of you believe I’m 30! Haha.
I’ve been following Jen at Burpees for Breakfast for a couple months now because following her blog means I get personal training free of charge! How great is that!? If you’ve ever wanted to lift weights but don’t know where to start, she’s your girl! She also has this awesome Bridal Bootcamp she started if you want to kick it into high gear. The best thing about weight lifting is you can start with whatever your personal abilities are at. You can start with lifting soup cans or be a professional bodybuilder and we can all benefit from the exact same lifting techniques.
So when I asked Jen if she’d be willing to do a post just for me and my readers (FREEEEEE personal training!?! Heck ya!), I asked her to cover a topic that’s been on my mind lately. Can lifting really make your posture better while building muscle? Turns out you sure can! Today Jen is giving us some simple moves to evaluate your back, posture, muscle strength and the how’s and why’s behind her techniques. Love this girl and I know you will too! Heeeeeere’s Jen with workout moves for a strong back…
Hi, Foodscape Readers! I’m so pumped to be sharing a workout with you guys today! Anyone else just drool over Michaell’s recipes? Everything looks so good! And wouldn’t you know that I found her blog, through one of her tasty recipes. It was love at first Sweet Potato Vegan Sushi Roll! I was thrilled when Michaell asked me to share some tips and exercises for a stronger back! Personally, I’ve been working on strengthening my back (Wedding in June!) and I know it’s a trouble spot for many people, especially those with desk jobs. These are some of my favorite moves that I incorporate into my own workouts, and I hope you guys add them to yours!
Let’s do a little assessment. Find a mirror that will allow you to see your upper body, head to at least your waist. Now, stand sideways so you are perpendicular to the mirror, looking at the wall. Turn your head and look at your posture in the mirror. Do your shoulders round down? Slight hunch in the upper back? Maybe a little slouch?
Rounded shoulders or a hunched back are characteristic of a postural distortion pattern called, Upper Crossed Syndrome. When we adapt this posture distortion, it can cause our back muscles to become weak, and our chest muscles become tight, or overactive. In order to fix this, we stretch the tight muscles and strengthen the weak.
Here are the major players when it comes to back muscles: the Lats (latissimus dorsi), the Traps (Upper, Middle and Lower Trapezius), your Teres muscles, Erector Spinae, and your Rhomboids (Major and Minor) – tucked away under the traps.
The Latissimus Dorsi is the largest muscle in your back and often a neglected muscle in training. Lats are super important for a solid posture and strong back. It is a key muscle for a great deadlift and pull-ups.
The erector spinae is the muscle that assists in moving the back into extension, rotation and lateral flexion (side to side). The teres muscles work to extend and externally rotate the shoulders.
The rhomboids (major and minor) and your lower and middle trapezius are responsible for shoulder retraction and downward rotation. When someone tells you to stand up straight and you roll your shoulders back and down, those are the muscles you are using.
4 KEY MOVES FOR A STRONG BACK
There are many different exercises that can be done for a strong back. Those pesky pull-ups that are so tough for some many of us, rank at the top of the list. Below is a sampling some of the moves I like and find are pretty easy to add into most workout routines. As you can see, the gym was a little busy, so we have the emergency exit as a lovely backdrop. Coordinating a time when The Workout Bud/my fiance/my occasional blog photographer is free and the gym isn’t too crowded is not always an easy task!
The Setup: Grab dumbbells, E-Z bar, or barbell (my favorite). If using dumbbells, hold in front of you, bar perpendicular to your quad. Feet should be about hip width apart, quads and glutes contracted. Roll shoulders back and down, engage the lats and abdominal muscles. Hinge at the hips, and keep back flat. You should be at a 45 degree angle. Head should be neutral. Drive elbows straight back and you bring the bar or dumbbells to your belly button or slightly above the belly button. Exhale and lower bar.
The Setup: Grab a set of dumbbells (lighter weight, if you are a beginner) and hold in front of you, bar perpendicular to your quad. Feet should be about hip width apart, quads and glutes contracted. Roll shoulders back and down, engage the lats and abdominal muscles. Hinge at the hips, and keep back flat. Imagine you have a card or a coin, in between your shoulder blades. Use your traps and posterior delts to lift the weights, so arms are nearly parallel to the floor. Squeeze at the top and then lower. You will ‘fly’ your arms up and down, keeping everything tight, and imagining that coin or card on your back.
The Setup: Feet should be hip width apart, shoulder back and down, lats engaged. Keeping back flat, abdominals engaged, sit butt back and grab kettlebells, dumbbells or plates. Get palms under the bar or flat part of the weight. Push through heels to stand up. Reset, if necessary – shoulders back and down, squeezing lats and abdominals. Grip the weights and keep the forearms active. Start your walk.
The Setup: Load bar with desired weight. Feet should be hip width apart, under the bar, shins nearly touching the bar. Lower body down, butt back. Grab the bar – overhand/underhand grip works best for me – so hands are evenly spaced along the bar. Roll those shoulders back and down, and really engage the lats. Inhale, exhale and then pull the bar up. Ground down through your heels, pull the floor apart, think about pulling the bar back, and keep those lats engage, shoulders back and down, chest lifted.
** This is a move advanced move, so don’t be afraid to scale down on the weight, until you get form. When I started lifting, I had to do super low weight, so I could get my form down. It’s something I’m still working on!
INCORPORATING THE MOVES INTO YOUR WORKOUTS
What’s great about these moves is that they are super versatile, depending on your training goals. There are quite a few variables to take into a account, but here are a few options:
- If you are training for endurance, go for 12-20 reps, at a mid-lower weight, for 1-3 sets.
- If you are training for hypertrophy (increased muscle size), you want 6-12 reps, at a mid-slightly heavy weight, for 3-5 sets.
One of my favorite ways to train deadlift is to do it as an opener to my workout. After a warmup, I perform a 5×5 – 5 reps for 5 sets – of heavier deadlift, focusing on form. Supersets are a great way to utilize the bent row and reverse fly. Do 10 reps on the flat bench, followed immediately by the bent row for 10 reps. OR, 10 dumbbell fly’s followed by 10 reverse fly’s. Repeat for 3-4 sets. I’m a big fan of finishers. One of my favorites to do with The Workout Bud is a farmer’s carry+ box jump burpee finisher. It may not seem like much, but carrying 35# kettlebells a couple times around the gym is hard work!
STRETCHING THE TIGHT
I quickly want to touch on a stretching tight chest muscles. There are a few different stretches that can be done. Fitness Blender has a great upper body stretching video, and I’d focus the chest stretch (5:00min mark) and rear arm raise (6:20min mark). If you are a yoga fan, like myself, there are also some great yoga poses to stretch and open the chest.
Do you incorporate back exercises into your workout routine? What is your favorite back exercise?
Jen is a healthy living blogger at Burpees for Breakfast where she shares about two of her biggest passions, fitness and food. As a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and AFAA Certified Group Fitness Instructor, she inspires others to make fitness fun through personal training, group fitness classes and creative workouts that can be found on her blog. The journey to heal her gut not only sparked an interest in clean eating, but forced her to start creating her own clean and unprocessed recipes, free of gluten and dairy.
Jen loves all breakfast foods, especially pancakes. And her favorite exercise is in fact, a burpee.