Bringing sexy back

The back is perhaps the most neglected area of fitness. For whatever reasons, many people seem to focus most of their workout on the front of their bodies.

Vanity and human nature being what they are — both men and women generally seem to have a preoccupation with the front of their bodies — what you see is what you tend to work on (even if everybody else sees a lot more!). Most notably are the abs, which hog all of the attention for slimming, toning and muscle building, while the poor back gets neglected. Don’t you want to look as good going as you do coming? Then read this and spend time working on your back. Ideally, try to train your back twice a week and include a variety of exercises that target all of the back muscles.

Power up your posture

In addition to powering up your posture, sporting a sexy toned back looks great and makes your waist look smaller! Who doesn’t want that? But, more than good looks, maintaining perfect posture can prevent or protect you from the ravages of diseases such as osteoporosis or other debilitating conditions. Standing tall and having a toned back can erase years in an instant, stop that nagging back pain and help you exude confidence every time you step into a room. All of this is achievable by correcting your posture by toning up your back with regular, carefully selected exercises.

Back major muscles

The back is comprised of five primary muscles: trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, teres major and erector spinae.

The trapezius and rhomboids make up the upper back; the latissimus dorsi is in the middle of the back. The teres major is a small muscle that attaches at the side of the shoulder blade and, last but not least, the erector spinae runs vertically from the hips to the neck.

If your goal is to rock that halter or one-shoulder top or dress, then give old-fashioned overhand pull-ups a try.

— Overhand pull-ups: Hands down, overhand-grip pull-ups are one of the best exercises for strengthening and toning the upper back. Primarily this exercise works the lats, but the rhomboids and shoulders are also activated. If your goal is just to have a sexy toned back, then do two or three sets of eight to 10 repetitions. If your goal is to add some mass, strap on some extra weight while doing pull-ups. If you’ve never done weighted pull-ups, start with 2-5 pounds and work up. If you opt for weighted overhand pull-ups, reduce your repetitions to six to eight reps per set. If you’re ready to up the ante, grab the bar a little wider than shoulder width for wide-grip pull-ups.

— Lat pull-downs: If you’re not ready for wide grip pull-ups, then try lat pull-downs. The proper way to execute the lat pull-down is to lean back slightly and bring the bar down in front of your body to about the breastbone, while simultaneously pulling the shoulder blades down and together. Your feet should maintain on the floor at all times, keep your abs contracted; avoid bouncing or using momentum to bring the bar toward your chest. If you are using a lot of momentum, then the weight is likely too heavy for you and should be lowered to a more manageable weight.

Similar to wide-grip pull-ups, lat pull-downs work the lats as well as the rhomboids and shoulder. For toning, use a weight you can perform 12-15 reps with, and for building mass, shoot for a weight you can perform with six to eight reps.

Now you have a plan. So let’s get busy and build a back you can be proud of.

Kim Garrison is a registered personal trainer at 12th Street Gym and spokesperson for the Independence Blue Cross “Healthy Steps” campaign. For more information, visit www.kimberlygarrison.com.