I’ve been lifting weights for just over a year now, and with each passing day it becomes more and more one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My clothes fit better, I feel stronger in my everyday life, and all of my major health ‘stats’ such as blood pressure and heart rate have improved.
Still, I feel like there is always room for improvement in everything you do and my journey into the world of weight lifting is no exception. While the anxieties and insecurities I felt when I first stepped into the big, scary weight room full of monster dudes is gone (well, mostly), I still have plenty to figure out.
My diet is good. I get plenty of protein and enough calories to feed my muscles, I drink so much water I’m practically a fish, and I get keep myself sane by allowing cheat meals now and then so I don’t fall victim to my cravings and succumb to binges.
I’ve seen improvements throughout my body. My arms are not only stronger, but I have actual biceps now! My booty is filling out for the first time in my life (thank you squats), and I’m just overall more solidly built, if that makes any sense.
The only area that I feel consistently lags behind and has shown no signs of catching up has been my back. it's always been an issue and I've often resorted to using devices to help with support. I’ve tried all different types of rows with dumbbells, the bar, machines, cables – you name it. Yet as far as I can tell the results just have not been there.
So I decided to reach out and ask for the advice of women who also were lifters, some very experienced and some just getting started like me. The question I posed to them was: What are the best back exercises for women?
Below, you’ll see just a few of the many great responses I received. I hope you find this helpful, and I cannot express how thankful I am to everyone who replied.
1. Back extensions
One of the first responses I got was from reddit user Yogainthesquatrack, who suggested I try out this exercise. Here's their words:
[They] are excellent for spinal erectors, as well as hitting core and the rest of the posterior chain. Can be done without any weight.
This is a back exercise I had been doing, but perhaps had not been giving it the attention it deserves. I'm certainly going to focus on making these a more regular part of my routine.
If you're new, you can just use your bodyweight for resistance. For those of you that are more experienced, I see many women holding a small plate across their chest while they do these.
One thing I was surprised to learn were the benefits this exercise can have for rehabbing your back, as well as working out other areas, as was later posted:
...High rep extensions have been a huge part of rehabbing my stupid back. Also great for activating hams.
2. T-Bar Rows
Another one that was suggested to me by a few different people are rows with a T-bar. What's great about them? For starters, they're easier on your lumbar since your weight is supported, allowing you to focus on form and weight.
These can also be done without the chest support if your gym doesn't have the equipment for this exercise.
I received many great suggestions about how to properly engage your back muscles when performing these movements. Since this is the first row movement I'm writing about in this article, it seems like the perfect time to share them!
Thanks to grae313 for this excellent piece of advice:
On any upper back exercise, really focus on pulling with your elbows. That means, pretend your hands and forearms don't exist, and just think about moving your elbows back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold the back position for a half count before you release. Stay slow and controlled throughout.
And another nice suggestion from Yogainthesquatrack:
...play around with flexing your lats, once you can get them activated it's much more effective.
Finally, important things to remember from cjobson:
What helps for me is to imagine that your elbows and arms are basically "levers", which are just working to hold onto the weight, and the back itself is actually doing all of the pulling. Go nice and slow so you can feel that contraction in your back.
But over and over again, I couldn't help but notice two very similar exercises which kept being recommended...
3. Pull Ups and Lat Pulldowns
The movements for these are extremely similar, but many women (and men, for that matter) find it difficult to do an unassisted pull up.
You can replicate the movement using a lat pulldown machine, which nearly any gym should have.
Since I know that for many people being able to do pull ups is a major fitness goal, I thought I would end by sharing a great bit of advice reddit user tomphz gave me. This can help you work your way up to doing unassisted pull ups if you're not quite there yet.
Try doing a pull up or negative pull ups if you can't do a pull up. A negative is when you jump to the top of the bar and slowly lower yourself to the floor. It will work your back like crazy.
Visit each of those respective forums for more helpful advice on diet, getting started, and much more!