Daily Archives: April 11, 2011

Move It Monday – Watch Your Back

Happyhappy Monday friends! I am currently unemployed, so you see, I can be happy that it’s a Monday.

This week’s Move It Monday is still on the theme of upper-body strength the Pipes Challenge inspired. We will be moving to lower-body stuff eventually, promise!

Today’s rant was actually inspired by my mother. She was complaining of a sore chest after doing machine rows at the gym. A back exercise. It dawned on me that almost every person I’ve trained has done a back exercise incorrectly the first time. They also continued to need my nagging even after they knew how to do it correctly.

So I am here to show you how to work your back the right way. I want to make sure it’s your back that’s sore the next day, not some mystery body part from doing it wrong.


First we must understand what is happening in your back underneath all that skin. Your muscles are layered all throughout your body, so the right-hand side of the above image are the top-layers and the left-hand side the bottom-layers.

Looking at the above image shows that the back is full of muscles to work! And yet, how many of you zero in to work your rhomboids between bicep sets?

That’s what I thought ;)

I’m going to show you a few exercises to work the above muscles. But just so I don’t have to repeat myself with every one, I want to get one point across right away.

Use your back.

If you’re doing a back exercise like a row or lat pulldown, USE YOUR BACK to move the weight. Don’t use your chest or arms. What is the point of doing a back exercise when you don’t even purposefully use your back to complete it?

The best way to ensure you’re using your back is to keep your shoulders retracted and scapula (“shoulder blades”) locked down. To the point where you feel silly for sticking your chest out. Really focus on what is happening in your back. Start the motion by contracting your back muscles first. Take it slow and go light to make sure you’re really getting in there.



The rhomboids are muscles responsible for moving your shoulder blades. Weak rhomboids are often a source of bad posture because of an inability to hold the scapula back.

One arm bent-over dumbbell row
Straight arm pulldown
Reverse fly 


File:Trapezius Gray409.PNG

Like the rhomboids, your traps control movement of the scapula (shoulder blade) but are also responsible for supporting the arm. Doesn’t sound important now? Just wait until you need to hold your arm up in a plaster cast!

Upright row

Latissimus Dorsi

File:Latissimus dorsi .PNG

Also known as your “lats.” They are the most powerful muscles in your back. They give your back that “V” shape and are responsible for some arm movements.

Lat pulldown
Seated cable row 

Serratus Posterior

File:Serratus posterior.PNG 

This deep muscle assists helps your upper body and ribs twist and bend. Because of this, it is highly susceptible to being strained.

Bird Dog
Cat Cow

Serratus Anterior

File:Serratus anterior.png

Okay, so this muscle creeps out towards your front a little, but it is still really important for moving the scapula in your back. Which means it will help with posture! There aren’t many isolation exercises for this muscle, but here are some that will do the job:

Dumbbell pullover 
Diagonal cable woodchop
Push up plus 

That’s all for now! There are some I purposely left out, including the rotator cuff muscles as those are better left for a post on shoulders some day. For now, concentrate on hitting the above muscles. Reallyreally think about moving them with each rep. Because you can’t see them working in the mirror, you have to imagine what they look like moving during your set. Otherwise you’re just working all the wrong muscles! Remember to always hold that core in too. Firm it up like you’re about to be punched in the gut. It’ll help.

As always, leave questions/concerns/comments below. Happy exercising!