Ask me at any time what my favorite muscle group to train is and I’ll always give you the same answer- the back! I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because I like the feel of the muscles contracting as the shoulder blades squeeze together; maybe it’s because I like the look of a nicely toned back; or maybe it’s because I know something that other people don’t- it’s one of the most important muscle groups of the body! And yet surprisingly enough, it still remains one of the most neglected muscle groups by many people. The back is under loved; and it’s time that it gets the love and affection that it so rightly needs and deserves.

I’ve talked before about the concept of selective training. We’ve seen it all before- huge pecs, solid arms, rounded over shoulders and toothpicks for legs. OK, maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but I’ve certainly seen this on more occasions than I care to count. It is very important to train the entire body with resistance. Some people, on occasion, like to focus only what they perceive to be the more aesthetically pleasing muscle groups, i.e. the pecs and arms. I certainly like looking at a nice pair of arms and chiseled pecs, but the picture is usually ruined for me if those pecs and arms are accompanied by a weak back, which presents itself with rounded shoulders and a swayback posture. Yuck! I want to see well developed lats, sculpted traps, and impressive rhomboids! Not to mention a great set of erector muscles. And yes, I am talking about the spinal erectors!

The back is very important to train and not only for aesthetic reasons. There are many other indications as well:

1. Muscular Balance.
2. Improved posture.
3. Increased self- confidence.
4. Chain reaction training.
5. Reduced back pain.

Let’s take a look at each one of these ideas individually:

Muscular balance. If someone continuously trains the chest without training the back, muscular imbalance can occur. Muscular imbalance can cause a lot of problems for the chest and the back. On the chest side, the musculature can become chronically tight. This is one of the leading causes for Rounded Shoulder Syndrome. Tight muscle can become very fibrotic and cord- like, causing pain and inflammation. Care should be taken to stretch the chest musculature as well as strengthen the back in order to open up the chest.

On the back side, the musculature and the fascia become weak and over stretched. This can cause painful trigger points in the back. Trigger points can cause localized pain or can also refer pain to other areas of the body. Either way, it’s not a good equation. To stay pain free, we must train the back and create muscular balance and symmetry.

Improved Posture. It’s no joke. Rounded Shoulder Syndrome is very common with many people who train ineffectively as well as those who work 9 to 5 desk jobs because they are always hunched forward, either looking at the keyboard or squinting at the computer screen. Over time, this causes the back to become over stretched and weak. The chest becomes chronically tight, and the shoulders become rounded forward. Strengthening the back in conjunction with stretching the pecs can help to open up the chest and bring the shoulders back to their original position, giving us a much improved posture and allowing us to project a confident image.

Increased self- confidence. Low self- esteem is actually another causal factor for Rounded Shoulder Syndrome. When someone has low self esteem, they tend to look down. Over time, this leads to the collapsed chest, rounded back, and rounded shoulders. I’ve talked before about how resistance training can boost our self-esteem. Therefore, if we train the back along with the rest of the body, not only will we be feeling more confident, but we will be looking more confident as well because we will have that nice open look: chest out, shoulders back and down, and head up. This kind of look projects a winning attitude that can have miraculous effects. I have known more than a few people who have landed jobs this way. And just think- it all started with training the back!

Chain reaction training. The back really does play a strong role in how we train the rest of the body. If someone throws their back out, chances are they aren’t going to be exercising for a while. By doing regular strength training for the back, we can strongly decrease the chance throwing our backs out or experiencing any other type of back injury. Think about it- if someone has a history of back problems, it’s going to play a role in what kind of strength training they can do for the lower body, the core, and even standing exercises for the arms, shoulders, and traps. It may even impede training for these areas all together. It’s best to play it safe and include regular strength training for the back. If you’re someone who is already suffering from back problems, have no fear! There are still safe ways that you can train the back and reduce the likelihood for injury for the entire body. Your best bet is to hire a trainer who can show you the way!

Reduced back pain. Some but not all back pain stems from either weakness or inflexibility of the back. As I have said before, strengthening the back can reduce the chance of injuries that lead to chronic back pain. It is especially important to train the muscles of the lower back, i.e. the erector spinae group, to insure strength in the core. Of course, the abdominal and oblique muscles of the core must be trained as well. By doing this, the core will become strong and be more able to avoid injury. If injury were to occur, a previously strengthened back and core will speed up the recovery process.

Inflexibility can be another factor in chronic back pain. Just as it is important to strengthen the back, it is also very important to stretch the back. I talked about how chest musculature can become tight and fibrotic if it is not stretched properly. The same holds true for the back. Chronically tight back musculature can lead to another form of bad posture known as hyper- lordosis, an exaggerated curve of the lumbar spine. This can also lead to more back pain and spasms as well. The bottom line is that strengthening and stretching are equally important.

Well, I hope I’ve given you some things to think about. Just make sure you’re training the back- if not for the above reasons, then for the simple fact that a strong back looks hot!

Thanks for reading. Be healthy!