There are a lot of great back exercises out there. The one thing I noticed on all of them is that you need some equipment to perform the exercise. However, I told you that I was going to be here for those of you who exercise at home, so that required me to do some thinking. How would I exercise my back if I had no equipment whatsoever? After a while, I had an epiphany – seated rows!
The Muscles Of The Back
There are a lot of muscles on the superficial layer of the back. These muscles pull things toward you, pull things down from up above or pull things up from down below. The largest of these muscles are the latissimus dorsi (the “lats” in gym lingo) and the trapezius (traps). However, you use pretty much all of the back muscles, to a certain extent, when you perform back exercises. Since you are using your arms to pull something toward you, you also use your biceps muscles and deltoids (shoulder muscles).
If you work out in a gym, the best place to do this exercise is using a cable pulley system. You would put on the handle of your choice, put your feet against the block or foot rest, and pull. However, for the beginner at home who doesn’t have access to a fancy cable pulley system, you need something to pull.
If you have a little money, I would suggest that you buy a system of bands that are interchangeable, that have two handles and a door stop attachment. These bands come in different colors which represent different diameters. The thicker the diameter, the more difficult they are to pull. It’s the same as adding weight using dumbbells. Some people prefer using the wide strips of elastic that are on the market. Bands are great because you can use them to exercise every part of your body. However, if you don’t want to buy something, you can use an old pair of panty-hose or a stretchy t-shirt. Anything that stretches when you pull on it will work.
Let’s assume that you have a band or pantyhose to pull on. You sit on the floor, legs out in front of you. Put the band around your feet. The handles of the band should make you stretch a little forward. If the band is too long, wrap it around your feet again to make it short enough so your arms are stretched in front of you. You can also spread your legs farther apart to increase the tension. Play around and see what works for you. The lady to your right is in the correct starting position.
Keep your back straight. Sit tall in the exercise. Don’t hunch over. It’s okay to lean forward a little, but lean forward from your waist, don’t curl your spine. Pull back against the band, pulling your arms back and sitting straight up. However, your hands and arms are just something to use to hold onto the band. The idea is to pull with your BACK, not your arms. The best way to explain how to do this is to try to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the end of the exercise. Many people do back exercises incorrectly because they use too much of their bicep muscles in the exercise. If you can’t feel your back muscles working when you perform the exercise, but you can with your biceps, try again. Really focus on pulling with your back muscles and not your arms.
Relax your back and let your arms move forward, and that’s it. One rep done. Now do 9 more reps. Rest for 30 seconds, and then do a total of 3 sets. As another note, don’t just jerk back on the band. Always use a controlled motion pulling back and relaxing forward.
A note about breathing. You breathe out when you contract the muscles, i.e., when you pull back. You breathe in when you relax the muscles. You should do this for every type of exercise.
Like most exercises, there are variations to this exercise. If you’re at the gym and have access to a cable pulley system, you’ll notice that there are all kinds of different handles that you can attach to the pulley. There are short handles, long handles, straight handles, curved handles, v-shaped grips, and on and on. They’re all designed to let you attack the back muscles using different angles. Generally speaking, close grip handles will work the outer back and make your back look wider. The wide-grip handles will work your middle back more. My suggestion… play around with the handles. Use a different one every time you do this exercise and pay attention to how it feels and which muscles you’re using more. There are also a variety of machines that you can use to perform the seated row.
Not only can you do variations spreading your hands apart in varying horizontal positions, you can also vary the height of your arms vertically when you perform the exercise. If your hands are higher than parallel to the floor, you’ll work more of your middle and lower back. If your hands are lower than parallel, you work more of your middle and upper back. All variations are good to try and will help you develop a strong, well-rounded back.
Aside from hand positions, you can also do this seated on the floor or a chair, on a ball, or even standing up. The more unstable your starting position (i.e., standing or sitting on a ball), the more you have to engage your core muscles to keep yourself balanced. However, once you use a lot of resistance or heavy weights, you need to have a stable seated position.
To see a video of this exercise performed on a cable pulley machine, please click here. Bodybuilding.com has lots of great videos.
So, that’s it for the seated row. I love doing back exercises, especially the results of them. I do a lot of gardening in the spring. Trying to pick up never-ending bags of mulch requires a lot of back strength. If you love to work in the garden, too, start performing the squat exercises which we’ve already covered and the seated row. I’ll think you’ll see a big difference come springtime.
Until next time, remember that… there are no excuses when it comes to your health!