Back Muscles

Traps
Lats
Erector Spinae
User's Manual
Posture Guidelines
Back Exercises
Back Stretches
Amazing Facts
Related Links

Traps (Trapezius)

A diamond-shaped muscle connecting the back of your skull to your shoulders and back, used to lift objects up.
Medial attachments: Posterior base of skull Vertebrae from the base of the neck to the sacrum
Lateral attachments: Lateral clavical Scapula (acromion and spine)

Lats (Latissimus dorsi)

A back muscle visible just under the arms along the sides of the torso from the front. This muscle is used to pull things down or to pull yourself up. If you want impressive lats, join a swim team. If you want to get motivated to build your lats, check out a photo of Bruce Lee.
Superior attachments: Upper humerus
Inferior attachments: Iliac crest Lower ribs Middle and lower vertebrae.

Erector spinae muscles

Three columns of muscle forming a bulge along either side of the spine. They are used to keep the vertebral spine in line, to arch the back posteriorly and to support the back and all body parts above the hips. These muscles are under constant stress. Once damaged these muscles cannot be fixed, so the pain must then be managed for the rest of your life. Avoid damage by adhering to the guidelines under the user manual below.

The Three Columns: All three columns share a common inferior attachment to posterior parts of the iliac crest, sacrum and inferior lumbar vertebrae.

  • Iliocostalis (lateral column)
    Superior attachment: Angles (or posterior bent portion) of the ribs
  • Longissimus (intermediate column)
    Superior attachment: Thoracic and cervical vertebrae (transverse process) Lateral posterior base of the skull (mastoid process)
  • Spinalis (medial column)
    Superior attachment: Connects the vertebrae (spinal processes) from the middle back to the upper back.

User's Manual

If you're doing anything other than lying flat on your back, you are using your back muscles. Unfortunately they are very easily strained, and once they are, they are problematic for life. Back pain cannot be cured. It can only be managed through correct posture, daily stretching and strengthening routines. So take care of your back. Most everyone as a teen, feels some sense of invulnerability. Many problems seem as if they don't apply to you until well after your physical prime. The truth is that the roots of these problems start in the teen years, because this is when you develop lifelong behaviors. Be aware of how you treat your body. You will only feel invulnerable until that certain moment when you've pushed your body just a tad too far. To avoid this moment and the regret and pain it causes, treat your body well. Start with your back, using the following guidelines.

Practice a good posture in everything you do. Maintaining your spine's natural curvature significantly reduces the stress put on your back. (Diagram) This curvature consists of the lumbar (lower back), thoracic (middle to upper back), and cervical (neck) curvatures. A good way to learn what it feels like to retaining this posture is to take a yard stick or broom handle and place it along your spine so the ruler contacts your tail bone and your upper back. There should be a significant gap between the two points of contact where the ruler does not contact the spine. Whenever you stand, sit, bend over or lift something, you should retain this back posture.

When people get tired, whether they're sitting or standing, they tend to slouch. This sends a message to your brain that slouching equals resting. However, the reality is that slouching requires your back to work 10 times harder to support your spine. If you hold your spine in good posture, the vertebrae simply rest on top of each other minimizing the amount of work required of your back muscles. So whenever you notice yourself slouching, straighten your posture so you can program your brain to associate rest with good posture.

Good Posture Guidelines

Why Arching One Way is Better than the Other
(Diagram Fig A & B) Your torso's main contents (organs and what not) are all in front of your vertebral column. So the muscles, supporting your torso and spine and enabling you to stand erect, are concentrated along your back. When you bend forward arching your back as displayed in fig. A, your muscles are stretched and forced into a weak position. The tension, instead of being absorbed by the muscle, is instead placed on the tendons and ligaments. This is dangerous, since the tendons and ligaments are much less elastic than muscle and more prone to rip or tear. When you stand erect with a healthy lumbar arch as in Fig. B, the muscles are slightly contracted and thus in a stronger position. The tension is being absorbed by the elastic muscle. When you lift, you'll notice that there are certain positions in which you are stronger. Bench press (Diagram), Bicep curls (Diagram), etc. Erect back posture is the back's strongest position.

Standing
Keep your head over your shoulders. Retain an erect posture with a natural spinal curvature. (Diagram)

Sitting
Keep your head over your shoulders. Don't slump. Any chair that supports your lower lumbar curvature will relieve your lower back muscles. (Diagram)

An Alternative to Bending Over
If you can avoid bending over by kneeling on one knee, then do so. You'll notice it's a lot easier and more comfortable. This way you can retain your natural spinal curvature. (Diagram)

Lifting Objects from the Floor
Use a position similar to the three-point stance of a football lineman. Bend the knees a little and the hips a lot. Stick out your rear and keep the head and chest up. Keep the object you're lifting as close as possible to your body. (Diagram)

Reaching over an Obstacle
Position yourself as close to the object as possible with your knees slightly bent. Press your legs against the object you have to reach over. Bend slowly at the hips (not waist) with your back slightly arched and your head and chest up. Retain this posture while lifting, keeping the object you're lifting as close as possible to your body. (Diagram)

To Lift Light Objects out of a Box or Container
Place your weight on one leg. Use one hand to support yourself. Keeping your back straight, bend at the hips, and lift and extend your leg behind you. Reach in and lift with your free hand. (Diagram)

Even with all this amazing info, you can still overwork your back. The more tired or dehydrated you get, the more difficulty you will have adhering to these guidelines. So when you're faced with a massive job, like moving your place of residence or hauling mounds of dirt, don't rush, be smart, split the job up, rest often, eat high energy foods, drink plenty of fluids and get help.

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Back Exercises

Lat Pull-downs
Main target: The back (the lats or latissimus dorsi muscle).

  • Use a wide grip bar attached to a high pulley.
  • Stretch before you start and between sets by standing, grabbing the bar overhead and bending at the knees and hips, pulling at your arms and lats.
  • Sit down with back erect and hands holding the bar overhead with an overhand grip Pull the bar to the top of the chest.
  • Pause briefly.
  • Slowly let your arms return to their extended overhead position.
  • Repeat.

diagram

Parallel-grip Lat Pull-downs
Main target: upper back, biceps.

  • Use a parallel grip handle attached to a high pulley.
  • Stretch before you start and between sets by standing, grabbing the bar overhead and bending at the knees and hips, pulling at your arms and lats.
  • Sit down with back erect and hands holding the handles overhead with an overhand grip Pull the handles to the top of the chest.
  • Pause briefly.
  • Slowly let your arms return to their extended overhead position.
  • Repeat.

diagram

Behind Neck Lat Pulls
Main target: latissimus, forearm gripping muscles, biceps, and other associated muscles.

The middle and lower trapezius and rhomboids (back muscles) are strengthened by pressing at the end of the motion.

  • Use a wide grip bar attached to a high pulley.
  • Stretch before you start and between sets by standing, grabbing the bar overhead and bending at the knees and hips, pulling at your arms and lats.
  • Sit down with back erect and hands holding the bar overhead with an overhand grip.
  • Pull the bar to the back and base of the neck.
  • Pause at the bottom for a second or 2.
  • Slowly let your arms return to their extended overhead position.
  • Repeat.

diagram

Pull-ups
Main target: the back, biceps and abdominals.

  • Hands just over shoulder-width apart.
  • Overhand grip.
  • Knees together.
  • Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Pause.
  • Lower yourself in control.
  • Repeat.

Start with 3 or 4 sets of 6 or more repetitions.

If you are a bonafide monster and can easily do 4 sets of 12 reps, add weight around your waist or in the crook behind your knees.

diagram

Bicep Pull-ups
Main Target: biceps receive more of a workout in this version of pull-ups. Lats are also strengthened.

  • Grab the bar, this time with an underhand grip, hands 6 to 8 inches apart.
  • Do pull ups, raising your chin above the bar and holding it for a moment before lowering yourself.
  • Repeat.

diagram

Behind Neck Pull-ups
Main Target: the back.

  • Once you're comfortable with the "behind neck lat pulls" try pull-ups, pulling the bar to the back and base of your neck.
  • Repeat.

diagram

Bent Over Row with Dumbbell
Main target: Latissimus dorsi (back muscle) and biceps.

  • Grab a bench and a dumbbell.
  • Kneel on the bench with your left knee and brace yourself with your left hand on the bench.
  • Keep your back perfectly straight at all times.
  • Head up.
  • Grab the dumbbell with the right hand and lift it straight up to the side of your rib cage.
  • Hold for a second or two and lower under control.
  • Repeat.
  • Always keep your shoulders in line with your upper body while doing the exercise.
  • When finished, switch hands and repeat the exercise.

diagram

Bent Over Row with Free Weight Rowing Apparatus
Main target: trapezius (upper back muscle) and anterior deltoid (front shoulder muscles).

  • Lean forward onto the rowing apparatus, placing your chest on the large pad and grab the handles attached to the weight.
  • Keep shoulders in line with your upper body. Don't allow your shoulders to slouch forward at any time. This places stress on the ligaments and tendons of your upper back. Always support the weight with your back. Never let your back fully relax as long as you are still supporting the weight.
  • With back straight and head up, pull the handles toward your chest.
  • Lower the handles until your arms are straight, keeping your shoulders in line with your upper body.
  • Repeat.

diagram

Upright Rowing
Main target: trapezius (upper back muscle) and anterior deltoid (front shoulder muscles).

  • Stand holding a barbell resting across the front of your thighs with an overhand grip. Hands close together.
  • Raise the bar keeping your elbows above the bar at all times.
  • Bring the bar to the throat or chin.
  • Lower the bar to the thighs.
  • Repeat.

This can also be done with a bar attached to a low pulley.

diagram

Wide-grip Seated Row
Main target: trapezius (upper back muscle).

  • Grab bar with wide overhand grip
  • Keep your back straight and face forward at all times.
  • Pull the bar to your torso.
  • Pause.
  • Slowly return bar to starting position with arms extended
  • Repeat.

diagram

Parallel-grip Seated Row
Main target: back, biceps.

  • Grab parallel grip handles with palms facing each other.
  • Keep your back straight, shoulders back and face forward at all times.
  • Pull the bar to your torso.
  • Pause.
  • Slowly return bar to starting position with arms extended
  • Repeat.

diagram

Underhand Seated Row
Main target: upper middle back, biceps.

  • Grab a straight bar with palms facing up.
  • Keep your back straight, shoulders back and face forward at all times.
  • Pull the bar to your torso.
  • Pause.
  • Slowly return bar to starting position with arms extended
  • Repeat.

diagram

Upright Rowing with One Hand
Main Target: Lats, rear deltoids, biceps, brachialis and forearm flexors. This exercise allows a greater range of motion than the two handed upright row.

  • With your right hand, grab a handle attached to a low pulley.
  • Stand facing the pulley with your right leg forward and your left leg back.
  • Start with your right palm facing the floor resting on your right knee.
  • Pull the handle into the side of your right waist while rotating your hand so it ends palm facing up.
  • Reverse the motion to bring your hand back to the starting position.
  • Repeat.
  • When finished, Switch hands and repeat the exercise.

diagram

Upright Rowing
Main Target: upper back.

  • Grab a free weight barbell or a bar attached to a low pulley with both hands placed at shoulder width apart.
  • Stand erect facing the mirror (for free weights) or the pulley apparatus with head up, face forward and bar lying across your thighs.
  • Pull the bar up to your neck or chin.
  • return the bar to starting position under control .
  • Repeat.

diagram

Back Extensions
Main Target: spinal erectors, hamstrings and glutes.

  • Use a back extension bench.
  • Lean forward onto the bench placing your hips or upper thighs (which ever is more comfortable) on the large pad and allowing your heals or legs (depending on the design) to rest under the small pad.
  • Position your hands according to the resistance you desire:
    For the most resistance, place your hands behind your neck and flare out your elbows. For slightly less resistance, cross your forearms in front of your chest. For the least resistance, clasp hands behind your butt.
  • If you don't have a back extension bench, lie on a high bench or other surface with a partner holding your ankles down.
  • Raise your torso upward to a position parallel to the floor.
  • Lower your torso.
  • Repeat.

diagram

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Back Stretches

Cat stretch

  • Get down on all fours (hands and knees) starting with your back straight.
  • Press your back toward the sky and hold for several seconds.
  • From that position, slowly move torso back until your legs are completely bent, and your arms are extending over your head.
  • hold for 15 seconds.
  • Feel the stretch in your upper back and triceps.

diagram

Spine stretch
Similar in position, but not to be confused with the butt stretch

  • Sit erect with your legs stretched out in front of you.
  • Bend the right knee and place the right foot on the floor to the left side of the left knee.
  • Turn your shoulders so that you are facing to the right.
  • Use your left upper arm against your right knee to help ease you further around.
  • Place your right hand on the floor for support.
  • Feel the stretch along the length of the spine.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

diagram

Trunk Twists

  • Stand tall with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, hands resting on hips.
  • Rotate the upper body slowly and smoothly to bring the right shoulder to the front and the left shoulder to the back.
  • Hold for a couple seconds.
  • Rotate the upper body slowly and smoothly to bring your left shoulder to the front and right shoulder to the back.
  • Hold for a couple seconds and repeat, keeping your back straight.
  • Feel the stretch in your upper back.
  • You can simultaneously tone your stomach by doing 2 crunches each time you hold at the end of a rotation.

diagram

Upper Back Stretch

  • Stand tall, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
  • Keeping your palms face down, cup the outside of one hand with the other.
  • Gently straighten your arms and push your hands as far away from your chest as possible, allowing your upper back to relax.
  • Feel the stretch between your shoulder blades.
  • Switch the hands so the opposite hand gets cupped and repeat the stretch.

diagram

Pelvic Tilt (for pregnant women)

  • Get down on all fours (hands and knees) starting with your back straight.
  • Pull in your stomach, arch your back upward and hold for several seconds.
  • Return to a straightened back position.
  • Repeat.

diagram

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  • Anatomy Topics

Related Info

Next Page of Muscular System Tour

tour

diagram

Amazing Facts

  • You have all the muscle fibers you will ever have at birth. Once damaged they can't be replaced.
  • Arnold Shwarzenaeger has just about as many muscle fibers as you do. They're just thicker.
  • There are more than 600 voluntary muscles in the body.
  • If all your muscles could pull in one direction you could create a force of 25 tons.
  • Muscles account of 40% of your body weight.

Related Links

Strength Building Exercise

Other skeletal muscles
Facial muscles
Neck
Sternocleidomastoid
Chest
Pectoral muscles
Pecs
Diaphragm
Stomach
Abdominals
Abs
Rectus abdominis
External oblique
Internal oblique
Transversus abdominis

Shoulders
Deltoids
Delts

Arms
Biceps
Triceps
Forearms
Extensors
Flexors
Legs
Thigh muscles
Quadriceps
Quads
Lower leg muscles
Calves
Back
Trapezius
Traps
Latissimus dorsi
Lats
Erector spinae muscles
Correct Posture