Are you interested in erectors that could break concrete, traps that are nearly half the size of your head, and lats that look enough like wings to make people wonder if you’re going to hop up and fly away at any given moment? That was a dumb question. Who doesn’t want that, right?
The back complex is a little different from the rest of the body – it is both simple and difficult to target. It is simple because of the sheer amount of space and muscle that comprises the entire back. However, it may also be difficult for the same reason. That’s a lot of muscle to keep in balance. To make it a little easier, let’s break the back down into a few major areas. There are the erector spinae, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, levator scapulae, rhomboids, and the rotator cuff muscles. Each of these muscles and muscle groups play an important role in the overall function of the human body and must be kept in near perfect balance to ensure optimum health and injury prevention.
1. Erector Spinae. The erectors, as they are often called, run from the neck all the way down to the lumbar spine. They are responsible for all sorts of spinal movement in each section of the spine. Because of the multitude of functions they control, the erectors are a commonly injured area. Deadlift are hands down the most beneficial exercise that can be used to strengthen the erectors. Perform low rep, high intensity deadlifts once a week and watch them grow. Straight leg deadlifts and hyperextensions may also be used.
2. Trapezius. The trapezius is made up of lower, middle, and upper sections. Each of these sections are largely responsible for movement of the scapula, neck, and upper back. Various shrugging exercises target this area very well. Incorporate all types including barbell, dumbbell, and trap bar shrugs.
3. Latissimus Dorsi. The lats are the dominant muscle of the back region, stretching from the spine all the way out to the edges of the back. They allow for shoulder and scapula movement. Because the lats are such a large group, it is important to focus on involved complex exercises to get the most out of them. Wide grip pull-ups are one of the best lat exercises out there. Begin with bodyweight and progress to weighted as your strength allows.
4. Levator Scapulae. This is a smaller muscle located along the neck. They function to move the scapula as well flex and rotate the cervical spine. Similar to the trapezius, shrugging exercises also target this area. Because of this, there is no real need to perform any additional work for the levator scapulae outside of your trapezius exercise.
5. Rhomboids. As seems to be the pattern here, this muscle controls movement in the scapula, specifically adduction and downward rotation. Any horizontal rowing exercise will do well to target the rhomboids. Seated cable rows with a variety of grips and face pulls work especially well.
6. Rotator Cuff. The rotator cuff complex is made up of four important muscles – teres minor, subscapularis, infraspinatus, and supraspinatus. As the name implies, this group allows for rotation at the shoulder joint. Imbalances in this area are extremely common and may lead to some serious issues if they are not taken care of immediately. While there are a number of excellent rotator cuff exercises, cuban raises alone tend to do the job for most. They target the infraspinatus, the most often injured rotator cuff muscle. Stand upright gripping a dumbbell in each hand with arms at your side. Begin an upright row movement. As the dumbbells reach your chest, stop the movement and rotate your arms upward while keeping the elbows fixed. Your palms will be facing forward and the dumbbells should end on either side of your head.