The good thing about exercising the back is that it will not only get you in shape but by having a strong back, you can also reduce and/or even alleviate back pain. And when it comes to big backs, no one knows more about the subject than James Middleton, ex-professional rugby player and health coach, who compiled this back home workout for the readers of T3.
These back exercises use very little equipment – you can use resistance bands, a yoga mat and a pair of dumbbells if you want – and work both the upper and lower back. It's very important to work both parts of the back because the upper back might make you look more buff, strong lower back muscles can help improve posture and reduce back pain so you can sit and sleep better.
While you are at it, check out James' Instagram channel (opens in new tab) where you'll find daily workouts and loads more topless images of him (for inspiration).
Best home back workout with James Middleton
An effective workout is all about control and tempo. You won't build muscles quicker by jerking the weights back and forth quicker, if anything, you'll get yourself injured and demotivated fast that way. James says "the key is in the control we have over the movements, the more effectively we are using our muscles. The longer our muscles are under tension, the more they are working and stronger they will become."
Another often forgotten aspect of working out is correct breathing. Breathing correctly while exercising can help you perform better and also pace yourself more efficiently: "generally speaking you always want to be inhaling and filling the body with oxygen on the eccentric phase of the movement (e.g. the lowering phase of a squat for example) and then exhaling on the concentric phase when the muscles contract again (e.g. the standing up phase of a squat)" suggests James.
Finally, remember that form is way more important than heavy weights. Working out using the wrong muscles and activating the wrong areas of your body will result in injuries and not gains. "The worst thing you can do with an exercise is immediately jumping straight into using heavier weights when you’re not performing the exercise correctly. This will cause serious damage to your body and is often much harder to correct the bad habits you might have instilled" James concludes.
Dumbbell Bent Over Row
This is a great exercise that really targets the middle back, the lats and rhomboids in particular. The key with this exercise is to have your knees slightly bent, hinge at the hips forward but keeping the weight back through your heels, your head straight so it’s aligned with your spine, and keeping your elbows nice and tight to the body as you row the dumbbells up. James is using a neutral grip here which helps target the middle of the back.
This exercise looks much easier than it actually is! The areas you’re working on here are the lower back and erector spinae muscles around the spine whilst also working your trapezius and rhomboids with the upper body extension. You want to start with your arms and feet on the floor, then raise them up and hold that position for 1-2 seconds then slowly lower the arms and feet back down. Keep your head facing down at all times to prevent any neck strain.
Side to Side Hypers
A fantastic move to really work the whole back, with particular emphasis on the lats and erector spinae. Grab a towel of any sort and make sure there is tension through it by pulling it tight. A bit like the superman you are going to lift your arms up off the floor and then rotate side to side with the towel, bending the elbows slightly as you come round to the side. For extra difficulty lift your feet off the floor.
Banded Seated Row Narrow Grip
Grab a resistance band and loop it around your feet. Sit back with your knees slightly bent, back straight pulling in your core so it’s tight. This prevents any unnecessary strain on the lower back. With a neutral grip pull the bands up towards your chest keeping your elbows tucked in close to the body, retracting your shoulder blades together for a nice squeeze. Return your arms back towards your feet so they are straight again. This exercise will work your entire back with focus on your lats and rhomboids.
High Plank Twist
Start this exercise in a high plank position, with both arms directly below your shoulders and on the balls of your feet. You then want to bring one arm up and extend it towards the ceiling, looking through your fingertips and feeling a nice contraction in the upper back as you twist. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. You will be working the upper back here with focus on the trapezius and rear deltoid, alongside some shoulder stability work.
This is a very similar set-up to a normal superman, except this time you will be working one side at a time and really isolating that lower back contraction of the erector spinae. Take one arm and have it down by your side, this is the resting arm. The other arm has extended out in front of you. Whilst you lift that arm up, the opposite leg will extend up too.
Make sure you’re squeezing the glutes here so there isn’t too much strain on the lower back. Keep the toes pointing to the back of the room, hold the extension in both the arm and the leg for 1-2 secs, and lower back down. Repeat 10x before changing over to the other side.
Band Pull Apart
Grab a resistance band and hold it out in front of you, arms shoulder height with tension through the band already. Adjust your hands further in to make this exercise harder and the band tighter. From this position you are going to drive your arms out the side, with a slight bend in the elbow until your arms are out wide or the band can’t stretch any further. Return to the starting position whilst keeping tension through the band at all times. Focus here is on the upper back, in particular the rhomboids, trapezius and rear deltoids.
James' nutrition tips
When it comes to building muscle (or losing weight), you can't getaway with not eating enough protein. James recommend 1.5-2 grams of protein per body kilogram per day, especially if you are training more vigorously. He also adds that "protein has the highest thermic effect of food which means your body burns more calories digesting it. It is also the most satiating which leaves you feeling fuller for longer, meaning you are less likely to want to snack." Amen to that!
James also recommends basing your plate around vegetables, and fill the rest in with protein, carbohydrates and fats. Vegetables are a good source of fibre and often low on calories too, as well as providing your body with a range of minerals and vitamins, essential for muscle building and recovery. "Think about getting in a good source of protein, this can be fish or meat (I’d recommend white meat as a more staple protein source) and then your carbohydrates and fats" – James adds.
Finally, James emphasises the importance of having a balanced diet: "A good diet is one that is balanced and healthy but allows you to enjoy the food you’re eating. Remember, one ‘unhealthy’ meal isn’t going to make you put on weight. Consistently consuming more calories than you are burning will. Balance and sustainability is everything with diet, so find one that works for you."