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Strengthening your back muscles is about building them from the ground up. That means starting with foundational exercises to build muscular awareness and then progressing from there.
To make your back stronger, perform scaleable bodyweight exercises such as bird dogs. As you build strength, progress the movement by holding dumbbells and increasing the reps while also adding more advanced exercises.
Not sure how to perform bird dogs? No worries, I’ll cover how to do them properly, along with two exercises you can do after your foundation is laid.
Table of Contents
1. Do Bird Dogs Using Your Bodyweight
Bird dogs are a foundational exercise that works the multifidus located deep throughout the spine and the spinal erectors in the lower back. The trapezius and rhomboids are also strengthened as the arm raises toward the ear.
When done correctly this movement puts a low compression load on the spine. However, raising the arm and leg higher than horizontally with the floor will lead to greater spine compression, so that’s something to avoid.
- Assume a tabletop position with your wrists underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips.
- Face the floor with your neck and back neutral.
- Brace your core and raise your right arm forward and left leg backward until they’re fully extended.
- Do not raise them higher than parallel with the floor.
- Hold this isometric phase for 3-8 seconds.
- Press your left hand into the ground during step 3.
- Return to the start and switch.
EMG data has shown movements like this to be better at recruiting the erector spinae muscles compared to other common entry-level exercises.
Progression: Switch between raising the arms only and the legs only.
Advanced Techniques: Hold dumbbells in your hands for extra upper back resistance. Wear ankle weights for extra lower back resistance.
Recommended Sets and Reps: 3 sets of 10 reps on each side
Recommended Frequency: Do these twice a week and work up to 3 days per week.
2. Perform Resistance Band Rows for Your Mid Back
The resistance band row is an extremely versatile exercise for targeting the middle back. It primarily works the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and rhomboids. You will notice improved posture and shoulder mobility when these muscles are strong.
- Attach a resistance band to a sturdy object at the height of your abdomen.
- Grab the handles with your palms facing each other.
- Face the anchor point and take a few steps back to increase tension on the band.
- Stand with your chest tall and your core and glutes braced to support your lower back.
- With your arms straight, drive your elbows behind your back, making sure to squeeze your shoulder blades as you pull.
- Re-extend your arms and repeat.
Progression: Sit on the ground to reduce the amount of stabilization required.
Advanced Technique: Stand on the center of the band and bend your torso horizontally to the floor for more lower back engagement.
Recommended Sets and Reps: 3 sets of 15 reps
Recommended Frequency: Two days per week.
3. Try Deadlifting for Your Entire Back
Deadlifts are a pretty technical exercise to attempt right off the bat. That’s why it’s important to start with the bird dogs and rows to build the initial strength and body awareness.
However, deadlifting is insanely beneficial for overall posterior chain strength. So, it’s definitely something you should consider learning and doing as you progress.
- Stand in front of a set of dumbbells or a barbell with your feet hip-width apart.
- Extend your arms toward the floor.
- Hinge your hips to lean your upper body forward. Simultaneously bend your knees so you can reach the bar.
- Hold the handles with your hands slightly past shoulder width.
- Inhale, lift your chest slightly, and tuck your elbows in.
- Drive your midfoot into the ground and stand upright, keeping the bar tight to your body.
- Reverse the motion back to the floor.
Progression: Practice the form with resistance bands at first as this is more forgiving if you make technical flaws.
Recommended Sets and Reps: 4 sets of 4-6 reps mainly for strength or 3 sets of 8-12 reps for a mix of strength and muscular conditioning.
Recommended Frequency: Pick one of the recommended sets and rep schemes to perform once per week. As you get stronger, work up to two deadlift sessions per week, combining both schemes.
How Long Does It Take To Strengthen a Weak Back?
Weak back muscles are nothing to take lightly, and you should do everything in your power to strengthen them. Just be mindful that this process won’t happen overnight and it’ll take some consistency.
As a general rule, strengthening a weak back takes 4-8 weeks before noticeable strength gains are made. This process will be accelerated or slowed based on lifestyle and how many back workouts you do per week.
If you’re doing low-impact back exercises like bird dogs try performing them at least twice per week, up to three days per week.
For taxing exercises like the deadlift do them once a week and gauge the time it takes your muscles to recover. Up them to twice per week once you feel your body is capable of recovering quickly enough.
The three most critical recovery techniques to accelerate your strength gains are:
- Consuming 0.7-1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day.
- Sleeping 6-9 hours per day (quality over quantity).
- Resting at least 2-3 days between back workouts.
Why Is Your Back So Weak?
Identifying the cause of a weak back isn’t as simple as saying your muscles are just underdeveloped. The neuromuscular connection between your brain and back may be interrupted and needs re-developing.
Your back could be weak because: you’ve been sitting too much, you’ve suffered an undiagnosed acute or chronic joint injury or disease, or your back muscles are being overused and haven’t had enough time to recover. Any of these can result in neuromuscular weakness.
Exercises like the bird dog are great for establishing and maintaining this control in many cases.
What Can Happen if Your Back Muscles Are Weak?
The back muscles interlink the upper and lower body and support the spine and shoulder blades. They’re detrimental to performing important functions like twisting, bending, and overhead reaching.
If your back muscles are weak you may lose strength and mobility in your legs, upper limbs, and spine. Increased fatigue and shortness of breath while performing physical activity are likely to occur from these restrictions.
By establishing a routine similar to the one below you’ll be well on your way to building and maintaining strength to prevent these misfortunes.
- Bird dogs: 3 sets x 10 reps
- Resistance band rows: 3 x 15
- Deadlifts: 4 x 6
- Bird dogs: 3 sets x 10, 8, 6 reps
- Resistance band rows: 3 x 10
- Deadlifts: 3 x 12