Back Circuit

5 Exercises for a Toned Back

I’ll be honest; I’m not a huge fan of working back muscles. It’s hard to see back progress while working out. Plus there’s not much variety when it comes to working back. Don’t get me wrong though… I absolutely love the look of back muscles. Therefore, if I want the definition, I got to put in the work. I work back specifically once a week at the gym. If you’ve checked out any of my other workout circuit posts you know that I typically do 4-5 exercises with 4 working sets.

Add a day of back exercises into your weekly workouts and start enjoying the results. Here’s a before and after photo of my back.

back circuit
Although the lighting is slightly varied due to the location of the taken pictures, I can definitely see progress in my back muscles. Left is from April 2016 and right is from September 2016.

Stretchers Superset with Straight Arm Push Downs

This is probably my favorite back exercise. I really like to superset because I get a more intense workout, plus it saves on time! For this superset exercise, you will need the cable bench with a rope attachment. For stretchers, you put one foot on the bench while holding both hands on the rope. Step back so that the weight is lifted. Start with your arms extended and your neck/head in line with your spine (facing the bench basically). Then drive your elbows toward your ribcage while at the same time raising your head and poking your chest out. That counts as one rep. At first the motion can be tricky, but then you start to flow into the movement. Try to work on getting your shoulder blades to touch and keep your chest out when pulling back.

Keeping the rope on the cable, step back from the bench a bit. With both hands on the rope, keep your arms straight and push down until you hit your legs. Then raise your arms to about straight out in front of you. Try to remember to keep your arms straight for the most effective back exercise here.

Since this is a superset it counts as 2 exercises. You do one set of each and then rest after the two completed sets.

Close Grip Pull Down

For this exercise, you will need to be at a cable bench. If you are using a cable tower that has 2 clips, then you will need a long bar. However, if you are using a single clip cable, then you can use a row triangle. I personally prefer the second option as it helps with keeping the close grip throughout the exercise. If you are using a long bar, you will just need to make sure your hands are close to each other when pulling down.

While seated, poke your chest out and slightly arch your back to help. With a close grip bring the bar or row triangle close to your heart while tucking your elbows in to your ribcage. Again, try to keep your posture right and aim to bring your shoulder blades closer. When you release the pull down and extend your arms, don’t do a full extension. This will help keep your back muscles engaged throughout the whole exercise set.

Cable Xs

If your gym has a cable tower with a double cable, you can easily adjust the cable to chest height. You don’t need any special attachment to the cable clips here, just cross them to form an X. Take a few steps back so the weights won’t re-rack after each rep and so that you can have your arms fully extended in front of you. Engaging your back muscles, open your arms to form a T with your body and then bring them back to the front of you. It helps if you arch your back and poke out your chest a bit here as well.

If your gym doesn’t have a double cable tower, then you can use a single cable tower and just alternate arms in the same motion. You can grab onto the cable tower with the opposite hand to help keep balance if doing this method.

Upright Cable Rows

At a single cable tower, attach a small straight bar (really any bar will work, but I’ve found this to be the easiest). Lower the cable down to the ground and grab the bar with an overhand grip. Pull the bar up to shoulder height with your elbows poking outward. Then extend your arms down until they are straight. As always, stay focused on tensing your back muscles instead of relying only on your arm muscles.

As you can see, back exercises really require a lot of detail in order to achieve desirable results. However, with time it becomes more natural to do these exercises. You start to realize how the exercise should feel and you begin to feel the soreness in the right areas. As a beginner, it helps to have a friend observe you as you try these out. I no longer consider myself a beginner, but it still helps to ask my sister to critique my form since it’s hard for me to always notice.

Do you do any other back exercises? What’s your favorite?