Want to build up your back muscles? Here's what you need in your fitness regime. 

The vision

Despite a strong back playing a key role in the functionality and aesthetic of the body (there is a little hope of an hourglass figure without at least some back and shoulder work), it’s often neglected in female training plans for pure fear of creating bulk.

“Most women want a toned back that is not overly muscly and doesn’t affect the whole body proportions. An overworked back can cause the loss of a waistline, so I try to avoid this in all of my clients,” says master trainer Ricardo Riskalla, who has specialised in the shaping of models’ and actors’ bodies to deadline for the past two decades.

“Women that swim a lot often complain of an overly broad and muscular back. Back fat is also a common complaint, especially when it hangs over a female’s bra or clothing. In my opinion, most excess back fat has to do with imbalances in your diet, including excess sodium and stress.”

One of the largest group of muscles in the body and a structural focal point, a strong back is also vital to proper posture, plays a part in breathing and helps protect vital organs.

Key features

The main muscles on the back include the trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and erector spanei – best worked all together for added calorie burn and total body balance. Think multi-joint and multi-muscle movements such as the deadlift.

“Compound exercises prevent muscle injuries and create a more harmonious result,” says Riskalla.

The plan

For a toned and lean back, Riskalla says both full-body training sessions and a well-managed diet are key. Ditch the split body training and instead work your back muscles into your full body sessions.

“I suggest women to only train their backs once a week and always do a full body workout in the same session to avoid muscle imbalances. I don’t recommend anyone to just train their backs in one workout,” he says.

“I usually use body weight exercises, with my favourites being supinated chinups.”

Given the strength needed to complete such exercises, work your rep range up weekly using steady progressions; start with five sets of two reps followed by a  body weight movement, such as the squat, performed for one minute to enhance fat loss. More advanced, pitch for three sets of 20 reps, alternating with one minute of squats.

Working in Pilates exercises along with core work will also increase your chances of creating an hourglass figure that ties in at the waist. Riskalla’s favourite pose combinations include the bowl yoga pose (held for five minutes) followed by the alternating cat and cow poses (held for five minutes); or for the less advanced the locust pose (held anywhere between five to eight minutes) followed by the Pilates saw (held for five minutes).

“It is very important to always look at the body as a whole. Exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups are great to counterbalance the effects of a back workout and create more body harmony,” says Riskalla.

“Additionally, waist exercises are great for developing a more hourglass figure. Exercises such as standing up hip rotations – for 10 minutes each side, three times a week – will do the trick.”

Beyond reducing overall body fat, stubborn back fat can be reduced through limiting sodium (aka. salt and sodium-based additives) and managing stress. Think daily walking, meditation, yoga and breathing sessions.

“In most cases, a series of deep breaths three times a day can help the body to reduce cortisol production and so stress,” says Riskalla.

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