Build a Strong Back for Better Posture (And More Pull Ups!)
Because of sitting all day, we tend to hunch forward. Our chest and lats can become tight and often the muscles in our back, especially our lower traps, are weak.
And then on top of that, people spend way more time on their chest shoulders and triceps than they do on their back and biceps. This only adds to the imbalance and creates worse posture.
It can also hinder you from being able to do pull ups! (Which recently I’ve gotten asked a lot about!)
Here are some great stretching and foam rolling moves you should do before beginning your back workouts and using the exercises below. The exercises in the post above can also be great activation moves!
These back exercises will help correct your posture and can also help you improve your pull ups!
1. Inverted Row variations:
You can perform a two arm inverted row or even a rotational or anti-rotational single arm row. All three develop great back and core strength to improve your posture and build your back strength so that you can work up to a full pull up (or add to the number of pull ups you are currently able to do)!
Make sure with all three that you are keeping your core tight.
For the basic inverted row, you will hold an XT strap in each hand. Walk your feet out so you are leaning back. The closer to parallel to the ground you get, the harder the move will be. Squeeze your core and glutes and press your chest out so there is tension behind your shoulder blades. Then row up, keeping your body in a nice straight line. Row until your chest comes up to the handles and then lower yourself back down. Don’t let your hips sink as you lower back down. Also, keep your chest pressed out the entire time (do not let your low back arch though).
Do do a single arm anti-rotational row, you are going to do basically the exact same thing just with one hand. You want to keep your shoulders even just like you are holding the strap in the other hand. Do not let the shoulder of the arm not holding anything rotate toward the ground. As you row in, also make sure the shoulder of the arm rowing doesn’t shrug up by your ear.
With the rotational row, you are going to open up as if almost doing a hanging side plank. Do not let your hips dip toward the ground. As you row up, keep your core tight and rotate toward the strap, reaching as high up the strap as possible. Then rotate back up and repeat.
2. Row variations:
You can do a barbell row or a single arm dumbbell row. You can do a row with or without rotation. These are also a great way to develop back strength and improve posture.
Here are two great row variations using a band.
Two-arm Row – Lean forward and loop the band over itself and stand on the point where the band crosses over itself. Make sure there is tension even when you are fully extended if possible. Lean over, creating a nice straight line from the tip of your head all the way down your tailbone. Your chest should be pressed out and shoulder blades pulled down and back. Keeping your arms in by your sides, row up on the bands. Bend your elbows and pull the bands to your chest. Control the bands as you relax back down. Keep your core tight and tension in your back. Do not let your back round as you do this move! You want to make sure you are pressing your butt back and away and creating a nice straight line with your back.
Lawn Mower Row – This is a rotational row, but could also be done without the rotation. I call it the lawn mower row because it kind of looks like someone starting a lawn mower (apparently this is the midwest girl in me as many people I say that to now just kind of stare at me blankly…). Again loop the band and stand on the place where it crosses over. Reach down and then pull the band up toward your chest. As you row up, rotate open toward the band so that you can actually row up past your chest. Then control the band back down to the start and repeat.
3. Scapular Hold variations:
As you all know, I love the scapular wall hold. But there are other variations out there that are great. Basically a scapular hold is just the top hold of a row. You can do it on XT straps by holding at the top. Or you can do it by lying face down on a bench and rowing up and holding at the top. You could even just hold at the top of the two-arm band row.
Scapular holds are great at creating that scapular retraction that we need to be able to do pull ups. They are also great at strengthening our lower traps so that we have less neck and shoulder pain AND BETTER POSTURE.
Honestly, these are one of the few exercises that I have no problem if you almost do them every day. If you are sitting for a long time at your desk, get up and do them. They should be apart of your warm ups when you do deadlifts or back days. Shoot you may even include them on chest days just to get in a little extension in your back since it is so often in flexion!
These are great for injury prevention especially if you’ve had back, neck or shoulder problems!
4. Pulldown variations:
These are great subs if you can’t do full pull ups. While I love assisted pull ups, pull up holds and deadhangs, these are also useful in developing strong lats for pull ups.
You definitely want to make sure though that you’ve rolled out your lats and chest before doing these moves.
Bands or even a cable machine can be used for these moves.
Kneeling Pulldown – Kneel on the ground. You can even sit back on your heels. Place a band in a door or looped over something higher off the ground. Hold a handle in each hand and reach your hands up overhead. If the band isn’t straight above you, you will want to slightly lean forward so that your upper body is inline with your extended arms. Then pull the band down toward you. You can do variations with your palms facing toward you (chin up), palms parallel or even palms facing away (pull up). Keep your core tight and your arms in by your body as you pull down. Do not let your elbows flare way out.
One of my favorite variations of this move is the Pivot Prone Pull shown by Nick Tumminello. It really works on lower trap strength.
Straight Arm Pulldown – While I don’t use this move that often, it can be another great way to strengthen your core and lats.
You can use a cable machine or a band for this exercise. Anchor the band or cable above your head so that there is a little tension when you hold your arms out straight at shoulder height. Keep your core tight and your arms straight as you press the band down toward the ground and then back toward your legs. Keep your chest up nice and tall and do not round forward. Feel your back and lats engage as you press down. Control the band back up to shoulder height.
If pull ups really are your focus, this is a great move to use.
5. Pullover variations
Pullovers are also a great move to use to strengthen your lats.
You can do these with a weight or on the XT straps. This move is very core intensive. Do not let your low back arch!
Weighted Pullover – Lie on a bench or table. Set up so only your upper back in on the bench and your feet are on the ground. Bridge up and extend the weight up over your chest with your arms out straight. Keeping the elbows slightly bent, reach the weight back and overhead, extending back as far as possible. Keep the hips high and the core tight. Then pull the weight back over so that it is above your chest and repeat.
XT Pullover – Face away from the XT strap anchor point with one strap in each hand. The closer to parallel you get to the ground, the harder the move will be. Extend your arms out at about shoulder height. Slowly let your hands extend overhead, keeping your arms pretty straight. Keep your body in a nice straight line. Do not let your hips go up in the air or sag toward the ground. Then press down on the straps and bring your arms back down to about shoulder height.
All of these moves are great to improve your posture and build a stronger back so that you can do more pull ups.
HOWEVER, in your desire to do more pull ups, do not do a back workout every day. Muscles get stronger when they have time to rebuild…AKA you need rest days! If you constantly break your back down, you won’t get any stronger. So DON’T do these exercises every day!