While it’s accurate that, for instance, weighted bent-over rows are a safer alternative for strengthening the back compared to heavy-weighted deadlifts or thrusters, the possibility of injury still exists. (Dislike to divulge it to you, but even the most seemingly basic movements can still cause major harm.) However, that doesn’t mean that you should completely forgo training your back muscles — simply exchange your weights for a set of resistance bands.
The back muscles are perhaps some of the most crucial for maintaining strength and preventing injury. This muscle group is utilized when performing everyday activities (such as relocating furniture and bending down to retrieve a laundry basket), supports your spine, and aids in sustaining proper posture, explains Dannah Eve Bollig, an ISSA-certified personal trainer and the originator of The DE Method. Additionally, establishing robust back muscles may help prevent strains and sprains that can occur while rotating and bending during those everyday tasks, she adds.
However, when certain back exercises, such as bent-over rows and reverse flys, are executed with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell, there is a tendency to jerk the weight — rather than lowering and raising it in a slow, controlled manner — as your muscles tire, says Bollig. “When you jerk a weight around, that can really strain and potentially pull or tear a muscle. Any time you’re performing a weighted exercise, you have to be really cautious…and the heavier the weight used, the greater your risk of injury,” she explains.
So, exchanging your free weights with resistance bands can provide your back with the muscle-building workout it requires without jeopardizing your safety. How? “With a resistance band, you have full control over both the concentric (pushing) and eccentric (pulling) movements,” says Bollig. “A dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, or any gym machine with a fixed weight remains constant throughout the entire motion, whereas a resistance band increases and decreases in tension throughout the motion… so it’s exceedingly difficult to jerk it around,” she explains.
This altering tension during a grouped back exercise also enables you to work out your muscles differently than you would with a free weight. For instance, if you’re performing a inclined-over row with a dumbbell, your muscles will mostly be challenged during the contracting part of the movement — when you’re rowing the weight to the top and the muscle becomes shorter. When you use a resistance band, however, your muscles will have to push through the resistance during the contracting section and oppose the pull of the band during the lengthening part of the movement — when you’re lowering your arms back down to your sides and the muscle becomes longer, says Bollig.
All this means that not only will your muscles experience more time under tension, which leads to more muscle breakdown (and, thus, growth!), but the fluctuating resistance of the band will also challenge your stabilizer muscles, says Bollig. By training these muscles, you’ll prepare your larger dominant muscles to perform at their best when executing more demanding moves later on, Tara Laferrara, a NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of the TL Method, previously told Shape.
Another major advantage of choosing a grouped back exercise: You won’t have to constantly switch heavy plates or re-rack free weights as you would when exercising with a barbell or set of dumbbells. When you need to increase the tension or make the move a little easier, all you have to do is grab a different compact band or adjust your grip placement on the band you’re already using, says Bollig. Plus, they pack away easily — so you can carry them on the go while traveling and effortlessly create space to store them in a small living area, unlike free weights.
Ready to test out some resistance band exercises for yourself? Try this grouped back exercise, created by Bollig.
15-Minute Grouped Back Exercise
How it works: Do each move for 30 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds before moving on to the next move. Repeat the circuit a total of 3 times, with 1 minute of rest between rounds.
You’ll need: A large-loop resistance band (Buy It, $27, amazon.com)
Resistance Band Pull-Apart
Seeking to rectify those curved shoulders and arched back? This resistance band exercise fortifies the muscles in your upper back — including your deltoids, rhomboids, and traps — and has the potential to enhance posture, asserts Bollig.
A. Take a stance with feet at a width equal to your shoulders. Grasp the resistance band at either end and extend it in front of your chest, ensuring that your arms remain straight and your palms face downwards.
B. Contract your shoulder blades together and pull the band apart to the maximum extent feasible, all the while maintaining straight arms, an elevated chest, and a level back. Remember to loosen your traps in order to lower your shoulders away from your ears.
C. Maintain this position for a duration of two seconds and gradually release the band to return to the starting point. Repeat the process.
Resistance Band Bent-Over Rows
Similar to the pull-apart exercise, this exercise involving a resistance band targets your rhomboids and traps, but it also fortifies your latissimus dorsi (lats), which in turn will enhance your posture and contribute to alleviating tension in your neck and shoulders.
A. Adopt a stance with feet at a width equal to your shoulders. Secure the resistance band under both feet so that a loop protrudes from each end. Grasp each loop with your palms facing inward.
B. With an elevated chest and a level back, bend at the waist and lower your upper body to a comfortable row position, approximately 45 degrees forward.
C. Pull each loop of the band up towards your ribcage and contract your shoulder blades together, as though attempting to hold a pencil between them.
D. Hold this position for a duration of two seconds and gradually release the band to return to the starting point. Repeat the process.
Resistance Band Face Pull
During this segment of your banded back workout, you will require a sturdy object to wrap the band around, such as a support beam in your residence, the legs of your couch, a vertical stair railing, or a metal pole. However, the advantages of the exercise outweigh the inconvenience: you will fortify your posterior deltoids and rhomboids with each repetition, remarks Bollig.
A. Fasten a long-length resistance band around a secure object at waist height. Take a few steps back from the object, ensuring that your feet are at a width equal to your shoulders, and face the object to which the band is attached. Grasp the band in front of your waist with your hands positioned 3 to 4 inches apart and your palms facing downwards.
B. Pull the band upwards towards your face and contract your shoulder blades together, maintaining elevated elbows and a level back. Strive to keep your traps relaxed so that your shoulders do not hunch up towards your ears.
C. Hold this position for a duration of two seconds and gradually release the band to return to the starting point. If the exercise feels too easy, take a step further back from the object. Repeat the process.
Resistance Band Deadlift
You are probably acquainted with deadlifts as a formidable exercise for your glutes and legs, but they also exert considerable effort on your erector spinae muscles — the deep muscles that run along both sides of your spine, asserts Bollig.
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Simply ensure that you refrain from curving your spine while performing the workout in order to attain the maximum advantage, she points out.
A. Position yourself with a wider stance than the width of your shoulders, with slightly bent knees. Attach one end of the band under each foot. Bend your torso forward by hinging at the hips and pushing your buttocks backward. Hold one or both sections of the band between your feet (using one section is easier, using two is more challenging), with your arms extended and your palms facing towards your body.
B. While keeping your back straight, your chest lifted, and your hips pushed back, squeeze your glutes together and pull the band upwards until you are fully upright.
C. Slowly release the tension in the band and return to the starting position. Repeat the sequence.
Resistance Band Good Morning
If you’re interested in an exercise that not only strengthens your back but also other muscles, you should give good mornings a try. This exercise targets your posterior chain, which includes the muscles in your calves, hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae, and lats, according to Bollig.
A. Stand with your feet spread out to the width of your shoulders. Attach one end of the band under your feet and position the other end across the back of your shoulders. Hold the band just outside your shoulders, with your palms facing towards your body.
B. While keeping your back straight, your chest lifted, and a slight bend in your knees, bend your torso forward by hinging at the hips until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
C. Activate your lower back, hinge at the hips, and gradually bring your torso up to a standing position. Repeat the exercise.
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