Health and fitness: Train the back properly

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By Kent Pegg

Back injuries are one of the most common health problems, troubling millions of Americans each day.

Weight lifting to strengthen and protect the back should contain four components: scapular retraction exercises, scapular depression exercises, shoulder rotation exercises, and lower back exercises.

Scapular retraction exercises focus on the rhomboid and trapezius muscles between the shoulder blades. Strengthening these muscles helps pull the shoulder blades back.

To strengthen these muscles you need to perform rowing exercises. Cable rows, high rows, low rows, and bent rows can be done with both weight machines and free weights.

When performing rows, focus on pulling your shoulder blades back and together, as if you’re pinching your shoulder blades together. It helps if you imagine that your elbows are leading the way as you pull back rather than pulling your hands toward your body.

Scapular depression exercises work your lats and help keep your shoulders down. Exercises like pull-ups and pull-downs will strengthen your lats and keep your shoulders from elevating.

Some of the most under-exercised areas of the body are the muscles that keep the shoulders rotated back. These muscles include the rear deltoids, teres major, teres minor, and infraspinatus.

To strengthen these muscles perform rear shoulder raises with dumbbells or use a reverse seated-pectoral machine. Doing so will help rotate your shoulders back into their proper position.

The lower back is one of the most often injured areas of the body. It is also one of the most difficult areas of the body to train, meaning that strengthening the region can be a challenge and rehabbing a lower back injury can be a long and tedious process.

If you have decent lower back stability and some lower back strength, try adding some active flexion and extension exercises to your training program.

Remember that the lower back does not respond well to heavy training so keep weights light and increase the sets and reps.

Work out your lower back after you’ve worked out the rest of your back. By doing your lower back work last, you’ll ensure that you’re properly warmed up and have good blood flow into the often-injured lower back area.

Use caution when working out your lower back. If you have had serious back problems, remember to check with your health care professional before beginning an exercise program. And if you’re unsure how to perform the exercises or have other concerns get some help from a trained and trusted source.

Kent Pegg is a certified personal trainer and the owner of the Los Alamos Fitness Center. If you have any questions about the information in this story, you can call him at 662-5232.