Things to Avoid During Back Day:
- Never think of your back as a single muscle
Your back is an intricate collection of several muscles, although the latissimus dorsi does most of the work on back day. When training your back, you also target the lower and middle portions of the trapezius, the rhomboids, the rear delts, the teres major, and the erector spinae.
- Don't do lower back movements early in your workout
With many free-weight back exercises--especially rows, in which you're pulling very heavy weights—it's critical that you maintain your natural spinal curvature. This will prevent your lower back from rounding during the movement. A rounded spine makes you susceptible to a disc injury, which can be debilitating.
The muscles that allow you to protect your lumbar spine, called the erector spinae (sometimes just called the lower back muscles) need to be strong to get you through those heavy sets of bent-over rows, deadlifts, and other bent-over movements. They work isometrically to hold your lower back muscles in a position that keeps the discs safe, so you don't want them fatigued until the very end of your workout. Restrict dedicated lower-back exercises to the tail end of your workout.
- Never compromise the natural arch of your spine
To ensure spinal health, it's important to keep your back neutral, which simply means in line with your torso or in a slightly arched position. But beginners frequently find this position difficult to master.
Here's a tip: Stand sideways to the mirror and practice your form without added weight until you get it right. As you exercise, hold your back in a safe, neutral position for the duration of a set, never trying to extend the bottom of the range of motion at the risk of rounding your back.
Once you can't hold the arch in your back on exercises like bent-over rows and standing T-bar rows, end your set. It will help to keep a slight bend in your knees.
- Don't sacrifice range of motion for weight
Extend your arm straight out in front of you, bend your elbow, and pull it as far back as possible behind the plane of your body. That's what a full range of motion looks like when doing a rowing exercise. The thing is, when you use too much weight, that range is typically reduced on both ends of the movement, especially during the contraction. While you'd never think of regularly doing short range of motion bench presses, that's what many people do when they use too much weight.
When pulling, bring your elbows as far back behind the plane of your body as possible. Consciously squeeze your shoulder blades together, then allow the weight to pull your arms back to full extension.
- Never raise your head to look in the mirror
Craning your neck to watch yourself in the mirror during moves like bent-over rows disrupts the spinal alignment of the cervical vertebrae. While it might be tempting and maybe you think you're looking awesome, think about it: Your body is bent over about 45 degrees, but now you cock your neck back when looking up. (The same goes if you try and do this with bent-over lateral raises and when lowering the bar on Romanian deadlifts.) You've got heavy weights in your hands, which pulls through your shoulders and lats right into the spinal column—but your neck is out of position. Once again, you've discovered an opportunity for disc damage.
The solution is an easy one though: During any rowing movement in which your body is bent over, simply keep your head aligned in the same direction as your torso. If your body is bent over 45 degrees, your head should be too. Resist the temptation to tilt your head up.
To learn more about proper workout positions and how to avoid and/or minimize injury, please contact us to schedule a session with one of our certified trainers.