The human back is a large, complex structure, according to Dr. A. Michael A. Adamec, who owns the chiropractic clinic Adamec Chiropractic, located in Rotterdam. Dr. Adamec adds that the human back consists of bone, muscle, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels that range from the neck all the way to the buttocks. The anatomy of the back provides flexibility and support to other parts of the body which include the head and torso. Most importantly though, Dr. Adamec explains that the back is the home of the spinal cord, which acts as the main support of our body.
Because of how important and large the back is, stretching and strengthening it is imperative, especially the older we become. But the difficult part is finding the right exercises and performing them properly to avoid injury. With that said, I knew the best way to identify the right exercises and stretches was to consult the experts in this matter.
Dr. Chad Ellis, a chiropractor from Brampton, Canada, and Tomasz Holubiczko, a personal trainer at System Fitness located in Toronto, Canada spoke exclusively with us about the best and easiest exercises to strengthen and stretch your back.
1. Head-to-Toe Stretch: Dr. Ellis explained in a phone interview: “You are never supposed to stretch your back when you first wake up in the morning. You need to ease your body into the day first and if you stretch your back when your body is cold, you risk injuring yourself.” With that said, Tomasz added: “Warm muscles are more elastic hence they stretch better and the risk of pulling a muscle is reduced to a minimum.” I asked Tomasz what he thought would be an easy stretch for the lower back, he advised that everyone should do a head-to-toe stretch for 20 seconds. To perform this exercise, stand up straight, and slowly bend your back and try and touch the tip of your toes with your hands.
2. Upper Back Stretch: I asked Dr. Ellis why it is so important to strengthen and stretch your back, “For me, it’s important to strengthen and stretch your back because it’s your core and it surrounds your spinal cord. By strengthening and stretching it, you can help prevent injuries to it.” The lower back is essential in keeping your spinal cord strong and upright. When people have a weak lower back, they are more susceptible to lower back injuries or even poor posture. So I asked Tomasz what he would recommend for a lower back stretch. He said: “You start by pacing hands on an edge at head height and with arms out pushing your whole upper body down to the point of a slight discomfort. Legs can be slightly bent for more stretch. Hold this for 20 seconds.”
3. Face Pull: It’s no secret that with a weak or injured back, daily activities can become difficult. So I asked Tomasz why he thought the back was important to maintain. He said: “Once we injure it or even neglect it, every daily task gets more difficult. Carrying groceries, lifting stuff overhead, even walking might be a struggle for people with weak back muscles.” I then asked him what upper back exercise he would recommend for people wanting to strengthen their upper back muscles; “Face pulls hands down. It also corrects the posture. Brings back shoulders and negates upper body crossed syndrome. Especially office workers are affected by it,” he said. To perform this exercise, you can do it without weight, you can use an exercise band, or even use the rope with some weights.
4. Back Extensions: From experience, when you go to the gym, you’ll see different people doing different exercises that you have never seen before. So I asked Tomasz what back exercises people should avoid. He said to me: “Anything that looks fancy. People should stick to the basics that worked for generations of bodybuilders athletes and recreational lifters.” With that said, I asked what exercise he would recommend for strengthening your lower back. Without hesitation, he replied: “Back extensions. Hands behind the head or at the chest and a really strong squeeze of glutes at the top position. It also makes glutes and hamstrings stronger. Weak hamstrings are the reason behind 80% of lower back problems.”
5. Barbell Rows: Tomasz explained that there are over 50 muscles in the human back. So I asked him what are a few things people should know about their back. He told me that people should focus on multi-joint exercises to make sure most of those muscles work together and your body creates more neural connections, making it stronger. Sometimes you need an exercise that is considered one of the best for strength. So I asked Tomasz what he would suggest as the best exercise for maximum upper back strength. He said: “Barbell rows. It’s an exercise where everybody can use the most weight from all the back exercises, hence making it the money maker.” For those who are beginners, it is a good suggestion to start off with light weight until you get familiar with the posture.
6. Deadlifts: Now that I was aware of the best strengthening exercise for the upper back, I needed to know what Tomasz would recommend for the best strengthening exercise for your lower back. He recommends deadlifts: “It also works legs, glutes, arms, and abs and pretty much every muscle in the back. The more muscles that are involved in an exercise, the stronger we can get.” As I mentioned about the barbell rows, deadlifts require complete concentration and perfect posture. Why? Well, Tomasz explains the most common back injury he’s experienced: “Herniated discs. This is 90% of all back injuries I’ve encountered over the years in different gyms that people experienced. And they all started with weak muscles surrounding the spine.”