Focused muscle: Trapezius
Type of training: Free weight exercises
Shoulder raises represent an effective exercise for the trapezius muscle, especially the upper part. In some variations the deltoid muscle will be activated as well.
Shoulder raises should not be practised by beginners. We can either workout with dumbbells, a barbell, or a curl bar in standing position. Some variations also allow the training on the cable machine.
For shoulder raises with dumbbells we either choose a shoulder wide stand with slightly bent knees or get in lunge position. Hold the dumbbells with tight grip and long arms on the sides of your hips. Tense the arm muscles to stabilize the elbow joints. Also tense the trunk muscles and keep your back upright. Pull up your shoulders maximally in a controlled movement. You could also perform circular motions (shoulder rotations). Here, the shoulders will be pulled upward and to the back maximally. The arms stay extended.
Shoulder raises with barbell work out the deltoid muscle as well. We take the same standing position. Hold the barbell or curl bar in narrow grip with both hands in front of your body. Keep your back upright and tense your trunk muscles. Pull up the bar toward the chin. The elbows pull upward to the outside. In the end position the elbows will be above our hands and the shoulders pull up maximally. The exercise can also be performed on the cable machine with the cable coming from below.
Antagonist: Chest muscles
Stretching: Upper back stretches
Focused muscle: Lower back muscles
Type of training: Free weight exercises
Deadlifts represent one of the basic exercises within the weight training area, together with squats, bench press, and pull-ups. It is an effective exercise for the muscles of the lower back (lumbar region). At the same time it is a complex workout that additionally trains the upper part of the trapezius as well as the muscles of the buttocks, the front of the thigh, and the adductors.
Deadlifts should not be practised by beginners. It not just represents an effective exercise for the mentioned muscle groups. Its motion sequence also is very similar to a back-friendly behavior in our daily life. The deadlift teaches us to lift properly. Especially the variation with dumbbell gets very close to this clean movement. The basic version of the exercise is practised with barbell.
The deadlift starts in shoulder-wide or slightly wider standing position. Get as close to the barbell as possible with your shanks touching the bar. Your toes point straight to the front or slightly toward the side. Grab the bar with extended arms. For heavy weights it is reasonable to use a mixed grip. Performing deadlifts with barbell, always choose your grip to have your arms on the outsides of your knees. A wider stand requires a wider grip as well.
From this position lower your buttocks and keep your trunk upright. Look straight to the front or slightly upward. Tense your trunk muscles and especially your back and pull the weight upward with the power of your legs. Keep your back straight (slight hollow back) and the barbell close to your body (still touching the legs). Above of your knees the bar will slide up on the thighs. At the end of the motion we stand upright. Pull your shoulders slightly to the back.
Deadlifts with dumbbell require the same body posture and motion sequence. The dumbbell stands on one side between our feet. The only difference to the deadlift with barbell is that we now have our arms between our feet. So we now choose a wider stand.
There also exists a variation of the deadlift that keeps the legs extended during the exercise. Please be careful! Here, the lower back will be strained significantly. It is not recommended to perform this version.
Antagonist: Abdominal muscles
Stretching: Lower back stretches
Muscle group: The back muscles
Trained muscle: Lower back muscles
Hyperextensions represent an effective exercise for the lower back (muscles of the lumbar spine). The lumbar region is very sensitive and many people have complaints in that area what attaches high importance to its training.
Hyperextensions exist in different variations and can be trained on the floor, bench, or machine. We can also use a specific hyperextension bench for the workout. Beginners should start with the machine exercise before they move on to other variations. When we work out hyperextensions please do not go for maximal strength. The lumbar region is extremely sensitive and should be treated with care. It is recommended to abort the exercise at a rate of perceived exertion of medium-to-hard.
Sit upright in the Hyperextension machine with both feet on the provided platform. Adjust the machine to have the rotation axis in one line with the upper part of the pelvis. The upper body leans forward keeping the back straight. Smoothly lower the resistance cushion onto your upper back. Your hands hold on to the provided handles or the seat to stabilize your body. Athletes with good body stability could cross their arms in front of the chest. Now erect the upper body into hyperextension in a controlled movement pressing the resistance cushion to the back. The reverse movement should be very smooth especially toward the lowest point. Avoid fast and sudden movements and don’t let your upper body drop.
Hyperextensions on the hyperextension bench represent a classic exercise. We have different bench types that either work inclined or on the horizontal line. In both types we get in prone position and have the pelvis rest on the provided cushion. Our legs fixate under the cushion rolls. Smoothly erect your body onto the horizontal line into hyperextension. Actively tilt your pelvis to achieve a slight hollow back.
The exercise can be performed with different arm positions. The more we extend our arms to the front the more intense the workout becomes. Extra weights can also be used to intensify the training. It is also possible to choose a static hyperextension execution and combine the exercise with reverse flys.
It is recommended to already start hyperextensions with your upper body on the horizontal line and perform the exercise in very small movements into and out of the hollow back. Or even remain in hollow back position and perform small impulses (erector crunch). Here, we can keep a high muscle tension throughout the entire workout and don’t have the risk of letting the upper body drop, what would strain the lower back enormously.
Hyperextensions on a regular bench work quite similar. Here, we would have to fixate our legs under the bench or have a training partner support us. Hyperextensions on the bench (all types) also activate the muscles of the butt and the thigh backside. This is because of the stabilization work these muscles have to perform. The activation is higher with our legs on the horizontal line and lower with inclined leg position.
The execution of hyperextensions on the floor is similar to the exercise on the bench. Here, we work without leg fixation in small movements or even static.
This variation could be combined with lying back leg lifts. To make the training more diverse we could work with different tools, like a ball. Here, we achieve an additional activation of the muscles of the upper back.
Antagonist: Abdominal muscles
Stretching: Lower back stretches
Rowing represents an effective exercise for the latissimus muscle. It also works out the trapezius, the middle part of the erector spinae, and the back part of the deltoid. Also the biceps of the upper arm an the brachioradialis of the forearm will be activated when we row.
Rowing can be performed in many different variations. There are many machines specifically for rows, but we also could work out at the cable machine. Furthermore we can work out with a barbell or dumbbells in standing, kneeling, or lying position. All these variations make the training quite diverse.
Rows on specific rowing machines can already be performed by beginners. Such machines provide a good stabilization of the body and support an upright position due to the chest cushion we lean against. Please note, that the workout with high weights can cause uncomfortable pressures on the chest. Sit upright and lean against the chest cushion. Tense the musculature of the trunk and especially your back muscles actively. In controlled movements you start to pull the handles toward the body. In the reverse movement don’t extend your arms completely.
For all rowing variations the workout with both arms close on the sides of the body activates the latissimus significantly. The further we lift our elbows toward shoulder hight, the less the latissimus and the more the trapezius, the middle part of the erector spinae, and the back part of the deltoid will work. The variation with raised elbows is very similar to the exercise reverse flys. All versions could be intensified if worked out in small impulses in the area of highest muscle tension when the arms are pulled backward maximally (please see best form of exercise).
Rows on the cable machine shouldn’t be practised by beginners. Sit upright tensing your trunk muscles tightly. Because of the missing chest rest we have to do a lot of stabilization work. In the beginning we sit close to the cable with our feet on the platform in front of us. Grab the handle and slide backward in a controlled movement. Keep your knees at least slightly bent. Row backward smoothly against the resistance with both arms close on the sides of your body. Again, don’t extend the arms completely in the reverse movement. At the end of a set release the weight with straight body posture. Do never drop the weights in a sudden or uncontrolled movement.
Rowing with dumbbell kneeling on the bench is very effective for the latissimus. Rest with the forearm and shank of the same side of the body on the bench. Set the standing leg diagonally to the side onto the floor to stabilize your body optimally. In that position we grab the dumbbell and row backward with the arm close to the body. The back of our hand either points backward or to the side. Do not extend your arm completely in the reverse movement.
With barbell we could either work out rows lying or standing. Lying in prone position on the bench is the more stable version. Your head remains free above the upper end of the bench. Your legs pull upward to prevent a hollow back. You can fixate them on the foot of the bench. Working out with wide grip (back of our hand points to the front) focuses on the trapezius, the middle part of the erector spinae, and the back part of the deltoid. A narrow grip (back of our hand points backward) especially activates the latissimus. Lift the barbell maximally in a controlled movement. Bring it back down to complete one repetition but don’t extend your arms completely.
Rowing standing with barbell additionally activates the lower part of the back (muscles of the lumbar region) significantly. The execution is quite challenging so solely experienced athletes should practise standing rows with barbell. We stand slightly wider than shoulder width bending our knees a little bit. The trunk leans forward. Tense your abdominals tightly and keep your back straight. Also tense the back muscles and pull the barbell toward the body in a controlled movement. Bring it back down smoothly to complete one repetition. Don’t extend your arms completely.
With wide grip (back of your hand points to the front) you pull the weight toward the chest. With narrow grip and the back of your hands pointing backward you pull it toward the stomach.
There also exists an isometric rowing variation that is exercised without any equipment. We sit upright on a chair, bench, or the floor. Our hands grab the knees right below the joints in a surrounding grip. Our body leans forward and our arms start to pull backward building up strong muscle tensions in the back. Increase the tension until you have reached a decent training intensity. Avoid press breathing (exhalation against closed airways). This version can also be practised on a machine. Here, you pull a weight you can’t overcome.
Antagonist: Chest muscles
Focused muscle: Latissimus
Type of training: Machine exercises
Lat pulldown represents a very popular exercise for the latissimus muscle. It also works out the brachioradialis of the forearm and the biceps of the upper arm. The exercise is familiar with the pull-ups.
Lat pulldown is typically performed on the cable machine. But there also are lat pulldown machines without cable that can be used. The motion sequence and execution don’t change among the different machines. But there is quite a large variety of different handles we can use and positions we can take to work out.
The classic lat pulldown is executed to the neck. We take an upright position and fixate our legs with the provided cushion from above. If you can adjust the seat it is quite comfortable to have the knees slightly below or in one line with the hips. Sit close to the machine so that the cable is running down straightly. Grab the bar widely with the back of your hands pointing backward. In a controlled movement you pull down the bar to your neck (head bends forward). The bar can smoothly touch your neck but not hit it hardly. Bring it back up but don’t extend your arms completely. The passive structure of the arms would be strained considerably in complete extension. Also, it would deactivate the latissimus what is not desirable during the lat workout.
Lat pulldown can also be practised to the chest. The execution stays the same. We now have to lean a little backward pressing the chest outward. Be careful with your back. Keep your abdominal muscles tensed and avoid a hollow back.
Another variation of the lat pulldown is when we lean even further back. Here, we can chosse a narrower grip with the front of our hands pointing toward the body. Press your chest outward. Pull the bar down toward your chest with your arms close on the sides of your body. In this version you have to stabilize your body a lot. Don’t work with momentum at all. Keep the muscles of your trunk tensed.
Performing lat pulldown we can also choose between different handles. The range extends from narrow to wide grips with different hand alignments. But we could also work out with imaginary resistance. We sit on a chair, bench or the ground and imagine a bar or handle in our hands with high resistance. Move your hands up and down according to the execution described above. Tense all muscles of the trunk and focus on your latissimus. You could also choose other hand positions as explained above.
All variations of the lat pulldown become extremely intense when we work out in small impulses in the area of highest muscle tension (handle bar pulled down) as described here: Best form of exercise
Stretching: Lat stretches
Focused muscle: Latissimus
Type of training: Own body weight exercises
Pull-ups represent one of the basic exercises within the weight training area, together with squats, deadlifts, and bench press. It also is one of the most effective exercises for the wide back muscle latissimus and the brachioradialis of the forearm. It also activates the biceps muscle of the arm significantly. The pull-up is familiar with the exercise lat pulldown.
Pull-ups exist in many different variations and are very intense. Beginners should not train this exercise.
In its basic version we work out on the pull-up bar. We grab the bar slightly wider than our shoulder width. Tense the muscles of your trunk and pull yourself up toward the chest until your chin is slightly above the bar. Do not work with momentum but in smooth and controlled movements. Go down again to complete one repetition.
Make sure to always have your arms slightly bent when you go down. Hanging with extended arms would strain the passive structure of the arms considerably. Also the activity of the latissimus drops to almost zero.
Athletes that yet do not have the strength to perform an entire set of pull-ups can practise the exercise with support. This could be at the pull-up machine where we kneel on a supportive platform that reduces our weight. Or we could support ourselves with our legs on a bench or similar.
If you are quite strong and able to perform many pull-ups in one set you could work with wide grip pulling toward the neck. Extra weights intensify the exercise a lot. Use a belt or backpack.
Besides a large variety of different grips and weight intensities we can choose from, there also is a different pull-up type. Incline pull-ups are performed with our heels on the ground. We could work out on the bar at the multi press machine or on the edge of a table. Some athletes also use a broom stick fixated on two chairs. Make sure to have your abdominal muscles tensed and your pelvis erected to prevent a hollow back.
Fitness level: Beginner, advanced, experienced
Type of training: Machine exercises
Leg curl is a popular exercise for the backside of the thigh. Many variations also work out the lower back and the butt very intensely. We can train in lying, kneeling, sitting, and standing position on machines or just with our own body weight. This article will explain the leg curl versions on the machine. To learn about the free variations without machine please read the article back leg lifts.
Lying leg curls shouldn’t necessarily be practised by complete beginners. We start in prone position. The knees are slightly below the cushion of the machine. Adjust the machine to have the cushion for the resistance as far back toward the heels as possible. Working out with stretched knee joints is uncomfortable. If possible, choose an adjustment that allows you to start with slightly bent knees.
From that position lift your thighs from the cushion and start to bend and stretch your knees against the resistance. Please never stretch you knees maximally. To intensify the exercise keep your thighs raised maximally and your knees slightly bend. Performing small impulses from that position makes the training even more intense.
Leg curls can also be performed one-legged. Here, we move to one side of the cushion and place one leg on the side (lunge position). This erects the pelvis what keeps us from developing a hollow back. Especially the workout with lifted thighs makes the lying leg curl extremely intense for the thigh backside, the butt, and the lower back. But please be careful with your lower back. It could be helpful to strengthen the muscles of the lower back in several sessions with easier exercises before moving to this exercise. Otherwise leave the thighs on the cushion.
Sitting leg curls can be performed by all training levels. Adjust the leg curl machine to have the back rest sit tightly on your back. If there is a fixation cushion for your upper thighs you should use it to fixate your legs from above. Your knees should be in one line with the rotation axis of the machine. We start the movement with slightly bent knee joints. Tense the abdominal muscles and bend your knees maximally in a controlled movement. Bring your legs back up again smoothly but don’t stretch your knees maximally. This leg curl version can also be practised one-legged.
The standing leg curl can be performed by advanced and experienced sportsmen and -women. Work out on the cable machine at the gym using a foot loop around the ankle joint. Stand straight on the machine holding on to the handles to stabilize your body. The training leg pulls backward in a slightly bent knee position. This version focuses on the muscles of the lower back and the butt and is less effective for the thigh backside. The activation of the backside of the thigh should increase the more you bend your knee. This could get a little tricky since we work out completely free without any leg fixation. When you work out standing leg curls it is important to avoid a hollow back. Tense your abs and keep the pelvis erected.
There also exists a machine especially for the standing leg curl what provides cushions for the training leg to achieve more stability.