Safe & Effective Back Training Tips

Jun 26, 2014 | by AIF

This article was originally written by past WA Master Coach; Josh Pullman. It has since been adapted by the AIF Communications Team.

There are many benefits to having a functionally strong and healthy back. Here are 4 important tips to help you be the best personal trainer you can be and effectively assist your client towards their ‘back goals’!

People who know how to train their back in a safe, effective manner often experience perks such as:

– Reduced predisposition to lower back pain
– Improved static posture
– Improved upper and lower body movement patterns
– It even helps achieve the legendary ‘V-shape’ in the trunk that many gym-goers are striving towards!

To put a scope on the article today, when we mention ‘the back’ we will be referring to all dorsal muscles above the hips and below the head.

1. Latissimus dorsi = medial rotator

Many Personal Trainers believe that the best way to help remedy a client’s rounded shoulders (tight muscles around the shoulders that medially rotate the humerus and cause the palms of the hands to face posteriorly) is to include extra back exercises.

Unfortunately, the solution is not that simple, due to the latissimus dorsi being a medial rotator of the humerus as well.

If your client presents with rounded shoulders, it’s a good idea to include extra stretching for the pectoralis major and the latissimus dorsi as well as performing shoulder external rotation work with the rotator cuff (which help to externally rotate the humerus). As well as this, choosing exercises that put your client in a position of safe shoulder external rotation under load (to encourage rotator cuff activation) will also assist.

2. Don’t overload postural muscles

As our collective understanding of the core muscles has progressed, many variations of the back extension exercise have become increasingly popular. Whilst this is a great choice when performed correctly and in the right context, muscles like the erector spinae do not respond to the heavy load in the same way as muscles like the quadriceps or the pectorals do.

A common error with the back extension is to continue progressing the load with heavy plates and added external load to increase the training stimulus. The erectors of the back are postural muscles, primarily designed to help hold the body upright so they should be trained using lightweight and moderate to high reps. Using weight to add resistance to the back extension can lead to extended periods of back tightness, and potentially even injury.

3. Chin-ups set up to succeed!

The chin-up is often viewed as a polarising exercise; you either love it, or you hate it! A large reason for the latter is often attributed to the feeling of failure that can come when clients and personal trainers alike are unable to do them.

If your client sets a goal with you to increase their maximum number of chin-ups, avoid getting them to do maximal efforts (i.e. 1-2 reps then fail) early on. Use equipment like the assisted chin-up machine, practice eccentric reps and strengthen the key supporting muscles (deltoids, rotator cuff and lower trapezius) before you get them attempting sets of their own body weight. This way, they’ll feel stronger and more confident.

4. Use slings where and when you can

When doing unilateral exercises like the one-arm dumbbell row, it’s a good idea (once your client has mastered the correct technique, range of movement, stability, and has successfully progressed the load) to progress the exercise to a standing version.

If you cue the client to transfer most of their bodyweight to the opposing glute max, the latissimus dorsi will benefit from a strength boost via the posterior oblique sling (fascia based connection used to communicate and transfer load). This will help them move better, feel stronger, and lift more.

There are many great training tips and cues to apply when training the back; these are just a few that should prove useful when you’re helping your client with their goals! Overall, your top priority should be to train safely and effectively for yourself and your clients.

For courses to help you gain further knowledge in a particular area of interest in the fitness industry, Australian Fitness Network has an incredible variety of courses to develop you further your development as a fitness professional. If you are only just taking your first steps towards a career in fitness, check out our Master Trainer Program™.



The Australian Institute of Fitness
The Australian Institute of Fitness (AIF) is the largest and longest established fitness training organisation in Australia, with dynamic training methods and expert course coaches nationwide - spanning fitness, massage and nutrition. The AIF qualifies more fitness professionals than any other provider in Australia, as well as offering a broad range of continuing education courses (CEC), upskilling resources and partnership programs for existing industry.

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