Your back muscles are not easily seen in the mirror and tend to get ignored in your workout -- until they cry out in pain. Strength and flexibility training can help you improve your posture and how you move so you don't end up slouching, which weakens your back and can cause pain. When you do back exercises, you are also strengthening your arms. If you have any pain, see your health care provider before starting any workout routine.
Almost any pulling movements work every muscle in your back, shoulders and arms as well as your core, giving you a one-stop-shop for all of these muscles. You can use free weights -- dumbbells and barbells -- cable machines or resistance bands. The latter two methods of training provide more variety than using free weights. You can adjust the height of the handles of the cable machine to do high rows, low rows or horizontal rows. You can hook the middle of the resistance band to a hook at almost any height to do the same exercises as the cable machine. Regardless of which method you use, you will give your arms and back an effective workout.
Overhead presses work mostly your shoulders and arms. Your back muscles, such as your latissimus dorsi and trapezius, work with your shoulders to raise and lower your arms. You also work your core stability as you lift. To do a basic overhead press, stand with your feet about shoulder-distance apart, and hold a 10-pound dumbbell in each hand near your shoulders. Keep your elbows close to your ribs. Exhale as you press the weights overhead without shrugging your shoulders or arching your lower back. Inhale as you lower the weights to your shoulders. You can also do overhead presses with a barbell or with one dumbbell instead of two.
Body-weight training for your arms and back can be just as challenging as any weightlifting exercises. These exercises -- pushups, pullups and dips -- may remind you of high school gym class. You can adjust these exercises to match your fitness level. For example, you can do pushups with a squat rack if you can't do traditional pushups. Set the height of the squat bar between 2 and 3 feet off the floor. To do pushups, put your hands on the bar about shoulder-distance apart with your legs extended behind you. Inhale as you lower your body toward the bar until your chest barely touches it. Exhale as you push yourself away from the bar. Do not flex your upper spine or stick your head forward.
Don't Forget to Stretch
Stretching your arms and back can relieve tension and cool your body down after an intense workout. When you stretch, don't just focus on your arms and back independently of each other. Your arm muscles are connected to your upper back by myofascial lines, which are made of nerves and connective tissues, according to AnatomyTrains.com. By improving flexibility in your upper spine, you will also improve arm and shoulder flexibility. For example, get on your hands and knees on the floor. Exhale as you push your hands against the floor and flex your upper back. Inhale as you lift your tailbone up and extend your upper back. After you have done a couple of reps, do some arm stretches, like pulling your arms across your chest or raise both arms overhead.
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.