Your back is difficult to see and evaluate unless you line up several mirrors and get the right angles for this evaluation. On the contrary, your back is very visible to everybody around you, so even though a soft and shapeless back can be most easily handled by choosing wardrobe pieces that drape the shoulders and middle back (out of sight, out of mind), this isn’t the best strategy. The best back workout is seated cable row. Learn how to do it right.
The middle back isn’t something that should be ignored even if you can’t see it well, because you can’t really have a strong core without a strong back, and nobody looks good, even from the front, with rounded shoulders or when slouching. The usual problem with most back workouts is that they are difficult to do and demand a large amount of energy, so it’s tempting to skip them when you are in the gym. But having a firm, straight and shapely back is definitely worth the investment in time and effort. Rowing is a demanding exercise but it does shape your upper body perfectly.
WHY IS BACK TRAINING IMPORTANT?
Sitting all day slumped over the computer leads to tight chest muscles and overstretched back muscles. Consequently, one can develop poor posture even when standing. By strengthening the back, you can correct this imbalance, stand up straighter and even look leaner and taller.
DECREASED RISK OF INJURY
When the back muscles are unconditioned and weak, this may lead to injury and lower back pain, because there often isn’t enough spine stability for functional movements and heavy lifts. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, about 80% of American adults experience chronic lower back pain due to trunk muscle weakness.
Many women have more size in their lower body, and building their upper body will help their body look balanced. And, building the lats will help create some width across the upper back, which can create the illusion of a smaller waist.
LOW CABLE ROWING AND BACK MUSCLES
Low cable rowing offers an effective activation of all middle back muscles and especially the latissimus, teres major and trapezius muscles, which are all key parts of the back musculature.
The latissimus dorsi covers most of the middle and much of the lower components of the back. The lower attachments of the latissimus dorsi includes the thoracic vertebrae, the iliac crest of the hip bones, the lower three to four ribs and the thoracolumbar fascia (a tough connective tissue sheet that covers the lower back). The muscle fibers from all of these areas converge on the upper (superior) portion of the humerus bone of the upper arm close to the shoulder. The latissimus dorsi forms the majority of the width of the upper back, from above the hip to the arm pit (axilla).
The primary action of the latissimus muscle fibers in low cable rowing is to extend the humerus (to pull the upper arm backward). The lower part of the latissimus muscle has a more direct line of pull with the shoulder flexed (arm forward) and the arm raised a little above parallel to the floor. The upper fibers of this muscle are more active with the arms raised 45 degrees or more to the floor. While upper as well lower fibers are active to varying degrees in the low pulley row, it’s the middle fibers of the latissimus that have a more direct pull with the hands and arms working at mid-chest/upper abdomen level, and this is the angle that you’ll use in the low cable rowing workout.
The teres muscle attaches along the medial border of the scapula, and runs to the same region of the humerus bone as the latissimus dorsi.
The teres major muscle extends the humerus from a flexed position and also medially rotates the arm at the shoulder joint. Low cable rows activate the arm extension function of the teres major. Because the teres major muscle begins on the scapula bone, it’s more effectively activated with the arms at mid-chest level (and is less mechanically active in the exercise with the arm and hand closer to the feet).
The fibers of middle one-third of the trapezius muscle extend from the upper thoracic spine, laterally to the posterior side of the scapula and clavicle. In low cable rows, the middle trapezius fibers help to draw together the two scapula bones toward the mid-line of the body (adduction of scapula).
Not only are the larger back muscles intensely activated, but other smaller muscles around the scapula are also strongly activated in part by their contributions to arm extension, and in part by scapular adduction functions.
Be careful, the aim of the additional stretch between contractions is to activate the latissimus and teres muscles more and not to dislocate your shoulder and damage your rotator cuff. Moreover, watch out not to turn this into a seated deadlift where you have extensive flexion and extension of the spine, because this could lead to injury.
The teres major can be more intensely activated when the hands are pulled to the lower chest or upper abdomen area, while the lower latissimus fibers are activated more when the pull comes to the lower on the abdomen, so you can mix up the workout angles a little for better overall back action.
With the low cable row, you should see changes in your lower and middle back firmness and shape very soon. With that kind of change you’ll want to go wardrobe shopping for some new open-backed outfits that no longer cover but proudly display your new tight, firm, and shapely back.
LOW-SEATED CABLE ROW
- Sit down infrontof the cable station and put your feet on the footplates. Your torso should be at a 90-degree angle from your thighs. Bend the knees just slightly to dissipate the forces away from the hip and sacroiliac joints when you are sitting.
- Bendforwarda little and grab the cable handle or a “V” bar handle that’s attached to the low pulley. Raise the weight stack just a bit and sit up straight. At this point you should really feel a stretch across your middle back.
- Breathe in,and then breathe out as you pull the handles toward your torso. You should have the hands come to the middle or upper part of the abdomen. Keep the torso stationary. It’s important to pull the arms backwards (arm extension) as far as you can to fully activate the teres major and latissimus muscles. Draw the shoulder blades (scapula) together when the hands are close to the ribs and the upper abdomen.
- Control the hands when they return toward the starting position (three to four seconds).
- At thebottom position, pause to allow the weight to stretch your teres major and latissimus dorsi muscles. Maintain the stretched position for three seconds before beginning the next repetition.