How Back Workouts Can Support CrossFit Performance
For many people, working the back muscles can feel like it’s not actually getting you anywhere. After all, you can’t really see your own back, so it often feels like all those movements are totally pointless.
Having a strong lower back and upper back can not only improve aspects of your overall wellness but can also make you better at some of your favorite CrossFit moves. Here’s how having a strong back can support your workout experience.
How Does a Strong Back Help With CrossFit Performance?
Outside of just making you look bigger and more muscular, having a strong back can improve your balance, enhance your form, lower your risk of injuries, and improve your posture.
While a few reps of lat pulldowns or chin-ups might not directly make it easier for you to stand on one foot, it can help you balance out your training routine. Having a strong posterior chain can balance out the shoulder muscles and make it easier for you to do single-sided exercises with ease. Additionally, it can make your overall physique look more neutral by building up all of your muscle groups, with more even muscle balance on both sides of the body.
To improve muscular imbalance, exercises like the single-arm dumbbell row can help address weaknesses on just one side of the body.
The stronger your back, the better you’ll be at completing compound movements like the barbell deadlift, barbell row, or seated cable row, which are some of the best back exercises out there. A strong back lets you drive more weight with ease, letting you activate the working muscles instead of needing to rely on momentum. That means more muscle growth in the long run.
Lower Risk of Injuries
One of the main benefits of building muscle in any part of the body is the ability to lower the risk of injury while doing high-rep range, high-weight exercises. Stronger muscles hold the body in proper alignment and protect the bones and joints while they are under impact.
This is especially important for high-intensity metabolic conditioning moves, like complex gymnastics or HIIT strength training, where the muscles are always under a higher amount of force.
If you tend to slouch forward, it might be because you have a weak posterior chain. Strengthening the back muscles, especially the rear deltoids and erector spinae, can help correct kyphosis, or a rounded upper back.
What Are the Best Crossfit Back Exercises?
If you want a bigger back, there are a few important moves to master during your next CrossFit session.
Deadlifts are one of the best back workouts for growing bigger back muscles, as well as the glutes, triceps, and hamstrings. With that said, deadlifts are also one of the most dangerous exercises to perform if you don’t know how to do them properly.
When completing a deadlift, there are a few important factors to consider. For one, keep the core tight, imagining that you are about to be punched in the stomach. This protects the lower back from over-arching during the move, alleviating pressure and reducing injury risk. Also, be sure to keep your chest lifted to prevent arching of the upper back.
A good way to practice for a deadlift is to start with Romanian deadlifts, which is when the weight starts at your hips as you slowly hinge the hips back and lower the weight to the floor. Once you’re ready, move on to the classic deadlift instead, in which you start with the weight at the floor.
Once you’ve mastered deadlift form on back day, you can move on barbell rows. Barbell rows start like a Romanian deadlift where you hinge the hips back with a slight bend in the knees, but you’ll stay in this position as you drive the barbell up to your chest.
To really feel this in the working muscles (lats, rhomboids, rear delts, trapezius), think about bringing your elbows towards your hips as you squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of the movement. Hold the bar about shoulder-width apart, with palms facing the floor or the ceiling. With an underhand grip, you’ll activate the biceps a bit more.
Pull-ups are a classic back exercise that predominantly works the lats. The wider you place your left hand and right hand away from each other on this movement, the more it will require your back to put in the work.
This also makes the move more difficult. To start working your way up, do a close-grip or neutral grip pull-up instead with your hands closer together. This will use the force of your arms a little bit more to drive your body up.
Upright rows predominantly work the trapezius muscles. When doing this move, keep the weight as close to your stomach as possible and think about zipping up a jacket, bringing the weight up to your chin.
This move can sometimes affect the shoulder joint if your rotator cuff is stiff or sore. A good alternative that works the same muscles are shoulder shrugs.
Back extensions improve the stability and mobility of the erector spinae, which are muscles of the lower back. This movement can improve the range of motion of the lower back while also having a rehabilitative effect on those with poor lumbar posture.
Supermans are a variation of back extensions that are a great place to start if a regular back extension feels a bit too difficult. This move also targets the erector spinae, though the range of motion is much less than a back extension. This tends to be more intuitive for people who have not yet garnered strength in the lower back and are just beginning their programs.
You can do bench-supported rows in a few different ways to enhance your back gains and strengthen your lower body at the same time. For one, you can use a flat bench for support as you do single-arm dumbbell rows on each side. However, you can also put the bench on an incline instead of a straight line and lay on the bench facedown to do bent-over rows or delt flys for some arm muscle activation.
Using the bench in this way is beneficial because it isolates the working muscles in the back. When doing traditional rows, it can be easy to use momentum to drive the weight up, but by lying on the bench, it becomes pretty much impossible to use any muscles besides those in the back.
While you might not be able to see the results of your own upper body workouts, you’ll definitely be able to feel the benefits. Moves like barbell rows, pull-ups, and deadlifts are some of the best exercises to improve posture, reduce injury risk, and enhance your form for other exercises in the future.
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