Life is full of difficult issues. From the grand, warring troubles of certain parts of the world, to the teensy weensy annoyance of the fuse going in the kettle.
But when it comes to the gym, there are few areas much more problematic than the upper back.
So let’s take a look at the why and how, and see if we can come up with some answers to this difficult bugger of a muscle group.
Understand why you are training it
This might sound a bit too straight forward, but much of why we have back problems, and why we therefore need to train our backs, is because of how we live today. Posture, has become more and more in line with our cave dwelling ancestors, as we sit on our computers and spend hours looking down at phones.
All this slouching can cause problems with our rotator cuffs, and the muscles in our upper back. With a well looked after rotator cuff, your bench press will remain stable, and with a strong upper back, you can reach bigger weights on squats. Maintaining a strong upper back will also help your form, and will stop you leaning forward during squats.
In short, more stability, means less injuries, less imbalances and less looking like a caveman.
Focus on the indirect
It can be difficult to isolate the upper back, as it is a tough to reach muscle group, needing very specific movements to appropriately target.
So instead focus on the muscles around your upper back. That means shoulders, neck and general back exercises, which we will list below. By improving the muscles around your upper back, you in turn offer support, thus helping them to grow. This is the same of any type of muscle.
Finding warm ups that activate the muscle groups will help, especially with the shoulders as doing anything with an unworked rotator cuff is asking for trouble, and in turn will cause you problems when training the back. That applies to any push pull exercise.
Keep things in proportion
We’ve all seen the man with massive biceps, or have a mate who only works his chest, but when it comes to the back, it is vital to keep it all relative. A strong upper back, with a weak lower back, will cause problems. From as minor as a dull ache to as severe as strong pains due to muscles pulling on joints.
If one area is much stronger than another, you might also impact on form.
So work the area in tandem, in fact, work on all muscle areas, as any overworked area might have a knock on impact on another muscle. So goes the “knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone” song anyway.
What are the right exercises?
Many of the exercises we listed in our how to train your lower back guide, work for the upper back too. After all, as we have covered, you should be working the whole area.
Upright rows will work the delts, as will bent over delt raises (obviously). You could also try bent over rows and even pull ups.
Find the exercises that work for you, and remember, when working the upper back, to focus on the rhomboid muscles and the rear delts.