If you look at the statistics, back pain may seem inevitable—one in four adults experience it on at least one day during any three-month period, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. And it’s not just the lower half that’s affected.
“So many people are using screens all day, and that can put a lot of pressure on your upper back,” says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “You see people with forward, rounded shoulders, and that can cause pain.”
If you’re one of those people who’s stuck staring at a computer screen all day, don’t consider your fate sealed. “By strengthening those upper back muscles,” says Bryant, “you’ll have better posture and stability through your entire back.”
And it doesn’t have to take a ton of time. In a recent ACE study that examined how to best target upper back muscles with as few exercises as possible, researchers found that out of the eight exercises they tested, bent-over rows and I-Y-T raises (instructions below) engaged the most upper back muscles. By incorporating these two exercises into your workout routine, you may be able to strengthen your upper back in record time. Here’s how to perform them correctly:
1. Grab a weight that’s not too heavy but that provides some resistance. If you’re using two dumbbells, start with 10 to 15 pounds, adjusting as needed. If you’re using a barbell, start with just the barbell (no plates).
2. With your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent, hinge forward at the hip, keeping your wrists, elbows, and shoulders in a straight line.
3. Maintaining a back flat, pull the barbell (or dumbbells) toward your sternum, stopping slightly below your breast bone. Then, slowly lower the barbell until your arms are straight again. Complete two sets of 10 reps.
1. Lie on your stomach with your arms extended in front of you.
2. Form the letter “I” by lifting your arms off the floor, palms facing inward. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, and then lower your arms to the ground.
3. Form the letter “Y” by lifting your arms off the ground at a 45-degree angle with thumbs pointing toward the ceiling. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, and then lower your arms to the ground.
4. Form the letter “T” by lifting your arms off the ground and pushing them back so that they form a 90-degree angle and your palms are facing forward. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, and then lower your arms to the ground.
5. That’s one rep. Do two sets of 10.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.