Sculpting back exercises for women

It’s not often that we think about what’s going on with our back — since we’re usually the last person to see it. Couple that with the fact that plenty of women still buy into the myth that lifting too many weights can bulk you up, and it makes sense why back exercises for women still have an air of mystery around them.

But seriously, guys. We know a lot more about the human body, and especially the human woman’s body, than we did even 10 years ago. We know that weightlifting isn’t just for men. Lifting weights may help you burn fat and increase your resting metabolic weight (the number of calories that your body burns at rest), along with reducing your risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.

For all those health benefits and more — plus a really, extra good-looking back — these five back exercises will get you started:

1. Dumbbell single-arm overhead squat

This is a full-body exercise that will make you feel strong from head to toe. You work your legs with the squat while targeting your upper and lower back with the overhead lift.

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, one dumbbell weighing twice as much as the other (e.g., if one dumbbell is five pounds, the other should be 10 pounds). Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointed straight ahead.
  2. Hold the light dumbbell overhead in your nondominant hand, with the heavier dumbbell between your legs, keeping both arms straight. Push your hips back and lower yourself until your upper thighs are parallel to the floor, holding the lighter dumbbell straight up over your shoulders, tightening the back of your shoulder and upper back muscles. Keep your abs pulled in tight.3
  3. Rise back to the start position and do one to two sets of 15 repetitions each. Switch arms and repeat.

“This move is effective because it works multiple muscles at once. You can get more bang for your buck! It tones your upper back and shoulder area and even works your core — bonus!” Marks advises, “Be sure to keep you belly button drawn into your spine the entire time to engage your core. Don’t let your knees go past your toes when you squat.”

2. Dumbbell one-point row

This exercise works your back and core muscles while challenging your balance. If you find it too difficult, perform the row with your toes touching the floor.1

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, balance your weight on your left foot, bending forward at the hips and raising your right leg so it forms a T with your torso and left leg. Your chest and right leg are parallel to the floor and your shoulders are square to the floor.2
  2. Hold the weights below your shoulders, arms straight (remain balanced on your left leg). Pull the weights straight up to your sides, keeping your shoulders square to the floor, and squeeze your shoulder blades together.3
  3. Slowly lower weights to start (you are still balanced on one leg) and repeat for eight repetitions. Switch legs and repeat for eight repetitions. Do two sets.
Angie Sloan, World Gym’s Global Fitness Ambassador, says that while the one-point dumbbell row is a more advanced back exercise that requires balance, it can be “extremely effective for targeting the mid-back muscles and recruiting the core muscles to maintain your balance.”