The back muscles are among the body’s biggest and most powerful muscles, but you don’t need a ton of weight or extensive equipment to strengthen them. In fact, you can do a quick and effective back workout at home with a handful of exercises and a single dumbbell.
Designed by Yusuf Jeffers, NASM-certified personal trainer and USATF-certified running coach, this four-move circuit uses one weight to target the back muscles—specifically, the rhomboids, trapezius, teres minor, infraspinatus, rear deltoids, and latissimus dorsi—which are crucial to running performance and injury prevention.
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The Benefits of This At-Home Back Workout
While runners might typically focus on strengthening the lower body, the upper body is just as important when it comes to solid form and endurance on the road. You need strong back muscles to keep your chest tall, shoulders back and down, and arms pumping to help propel you forward. Targeting the back of your upper body also helps you improve your posture—both in and out of your running shoes.
This workout, in particular, includes familiar back exercises, like the renegade row and high pull, as well as a couple of less-obvious choices. “The single-arm reverse fly and balancing single-arm scaption are typically thought of as shoulder exercises, but to perform them properly requires the person to go into scapular retraction and depression (drawing the shoulders blades down and back) and, therefore, isometrically work the muscles in the back to maintain proper posture,” Jeffers tells Runner’s World. “It’s very important for runners to be able to dynamically stabilize their upper body to be more efficient with running. Simply stated, a strong back leads to better posture and, therefore, better running,” he says.
Also noteworthy: Each exercise is unilateral, meaning that it works one side of the body at a time. This mimics a runner’s movement patterns and allows you to maximize the resistance of a single weight. It also turns up the burn in your core—another area you want strong and stable for good running.
How to use this list: Perform each exercise below for 30 seconds to 1 minute per side, resting minimally between exercises. Do each exercise in the circuit on one side of the body, then repeat on the other side. Repeat the full circuit for 2-3 sets each side. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets.
Each move is demonstrated by Jeffers in the video above so you can master the proper form. You will need a medium-weight dumbbell. An exercise mat is recommended.
1. Renegade Row
Start in a high plank position with right hand on dumbbell, shoulders over wrists, core engaged so body forms a straight line from head to heels. Place feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Keeping elbow tucked in close to body, engage back muscles to draw dumbbell up to ribcage. Slowly return dumbbell to floor. Repeat.
2. Single-Arm Reverse Fly
Holding a dumbbell in right hand, stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend knees slightly and hinge forward at the waist so torso is nearly parallel to floor. Allow right arm to hang straight down, palm facing in, and place left hand on left hip. This is the starting position. Keeping back flat and a slight bend in right elbow, engage shoulder and back muscles to lift arm to shoulder height. Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbell to the starting position. Repeat.
3. Single-Arm High Pull
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Place left hand on hip and hold a dumbbell with right hand down in front of you, palm facing body, in front of right thigh. Lower into a squat position, sending hips down and back. As you drive feet into ground to stand up, engage upper back and shoulder muscles to pull dumbbell straight up to shoulder height, elbow bending and reaching up and back. Straighten arm back down. Repeat.
4. Balancing Single-Arm Scaption
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, left hand on hip, right hand holding a dumbbell, arm straight with dumbbell next to right hip, palm facing forward. Lift left knee to hip height. This is the starting position. Keeping arm straight and slightly in front of torso, raise arm up overhead into half of a Y shape. Keep shoulder blades down and back (don’t shrug). Lower arm to the starting position. Repeat.
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