Back to Basics: Meet the Muscles That Support Your Spine

woman working out on a workout machineWhen you look at yourself in the mirror, from the front you will see a lot of the “glamour” muscles—those are the ones featured on the covers of body-building magazines.

But what lies beyond your abs and chest are the muscles of the back. The largest geographic areas of muscle expanse are located in your back—so let’s take a closer look!

Working from the Inside Out

Because your spine is located in your back, and every part of your body is in some way connected to the spine, which then connects to your brain… well, obviously that back real estate is important to your overall health and fitness. So much so that your spine deserves an article of its own in a future edition. For today, let’s look at what muscles surround it, starting with what’s on the inside.

There are deep stabilizers in there, running from down in the pelvic region all the way up to your neck, and intermediate muscles that cover the deep ones and are attached to the rib cage. They have scientific names like semispinalis, spinalis, multifidus and longissimus. These muscles, along with your deep ab muscles, are critically important to the mechanics of your spine movements. They help keep your body upright, in alignment, bending, extending and twisting. They also help keep your back from incurring painful damage.

To keep your deep and intermediate layers of back muscle in shape, the best approach is to practice good form and control in your fitness and sporting activities, and also that you use these muscles regularly. Sitting or slouching all day will be counterproductive to fitness of the muscles that support your spine. Gentle spine stretches will help with flexibility to avoid injury. Make sure you are lifting with proper technique, too, and that you keep your body development in balance—for example, a larger “beer” belly puts a strain and your spine and that taxes your deeper back muscles.

The Big Ones In Back

Most of us are more familiar with the superficial muscles of the back—especially the large ones known as lats (latissimus dorsi) and traps (trapezius). These are the muscles that help give us the V-shaped torsos we desire, tapering down to our waists, and also contribute to that “broad-shouldered” look in men.

Lats are the large triangular muscles in the mid-back, which help you perform movements like pull-ups, pull-downs, and chin-ups. They help you pull your arms down, and reach them out to the sides. They are assisted by the smaller rhomboids which are between your shoulder blades. The traps are higher up, connecting the shoulders to your head and your upper back. They help you turn your head, shrug your shoulders, push your arms up and draw your shoulders back.

If you are training for strength and/or size, you likely include common exercises to target these larger muscles of the back, such as pull-ups and chin-ups, barbell shrugs and upright rows. Functional movements from sporting activities as well as everyday movements call upon the superficial back muscles. These include painting a room, taking boxes down from a shelf, tennis, softball, volleyball and swimming.

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