7 Back Workouts for Women: Get Strappy-Dress-Ready

Back workouts for women: happy women at the gym
Back workouts for women: happy women at the gym

A strong back might make that strappy dress pop, but it's also a great way to prevent injury and help you keep good posture.  It will also help you target your core, as some of the best back exercises overlap with core workouts. It's easy to forget about working your back, but looping back workouts for women into your weekly workout routine can help maintain well-rounded fitness.

So many women sit at a desk all day looking at a computer. Slumping in your chair or leaning forward to look at your screen can get your back out of whack. It can cause lower back pain, tightness in your hip flexors, and shoulder tension that can feel impossible to get rid of.

It might seem counterintuitive to then further stress your back muscles with an upper-body workout, but trust us, it's not. When you have strong back muscles (and core muscles), it becomes a lot easier to keep good posture — shoulder blades down and back, sit up straight, and let your head just rest over your body (instead of jutting out in front of your chest). 

All of that is key to looking and feeling your best. Good posture helps you look taller and your neck look longer. More importantly, it helps keep some of those aches and pains away too. 

Upper Back Workouts for Women

Woman doing single dumbbell rows

A few quick notes before we dive in. We've separated the upper and lower back exercises, but some back exercises belong on both lists. And many of these moves work the mid-back as well. Some of the best exercises target one muscle group are actually full-body moves most effectively (and safely) performed when everything, top to bottom, is engaged.

Second, we're assuming you don’t want the full-on, jacked bodybuilder look when working out your back. We're focusing on back workouts for women who want to get toned and strong (whether in the gym or at home). If you're considering competition, you'll probably want to hire a coach or personal trainer to help you with a much heavier weight and a more specific plan to get you a gold medal.

And finally, form is everything for these exercises. A straight back, tight core, and pulled-back shoulder blades will take you far and help prevent injury. Let's get into it.

After you're done with this killer routine, pamper yourself with a bath bomb and a face mask. You deserve it, girl.

1. Reverse Fly

You can do this move with dumbbells, cables at the gym (from below, not from above), or with a resistance band that can be closed into a doorway at home (you can use something like this anchor for the door; pull from below instead of from above). 

Start with five-pound dumbbells to learn the movement, then add weight based on your own abilities. Start with your two dumbbells on the ground in front of your feet, which are shoulder-width apart, knees bent softly. Hinge at the waist, and keep your upper back straight with your shoulders down and back. Imagine you're trying to hold a marble tight between your shoulder blades throughout this movement.

With straight or slightly bent arms, lift the dumbbells to the sides (lateral raise) to shoulder height as if you're flying (hence, the name) and slowly bring them back to center. That's one rep. Once you have the weight you want, do three sets of 10.

2. Pull-up

Before you tell yourself you can't do a pull-up and move on to the next exercise on this list, stop. You CAN do a pull-up. You wouldn't expect yourself to bench press your body weight on the first try — that's just silly. Similarly, you might not do a full-body-weight pull-up on your very first try. And that's FINE! It's just a matter of practice and training. So let's work up to a pull-up. #yougotthis.

Pull-ups are one of those full-body strength training exercises we mentioned up top, and they're AMAZING at toning up your upper arms, forearms, deltoids, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, and all the core muscles. They're basically a full-body workout all on their own, so don't give up on them. We know you can get good at pull-ups.

At the gym, there are pull-up assistance (“pully”) machines, but we actually recommend hitching a strong band through a pull-up bar instead. That's because pully machines limit your range of motion to up and down. They don't allow any lateral movement, so you don't have to stabilize in every direction as you pull up. By using a band, you’re doing an actual pull-up, just with less bodyweight. Doing it this way will help you master the movement of a pull-up a lot more quickly.

Loop the band around the bar and through its other side to hitch it securely to the bar. Then, step one foot into the loop as you grasp the bar with both hands, straight-arm in a pull-up position. Then step your other foot into the band so you're hanging from the bar. Never let go of the bar until your feet are out of the loops and safely on a stool or the ground.

Engage your core to keep your legs and body straight as you pull your body up and your chin over the bar. Keep your neck long and shoulders down and back. Slowly lower down. That's one rep. Start with 5 or 7 reps and don't be shy about choosing a thicker band to get more reps in. The more you do these, the closer you'll be to an unassisted pull-up.

3. Bent-Over Row

You can do bent-over rows with a dumbbell or a barbell. With a barbell, you'll start in the same position as the reverse flies — hinged at the waist, back straight, knees at a slight bend, feet hip-width apart. The barbell will be in front of your toes. Lift it with a straight back (don't roll your upper back), stay hinged at the waist, and pull the bar up toward your chest. Lower back down so that the bar hangs down, but don't set it back down on the ground. That's one rep.

To do this move as a dumbbell row, do one arm at a time and use a bench for assistance. Set the dumbbell next to the bench, place your right leg (knee bent) and right hand on the bench, and your left foot on the ground next to the weight. The right side of your body should be in a crawling position on the bench while your left leg is standing and your left arm is hanging down. Lift the weight with your left hand. Pull back and up, elbow towards the sky, and then lower back down. That's one rep. Do 10 reps on your left arm before moving to your right arm.

There are tons of ways to do rows at home and at the gym. Check out this explanation (with video) for why certain techniques are better than others. (Hint: They don't recommend upright rows.)

4. Push-up With Renegade Row

This exercise is another full-body movement. Push-ups (even the ones where you're on your knees) are a full-body activity. Keep your back in a straight line (don't let your butt pop up), your glutes and abdominal muscles engaged, and your quads flexed to do a proper push-up

Again, start with five-pound dumbbells to master the move before progressing to a more challenging weight. Your starting position is face-down in a push-up, but with the dumbbells in your hands. So your weight is in your palms as your hands wrap around the dumbbell handles. 

Do a regular push-up. At the top, shift your weight onto your left hand and “row” with your right. Lower the right weight back down, shift your weight to your right hand, and lift your left arm. That's one rep. Do three sets of 10.

Lower Back Workouts for Women

Woman lifting weights

So many people have lower back pain. In fact, according to the American Chiropractic Association, "Lower back pain costs Americans at least $50 billion in health care costs each year," not counting lost wages and decreased productivity. This raises the cost to $100 billion. (You can pick your jaw up off the ground!) 

While having strong lower back muscles is a great place to start for reducing your risk, those are just a handful of small muscles. They’re surrounded by tons of others that need to do their part too. A strong lower body and core are just as important in protecting your lower back as working those little muscles on their own.

These moves work hamstrings, glutes, core, and hip flexors. They don't require weights to start, but you can add them as you get stronger and more confident in these moves. For even more focus on your lower body, tag some of these leg exercises.

1. Bird Dog

Start on your hands and knees, then slowly lift your right arm and left leg at the same time. You're lengthening your left leg straight behind you, right arm in front, all in a straight line. Pull your belly button toward your spine and engage your core. Flex your glute as you lift, and point your toe to engage your whole left leg

Then, lower both and switch, lifting your right leg and left hand. That's one rep. Do 15 on each side with no weight. You can try adding an ankle weight or a light set of dumbbells. However, start with very light weights.

2. Superman

Lay face-down on the ground with your arms reaching in front of you and your legs straight back. Keep your shoulders down and back, shoulder blades pressed together, and lift your feet and hands off the ground so only your belly touches the ground. Hold for a five-count and release. That's one rep. As you get stronger, you can hold each rep for longer.

3. Deadlift

Starting position for a deadlift is the same as for a bent-over row or reverse fly. Whether you're doing it with dumbbells or a barbell, the movement is the same. You'll start with the bar in front of you, knees slightly bent, back straight with no curve at all, shoulders back. 

Lift the bar from the ground to standing position, then back down to the ground. That's one rep. Do two sets of 10 with minimal weight until you get the form exactly right. Doing a deadlift incorrectly could strain your lower back. If you've never done one before, ask someone at the gym for help before trying it on your own.

Stronger Back, Stronger You

Group of fit, happy women

Get excited! You just completed a super tough back workout for women! Life is all about conquering challenges, and some of these moves (especially those pull-ups!) can be a little intimidating. But guess what? Putting the work in can be so rewarding — both now and later. Having a strong back feels empowering. When it’s safe to go to a party, you can turn heads with your toned, sculpted back.

Getting strong doesn’t only take exercise. It takes strategic supplementing too. Pair this back workout for women with Cira's Bright Whey protein powder to make the most of your sweat sesh. But don’t take our word for it. Take our quiz to find out what other supplements can help you accomplish your goals.