The Best Back And Shoulder Workout To Add To Your Training
Everyone talks about growing bigger glutes or rock-solid abs, but what about those shoulders?
Having a strong back and shoulders is important for everyone, but there’s more to it than just being able to lift heavy in the gym. It also keeps your posture looking (and feeling!) good and can even minimise unhelpful upper-body rotation when you run, making you more efficient so you can log more miles.
Outside of fitness, shoulder and back strength is vital for daily activities, like cleaning up and carrying in the shopping. It also helps to open up your chest, giving your lungs more room to expand, which helps you to breathe easier throughout the day.
Here are six of our go-to exercises that will work the different parts of your back and shoulders and help you to really start seeing those gains.
Ready? Of course you are!
1. BENT-OVER ROWS
The bent-over barbell row can be performed with either dumbbells or a barbell. A barbell will allow you to add more weight, which in turn helps to build more muscle mass, but do what feels comfortable for you.
This movement is one of the best back exercises, as it targets a large range of back muscles, including your lats and spinal erectors.
Your form is key for the bent-over row, so make sure your spine is kept in a neutral position. Focus on keeping the shoulders retracted and imagine trying to touch your elbows together behind your back at the top of each rep.
HOW TO (DUMBBELLS):
Start by standing with your feet under your hips and holding the dumbbells at your sides. Keeping knees slightly bent, hinge at your hips, so your torso is close to parallel to the floor and extend your arms straight in front of your legs, with your palms facing each other.
From here, engage your core and row the dumbbells up towards your sides until your upper arms are at least parallel to your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Then, slowly reverse the motion to return to start.
Perform 10 to 15 reps.
2. DUMBBELL FRONT RAISES
Frontal raises work the anterior (front) deltoids, more commonly known as the delts. When working your back and shoulders, it’s important to make sure each exercise is targeting different areas to promote muscular balance.
Start by standing straight with your feet hip-width apart and a dumbbell in either hand in front of your thighs with your palms facing your body. Brace your core and without locking your arms, raise your arms in front of you to shoulder height. Hold for a few seconds and slowly return to the starting position.
If you find you’re rocking side to side or backwards and forwards, you either need to engage your core to enhance stability or reduce the weight to ensure your shoulders are reaping the full rewards.
Complete 10 to 12 reps.
3. SEATED CABLE ROWS
The seated cable row works the muscles of the back, shoulders and forearms, including the lats, rhomboids (between the shoulder blades), traps and biceps. It’s an excellent all-round compound exercise for developing the middle back - and even doubles up as a useful arm workout too!
Before you start, if necessary, adjust the seat. Once sat, position yourself with your knees slightly bent, so you have to reach to grab the cable attachment with outstretched arms and without curling your lower back.
Brace your core and pull the handle and weight back toward the lower abdomen while trying not to use the momentum of the row too much. Target the middle to upper back by keeping your back straight and squeezing your shoulder blades together as you row, keeping your chest out. Next, return the handle forward under tension to full stretch, remembering to keep your back straight even though flexed at the hips.
Complete the exercise 10 times.
4. LAT PULL DOWNS
This exercise targets the lats, which is the muscle just under the armpits and spreading across and down your back. By isolating the back muscles with this exercise, you can focus specifically on them without tiring out your biceps or triceps.
Targeting your back muscles will help to improve posture while easing pulling movements, like opening a door, or even performing a pull-up. Having strong lats is even said to help relieve some forms of back pain.
Sit comfortably on the seat with your feet flat on the floor. You may need to adjust the bar height, so that your outstretched arms can comfortably grasp the bar without having to stand up entirely.
Grasp the bar with a wide, overhand grip. Pull the bar down until it’s approximately level with your chin, exhaling on the downward motion. Make sure to keep your upper torso stationary, your feet flat on the floor and engage your abs as you pull. The bottom of the motion should be where your elbows can’t move downward anymore without moving backward. Here, squeeze the shoulder blades together while maintaining square shoulders.
From the bottom position, slowly return the bar to the starting position while controlling its gradual ascent.
Perform eight to 12 reps.
When you think of back exercises, the deadlift is likely not to be the first that springs to mind. However, the deadlift is one of the best free weight back exercises there is. The movement requires engaging your back muscles, from your rhomboids to your erector spinae, in order to prevent any injury.
Not to mention, it’s also a great way to target your legs and glutes.
HOW TO (BARBELL):
Position your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes under the bar, pointing straight ahead. Your heels should remain flat on the floor and when you lift, the bar will travel close to the shins. For this movement, maintain a neutral spine position.
Brace your core, then squat down by bending at the knees. Grasp the bar just outside the line of your knees with an overhand or mixed grip. To lift the bar, push upwards with your legs from your knees, breathing out on exertion. Be careful not to raise your hips first, so that your back becomes rounded. Your arms should also stay extended under tension while gripping the bar as the legs push up.
The bar should almost graze the shins and rest around thigh level. Pull your shoulders back as much as possible without bending backward. Then, lower the bar to the floor with a reverse motion, ensuring you maintain a straight back.
Repeat for eight to 10 reps.
6. SEATED DUMBBELL SHOULDER PRESS
The overhead press is one of the most effective movements for establishing baseline strength and building a completely balanced physique.
Using dumbbells rather than a barbell will allow you to strengthen each side of the muscle equally.
This particular shoulder exercise targets the triceps, pecs (major and minor), traps and delts, which are most responsible for the size and shape of your shoulders. So, if you want shoulders that look as if they’ve been sculpted by the Gods, this is the exercise for you.
Set up an adjustable angle bench to 90 degrees and sit comfortably. Hold one dumbbell in each hand and rest them on your thighs. Then, using a controlled motion, hoist the dumbbells up so you’re holding them just above your shoulders with your palms facing away from you. Take a deep breath and press the dumbbells toward the ceiling until your elbows are almost locked, contracting the delts. The dumbbells should naturally drift toward each other, but not clash.
Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position until they’re just above your shoulders - the handles should almost line up with your ears.
As you do the overhead press, keep your shoulder blades ‘down and back’ and your feet flat on the floor. Also, keep your mid and upper back pressed into the backrest and avoid over-arching your lower back.
Perform eight to 10 reps.
Don’t forget to bookmark this blog, girls, and add some of these exercises to your back and shoulder workout to really work those muscles!
Looking for more fitness inspo? Take part in our New Year Fitness Challenge.
Mission Possible: Meet The Athletes
WEDNESDAY 8TH MARCH
We stand by the notion that every single person - no matter their race, views or upbringing - should be entitled to the same opportunities as the person next to them.
But we understand that none of this would be possible without the selflessness and courage of women who have fought - and continue to fight - to ensure a better future.
That’s why, this International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the women who help us to realise our potential, push boundaries and break misconceptions.
Take inspiration from their stories and be inspired to become the best of you.
My mission is to be the best version of myself. The best athlete I could possibly be. Pushing my mental and physical limits to reach my goals of winning medals at major championships, like the World Championships and Olympics.
I would really like to inspire the next generation of women to take up a sport and want to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle. I want my achievements to inspire people to want more.
My story isn’t a fairytale story, it’s taken a lot to get to where I am now, so I’m hoping that young athletes see that you don’t have to be the best when you’re younger. I didn’t make the GB teams, I didn’t always win, but it doesn’t mean you won’t make it. Hopefully that inspires and motivates anyone who is on a similar path to me and shows them they should never give up.
Progress is a huge part of this. To me, progress is working consistently at the little things. As you gradually improve at the little things, these will add up to help you achieve your main goal - although, that’s not to say it’s a straight forward upward trend. Progress is a messy line and there will be setbacks. But ultimately, as long as you keep working, you are getting closer and closer to your goals.
Follow Laura on Instagram @laurazialor
My mission is to compete internationally and inspire the next generation of athletes. I hope to do this by sharing my story and my achievements and creating a legacy that inspires future generations.
It means a lot to me to be part of AYBL’s Mission Possible because it allows me to share my story and show what gymnastics is like and how much fun it can be.
I really believe if you find something you love, you should keep at it. Keep trying your hardest, and never give up. For me, my sport makes me feel strong, independent, and feel even more love for the sport.
My proudest sporting moment would have to be becoming an Olympic bronze medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and making history to help Great Britain win its first women’s Olympic team medal in 93 years. I love having the opportunity to travel the world, make memories and meet so many new people.
Follow Alice on Instagram @alicekinsella17
My mission is to be the happiest version of myself. I plan to do this by doing the things that I know best serve me, like prioritising my own health and wellbeing, prioritising the things that make me a better athlete and a happier individual. I don’t think you can be the best athlete you can be if you’re an unhappy person.
My sport makes me feel incredibly empowered. It’s the kind of sport that I never thought I'd be able to do, I never thought I'd be any good at. The fact that I can turn up to a gym, a gym in a different country where they speak a different language, and lift heavy weights above my head is incredibly empowering.
The thing I love most about my sport is that progress is easily measurable. On top of that, although it’s an individual sport, the community as a whole is incredibly uplifting and supportive, therefore, you always feel like you’re not alone.
My main inspiration throughout my fitness journey has probably been my teenage self. She struggled and she didn’t really feel like there was a space for her in the industry or anywhere she found herself. So, looking back and remembering how she felt inspires me to push to create those spaces for people.
I’d really like to be remembered as someone who was committed to making sport more inclusive and more welcoming, someone who empowered others and made the community a better space. I try to be as proactive in my community as I can. I work closely with our NGB (national governing bodies) on creating more spaces for people from all backgrounds and I’m incredibly proud of that.
Also, being part of Mission Possible allows me to show everyone that they are capable and they are worthy. Embrace who you are and embrace who you’re becoming because it’s all part of the journey and enjoying it and making the most of what’s on offer for you.
Follow Jenny on Instagram @jennyt811
FREE* LIMITED-EDITION TEES
Don’t forget our FREE International Women’s Day T-Shirts launch 8th March, 3pm GMT - that’s tomorrow FYI!
To secure yours, all you need to do is donate £1, £2, £5, £10 or £15* to help raise vital funds to support women and girls in sport, and pay for shipping. It couldn’t be more simple!
Empowering women worldwide has been our mission since day one, and now you can be a part of it too.
*All proceeds will be donated directly to Women’s Sports Foundation.
Discover more about our Mission Possible Campaign here.
AYBL is here to support every woman, everywhere.
We believe what the world sees doesn’t define what you’re capable of, and it should never stop you from reaching your potential.
Love yourself, love what you do, and never let external perceptions get in the way of becoming who you could be.
What mission will you set for yourself in 2023? Drop a comment below or tag us on socials @beaybl
Success Stories | Sydney Cassidy
CW // body dysmorphia. Please note, this blog contains information you may find triggering.
Meet Sydney Cassidy… aka @sydgrows.
Having gone through a period of low mood and depression, Sydney pursued fitness as her personal means of escapism. Now, just 15 months later, Sydney is empowering women all over the world to find their strength and embrace their right to occupy every corner of the fitness industry.
“Fitness is more about how it makes me feel than what I get from it, physically.”
For the AYBL athlete, it’s been a long journey, but suffice to say, she’s grown in stature and strength. Sydney Cassidy has become a figure of growth.
HEY SYD! TAKE US BACK TO THE START OF YOUR FITNESS JOURNEY. WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?
I was in a really low place.
I was basically in this big transition phase - I’d finished uni, I’d just come out of a long-term relationship and I’d moved back home, so I was really looking for something to pull me out of the darkness and give me something to pour my energy into.
I wasn’t in touch with exercising at all. I was always active as a child, but I hadn’t worked out for years. I wanted to reconnect with those positive feelings I experienced as a child, and work towards feeling better in myself. It was roughly November 2021 when I started my fitness journey, then, I just got the bug and the rest is history.
Upon reflection, I would say that prior to my fitness journey, I was actually quite depressed. My mood was really low and I didn’t really have many friends. It’s funny because people see me now and, I’m very aware that even in the space of a little more than a year, I’m a very different person to who I was.
I’ve definitely become so much more resilient. I used to compare myself so much to my friends, most of whom were living in big cities and working graduate jobs. Eventually, I realised that wasn’t the sort of person I wanted to be. The start of my fitness journey was really me just trying to move towards a more authentic version of myself.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MAIN INSPIRATION THROUGHOUT YOUR FITNESS JOURNEY?
There’s definitely a lot of people on social media who inspire me, and not all of them are necessarily big influencers. But for me, becoming a true, authentic version of myself by refocusing my goals and my priorities has been a big driving force.
Now, my motivation is myself and my community. If I do fall off track, I’ve got people to bring me back.
I also feel, the further you get into your fitness journey and the longer you’ve stuck at it, the easier it is to continue with it. Fitness is now just a way of life for me and I couldn’t imagine it not being a part of my everyday.
HOW DOES FITNESS MAKE YOU FEEL?
Working out makes me feel great. I don’t think anyone can deny the impact the boost of endorphins has on your wellbeing. It literally has the ability to pull you out of a slump.
But there’s actually a lot more to it than that. The fitness community as a whole has a way of making you feel included, worthy and deserving. You develop this sense of belonging and unity.
My relationship with fitness has definitely become more positive. As a child, I was always really sporty and then, I lost my way when I was at uni, partying a lot and generally just not taking great care of myself.
I definitely wasn’t aware of the gym community before I became a part of it. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about gym people being really pretentious, when it actually couldn’t be further from the truth. The gym community is actually really lovely.
There’s so much rubbish going on in the world and, as an adult, you really don’t find yourself in many situations where you get to experience an abundance of positivity and people rallying behind you, shouting ‘you’ve got this!’ I really thrive off of all of that positivity and encouragement. Those kinds of experiences at the gym definitely start to make a difference in your everyday life and it’s something I really wish more people would realise.
WHAT OBSTACLES HAVE YOU FACED AND HOW HAVE YOU OVERCOME THEM?
To begin with it was the motivation to get up and go. But it definitely does get easier the more you get into it and, especially, when you finally discover something you enjoy and exercising no longer feels like a chore, but something you spend the day looking forward to doing.
I would say the main thing I deal with now is body dysmorphia [a mental health condition, where someone spends a lot of time worrying about 'flaws' in their appearance]. Initially, I didn’t start my fitness journey for aesthetic reasons and now it’s got to a point, especially with me doing it as my job, where there'll be times when I worry about my appearance.
When I do have those days, I’ll throw some joggers on and tell myself to stop looking in the mirror. There’s no point in sitting there, picking yourself apart. For me, it’s not really about how I’m looking that day, it’s actually about how I feel, and being able to recognise that really helps me overcome those negative thoughts about myself.
@sydgrows rumour has it you lift heavier when your fit matches 🤫✨ #gymtok #gymgirl #gymfit #gymoutfit #girlswholift #matchinggymfit ♬ Super Freaky Girl - Nicki Minaj
HAVE YOU EVER FELT LIKE QUITTING? HOW DID YOU GET THROUGH THAT?
No, I’ve not felt like that, but I think that’s because I’ve really managed to connect with my fitness journey.
What I would say for people who do feel like that is to try to find something that you really connect with - something that brings you light and makes you feel happy. It applies to anything, but it’s really hard to maintain something that you don’t enjoy or have a passion for.
It’s all about mindset, that’s why on those days when I have little motivation, I remind myself that it’s not about ‘having’ to train, but ‘wanting’ to and having that privilege and ability to move your body. It's also wanting your body to be in the best possible shape it can be, mentally as well as physically, because you deserve that!
READ MORE: Move Your Body
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN TERMS OF YOUR FITNESS JOURNEY?
The proudest thing for me, undoubtedly, has to be my personal growth.
It’s only really been a short period of time, but I definitely think, in terms of my career, friendships and self-confidence, none of it would have been possible without fitness. So much of my growth is a result of being in that environment, pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and having opportunities to meet new people.
I’d also say a proud moment for me is sharing my journey and the fact that I’ve had such a profound impact on so many people. The messages I get on a daily basis are so touching and I think I feel a sense of pride that my personal journey is inspiring people and getting more women involved with fitness and working out. A lot of people tell me ‘I’ve gone to the gym for the first time’ or ‘I’ve got my first gym membership’ and I think that’s a really big thing and I’m really proud of that.
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO SHARE YOUR FITNESS JOURNEY ONLINE?
I’m naturally a creator. I went to art school, I’m trained as a fashion designer and I’ve always just been a creative person. When I stepped away from that, I basically had this ‘creative itch I wanted to scratch’.
I started my account in March 2022 when TikTok was still gaining popularity. I’d started watching gym content and I thought I’d just make some gym videos, but there was no specific intention.
I’ve really become a better person through social media and my fitness journey. Social media and content creation gets a lot of hate, but it genuinely has made me a better person. The person I was when I first started sharing content definitely wouldn’t have been able to think in the ways I do now or feel capable of inspiring others. That part has just evolved naturally and I think she’d be so proud of how far we’ve come!
HOW HAS FITNESS CHANGED OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE?
Fitness has had a massive influence on my self-confidence and my ability to tackle everyday life with the same confidence as I would in the gym. I’ve definitely come on leaps and bounds since joining the gym and pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
I’d also say the friendships I’ve found through fitness. Before, I really struggled to find ‘my kind of people’, but finding people who actually want the best for you, aren’t in competition with you and who just want to build you up has had a profound impact on my life.
WHAT’S NEXT ON YOUR AGENDA?
Honestly, this year, I would really just like to spend some time travelling. I feel like it would be really good for my self-growth journey and for pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
But, primarily, I want to continue with what I’ve been doing. I only made my fitness account a year ago and I want to continue with the journey and see where it takes me.
HOW DO YOU HOPE TO HAVE AN IMPACT ON THE FITNESS SPACE?
My mission is to make a lot of women feel that they are welcome and deserving of occupying spaces in gyms and those spaces that are predominantly dominated by men.
I also really want to highlight the relationship between self-worth and exercising and to inspire more confidence in women.
Fitness really is a community where everyone belongs, and everyone matters. Where surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who have similar aspirations to you inspires you to realise what it is you're capable of achieving.
With a goal of inspiring others and bringing a sense of authenticity to the influencer industry, Sydney says: “I’ve really tried to be transparent with my account, as I think people need transparency. I think the only reason my content has grown in the way it has is because I’ve been authentic in everything I do and that’s translated through my content. I’ve only ever shown up as myself - why would I do anything else?”
5 Ways To Make Progress With Your Workouts
You may think your training routine is as solid as they come, but if you’re not progressing from one workout to the next, it may be time to switch things up.
We all want to see results from our sweat sessions, but to do so, you need to put in the work and be patient. The reality is, seeing changes to your physical and mental health from working out is both a short- and long-term game. In other words, don’t expect to increase your muscle definition or shave minutes off your 10k run overnight.
Here we share five essential tips for making progress with your training and optimising your overall health.
1. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS
Unless you’re tracking your progress on a regular basis, there’s no way of knowing how well (or not well) you’re performing.
Keeping track of your PBs, compound lifts and other fitness milestones can be a great way to monitor progression from a performance aspect. If you feel that you’re struggling to up your weight, don’t beat yourself up! Often, it’s just a case of needing to switch up the intensity or rep ranges to cruise past that dreaded plateau.
PBs don’t have to be the only thing you track. While taking photos isn’t for everyone, it’s super easy to do and being able to see the physical changes can be a huge motivator. You could also take measurements of your body, including your upper arms, waist, hips and thighs, at regular intervals. Or even simpler than that, making a note of how you feel, for example your mood or energy levels, can be just as positive too.
2. SWITCH UP YOUR ROUTINE
No two people have identical fitness goals, but what we do all share is times when our motivation is lacking. Keeping things fresh and trying different workouts give us a new challenge, keeping motivation levels high.
Our bodies are designed to move in all different ways, and often, we fall into a routine that limits these patterns. Challenging our body to move in its full range of motion is essential! Mixing up your training routine and exercises will help you hit your goals and leave you feeling satisfied and accomplished.
Switching up your routine goes beyond swapping leg day for upper body day, it also means stepping outside your comfort zone, trying new activities and exercises that you may sometimes overlook.
Discover our eight best alternative workouts to the gym here.
3. PERFECT YOUR FORM
We cannot stress enough the importance of maintaining good form while working out. If your form is off, you’re probably not hitting your muscles effectively and you’re increasing the risk of injury. The end result? Less time in the gym and less time working towards your goals. Ouch.
Taking time to learn the correct movement patterns for each exercise is vital for progress in the gym, and your body will thank you for it once those weights start to get heavier.
If you’re unsure on how to perfect your form, seeking support from an experienced professional can be a great place to start. Alternatively, a Google search can quickly set you up with a number of videos and instructions from reputable sources on how to ensure you’re doing exercises in the most optimum way.
READ MORE: The Principles Of Good Form With Caroline Gravity
5. WORK TOWARD PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD
In order to make progress, your body and muscles need to be continually challenged. Enter progressive overload.
Increasing your weight is arguably the most obvious way to add progressive overload to your training, but there’s actually a lot more to it than that. Hear us out.
- Up your reps. When doing this, add one rep to each set while keeping the weight and rest periods the same.
- Reduce the tempo. Rather than just going through the motions of your workout, focus on performing your exercises by reducing the speed of each rep. This will put your muscles under tension for a longer period of time.
- Add in supersets. A superset is achieved by performing two exercises of opposite muscle groups back to back without any rest.
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable - pushing more weight, completing more reps, doing an exercise slower. Once that becomes comfortable, get uncomfortable again. Training is all about continuous progression and improvement.
READ MORE: Everything You Need To Know About Building Muscle Naturally
6. MAINTAIN A BALANCED DIET
‘Abs are made in the kitchen’ - we’ve all heard the saying, and actually there’s an element of truth to it. Our diet plays a huge part in helping us to achieve our goals, no matter what they are, and unless we’re able to nail the basics in the kitchen, our progress will be slow, if not stagnant.
A balanced diet with sufficient macronutrient (protein, carbs and fats) and micronutrient foods is key to a well fuelled, healthy body. With this, we’re giving ourselves the ability to not only perform at our best but to also recover and repair efficiently, ready for the next challenge.
Oh, and let’s not forget about hydration - water is vital to countless bodily functions, so make sure you keep your water bottle with you at all times.
Looking for some dinner-time inspo? Check out our delicious vegan dinner recipes.
Don’t forget, when it comes to fitness, it’s You vs You! Forget what everyone else in the gym is doing, and focus on making small, positive steps to help develop your training in a realistic, manageable way that suits your lifestyle.
Fitness isn’t a race, it’s a lifestyle we lead to live a better life.