The hardest reality about losing weight is that you can’t just circle a specific spot on your body and melt away the fat. It takes smart full-body training to really burn fat, and you’ll see the results all over. What you can do is focus your strengthening and toning exercises on one muscle area to isolate a trouble spot and really define those muscles—which, when combined with cardio (running, elliptical, whatever form you like best and will actually stick with), will give you the results you want.
If back fat is one of your biggest body hang-ups, focusing on strengthening that area is key—and yet, it’s often overlooked. But strengthening your back muscles is incredibly important—and not just for aesthetic reasons.
Working these muscles also improves posture. And poor posture, aside from making you seem less confident when you walk into a room, can actually create the illusion of back fat, even if you don’t have it.
Your No. 1 line of defense against back fat? Pull-ups. Plus, there are some other very basic strength training moves you can do, both at home and at the gym, to get a killer back.
Pull-ups: Your back is made up of many different muscles, and a pull-up is an all-encompassing exercise that tones and sculpts them all. But they’re hard, so people tend to shy away from them. If you can do a normal pull-up—gripping the bar with your palms facing out—that’s ideal. A chin-up, where palms are facing you, is an easier option and it’s still going to work your back a bit, but it hits the biceps more, so make chin-ups your second option. Here are a few more ways you can modify a classic pull-up:
- Negative pull-ups—Stand on something to hoist yourself up into the end pull-up position against the bar. Slowly lower your body down in a controlled movement.
- Assisted pull-up machine-it’s a great tool for doing pull-ups if you can’t master them on your own. Ask someone at your gym to show you the proper way to use their specific machine.
- Inverted row with TRX—This is an amazing exercise for your upper back in between your scapula and your rear delt—basically all of the big back muscles. All you need is a TRX band, which most gyms have.
Dumbbell row: Place one knee on a bench, couch or table with a light (3-5 pounds) weight in the opposite hand, slightly bending forward with back flat. Pull the arm back straight in a row motion, contracting your upper back, elbow skimming the side of the body as it moves. Do a full set of 12 and then switch arms.
Renegade row: Get into a plank position, arms out straight directly beneath your shoulders, squeezing your butt and pulling your abs tight into your spine. Hold a 3-5-pound weight in each hand. Starting with one arm at a time, pull the weight back into a row movement, engaging the upper back and delts.
TYI: Lie on your stomach on the floor, or balance on a physio ball, holding 3-pound dumbbells in each hand. Engage your back and lift the chest a little. Then, move arms up and out into a T position, release, move into a Y position, release, and then move them into an I, arms touching out straight above your head. This is a great one for the rear delt, which is an important posture muscle, Stokes notes. Most people are very weak here, so use a super-light weight for this one.
Push-ups: This basic move primarily works your chest, but it can actually be a great back exercise, too. Get into a standard push-up position with hands on the ground wider than shoulder-width apart. “When you lower into the contracted position, you’re actually engaging your back,” Stokes notes. So lower yourself slowly and really focus on that downward movement. Hold at the bottom for 3 seconds and push back up, contracting the chest.
Jumping rope: It might feel like you’re just working your shoulders, but they’re connected to your back, so it’s hitting that as well. Plus, it’s a great cardio workout that’ll burn fat all over.
Upper body cycle: You know that upper body bike at the gym that’s empty all the time? Try 5 minutes on that and you’ll barely make it through. Try biking backward on it for an even stronger back burn.
Rowing machine: There’s a reason rowing is so popular these days: It’s truly an amazing back workout. Which makes sense because it has that basic row movement that perfectly targets your back. Hop on a rowing machine at the gym, or try a rowing workout class like CityRow.
To amplify your workout, Stokes recommends doing a plyometric move after each exercise to use the same muscle in a more dynamic fashion. After you finish a set of any of the above exercises, do 30 seconds of a medicine ball toss: Bring a 10-pound medicine ball over your head, stretching your back and lat muscles, and then throw it as hard as you can into the ground, contracting your upper back and lats. You’ll be using your back muscles and getting your heart rate up at the same time—the ultimate back fat banisher.
Do 3 sets of these exercises 2-3 times a week. Or just pick two or three of your favorites and focus on them. With a sexy, toned back and better posture, everyone will notice you standing just a little bit taller when you walk into the room.