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Fitness 101: Simple back exercises


The trend for sheer and backless clothing continues to haunt those sporting “sausage rolls”, or back fat. Joanne Miller met with Fitness First trainer, AZMI, at the new Marina Bay Financial Centre (MBFC) gym to find out more about the workout he has designed to tone and define the back, shoulder and arm muscles.

The Greatest View

There’s no denying the allure of a well-defined back. Almost every Tom Cruise film includes a scene of his muscular back, characterised by very wide shoulders, defined deltoids and contrasting small waist. For women, Hilary Swank’s impressive transformation into featherweight boxing champion, Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby,exhibited total commitment and she soon became the poster girl for female gym-goers everywhere.

A powerful back is something we should all aspire to; not only for the appreciative stares, but to help avoid injury.

As weird as it might seem and feel, get flexing straight after your sets for quicker results

Flexed For Success

You might have sniggered at what you thought was blatant posing, but flexing immediately after weight-bearing exercise is highly beneficial in attaining muscle definition. It’s the little-known technique for getting “ripped” or “shredded” faster.

In anatomical terms, flexing increases the amount of pressure on the fascia (the thin yet strong “netting” that holds our muscles in place), and this pressure builds exponentially as you pump iron, causing the muscle fascia to reach maximum expansion.

Flexing the worked muscles straight after a specific exercise helps you to attain definition as the flexing targets and isolates small muscles that weren’t worked during the exercise. Intense contraction causes more blood to flow to the muscles and increases their density, making them “pop”, or become more noticeable.

What’s more, taking the time to flex also improves your mind-to-muscle connection, something which former Mr Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger subscribes to – and who is going to argue with him? It’s far from radical and is something yogis have been doing for centuries. In some circles it’s known as targeted intention – focusing on and visualising the particular muscle, the motion, tension, growth and power to push yourself to the next level, while not being distracted by your own thoughts or internal chatter.

So although you might feel awkward flexing without any weights, just do it. Remember that it’s not essential to perform the flex in front of a mirror. Many beefcakes choose to, though. Yes, they’re being show ponies, but are you going to call them out on it? I didn’t think so.

Here are four exercises to define your back, shoulders and arms in next to no time.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row


This exercise strengthens the upper back and your biceps (the meaty front part of your upper arms).Everyone should complete four sets: eight to 12 repetitions for beginners and 12 to 15 repetitions for the more experienced.


1.Stand to the right of a weight bench or go down on all fours. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your palm facing inward.
2.Either place your left knee and left hand on top of the bench, or place your left knee, left hand and right knee on the floor, allowing your right arm to hang slightly forward.
3.Contract your abdominals, bending forward from the hips, and allow your back to arch naturally while still parallel to the floor. Your right knee should be bent slightly if on the bench, or at a right-angle if on the floor. Tilt your chin to your chest so that your neck aligns with your spine.
4.Pull your right arm up until your elbow points to the ceiling, your upper arm is parallel to the floor and your hand sits near your rib cage.
5.Slowly lower the weight and repeat.


Increase the dumbbell weight once you have perfected the form. Beginners should use lighter weights and increase to an intermediate or heavier weight once they have perfected the technique. Advanced lifters can lift as heavy a weight as they’re able to.


Start with light weights.
To enhance the mind-to-muscle connection, concentrate on pulling from your back muscles rather than from your arms. Imagine your arm is the hook that connects to the weight, but the motion and power can only come from your back.
Contract your abdominals throughout the motion and don’t hunch.
Pull your shoulders back and down, away from your ears.

Body Weight Tricep Dips

This exercise tones the triceps – the muscle on the back of your upper arm from your shoulder to your elbow. Again, everyone should complete four sets (eight to 12 repetitions for beginners and 12 to 15 repetitions for the more experienced) with a 30- to 45-second rest between each set.


1.Position your hands at shoulder-width on a secure bench or chair.
2.Bend your legs to 90 degrees (a right angle) and place your feet hip-width apart on the floor.
3.Straighten your arms but don’t lock your elbows, ensuring you work your triceps and not your elbows.
4.Slowly bend at your elbows, lowering your upper body towards the floor until your arms are at a right angle. Your back should remain close to the bench.
5.When your bottom almost reaches the floor, harness the tension and power in your triceps to push yourself back to the starting point.


Try not to tense your neck. Keep it firm and make sure your shoulders haven’t crept up.


 Beginner: Perform the exercise with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
 Intermediate: Straighten your legs as you become stronger but keep good form.
 Advanced: Place another bench or chair near your feet and elevate your feet on the bench for a highly challenging move.

TRX Low Row


This exercise strengthens the back and arms at their strongest pulling position and builds functional upper body pulling strength. Complete four sets, although beginners should complete 30 seconds of work followed by 50 seconds of rest. Intermediates, 45 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest. Advanced, 60 seconds of work followed by 20 seconds of rest.


Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your chest toward the handles.
Draw your elbows to your sides to create a 45-degree angle at your shoulders.
Keep your body aligned throughout the motion and your wrists in neutral (unflexed) position.


Keep your chest lifted and don’t round your back, to finish the row with excellent posture.
Draw your shoulder blades close together without shrugging your shoulders.
Start with a deep body angle and initiate the pull from your back and not from your arms.
Don’t use your hips to assist you in the exercise.


 Beginner: Stand straight up with your base of support directly beneath your centre of gravity.
 Intermediate: Steepen your body angle by walking towards the anchor point
 Advanced: Decrease base support by standing on one leg

TRX T & Y Deltoid Fly


This move works all of the back and arms for total body conditioning. Everyone should complete four sets: beginners should do 30 seconds of work followed by 50 seconds of rest;  intermediates, 45 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest; advanced, 60 seconds of work followed by 20 seconds of rest.

Stand with your feet apart, face the TRX holding one handle in each hand and lean back into the start position.
Draw your body forward by pulling your arms back into a T- or Y-shape. Shift your weight from your rear to your front leg and keep your eyes on your anchor point to maintain focus and balance.
Maintain tension on the TRX throughout the movement and switch your forward leg halfway through the set. 


Try standing with your feet together from the start position.

Taper Caper

You’ll naturally stand taller after working your back muscles for a few weeks as your strengthened back, shoulders and core muscles will  keep you soldier-straight.

Other than looking taller, you’ll also appear slimmer. As fat reduces and muscles pop, you’ll appear slightly broader in the shoulders – we’re talking millimetres, ladies, you won’t morph into a hulking mass – which makes your waist look narrower by contrast. A perfect example is supermodel, Elle Macpherson. She hasn’t held the title of “The Body” for the past 30 years without good reason.