Your shoulders are involved in almost every movement of your arms. So you get plenty of opportunities to exercise them. But building back muscles requires more attention. Sure, your back muscles are at work whenever you’re standing, but challenging them with resistance requires movements you don’t make every day. For example, how often do you row a boat?
Exercises for building shoulder and back muscles
- Rowing is an excellent way to build your back muscles. Gyms make this easier with a variety of machines that mimic the rowing motion. In rowing machines, you sit as though in a rowboat and pull a bar attached to weights toward you. This motion also requires you to push against a bar with your legs. Somerowing machines allow you to sit and pull a bar toward you, working your back muscles exclusively.
- The lat pull down machine requires you to pull a bar downward behind your back, exercising your latissimus dorsi, or lat muscles, which extend from beneath the shoulders to the rib cage. These are the muscles that give bodybuilders the “V” shape they prize.
- One-arm dumbbell rows are a safe, simple exercise for developing shoulder and upper back muscles. Place your left knee and your left hand with your left arm fully extended on a bench. Make sure your spine is almost parallel to the ground. With your right hand, lift a dumbbell, keeping your forearm at your side. (Don’t lift the dumbbell toward your chest.) Use a weight that allows you to repeat this motion 8 to 12 times. Repeat with the other arm.
- An exercise that works the deltoid muscles at your shoulder is the shrug. Hold a barbell with your arms straight down, or hold a dumbbell in each hand, and then shrug your shoulders. This may sound easy, but with enough weight you will feel your muscles fatigue very rapidly.
When should you stop lifting weights? Never.
While weight lifting has long been associated with bodybuilders and athletes, it is essential for slowing the loss of muscle mass that is an inevitable part of aging. Studies have found that even extremely old people — 100 years old and more — benefit from lifting weights.
“Resistance training remains the most effective intervention for increasing muscle mass and strength in older people,” says Stephen E. Borst, PhD, of the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida.
The secret is to keep increasing the weight as your strength increases.
“I would recommend doing two or three sets of 8 to 12 reps,” says Gary R. Hunter, PhD, director of the physiology lab at the University of Alabama. “When you can do that, increase the weight. That’s the main advantage to resistance training — you can increase the resistance. They used to call it ‘progressive resistance training’ — you can increase the weight in small increments and allow your body to make adaptation to new stress.”
Resistance training has multiple benefits, according to Justin Keogh, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Sport and Recreation Research New Zealand, in Auckland. “Aerobic exercise is useful,” he says. “It can increase energy expenditure, result in fat loss, and improve cardiovascular fitness. However, if you wish to increase muscle and bone mass, as well as muscular strength, power, and endurance, weight training is the best option."