How to Tone Your Upper Back and Arms
4 of 6 in Series: The Essentials of Day 1 of Your Ten-Minute Tone-Up
The One-Arm Dumbbell Row works the upper back and stimulates the muscles of the front upper arms and shoulders. Working on the upper back isn't as popular as working out other body parts, such as the abs, chest, or legs, but it's just as important. Because the upper back is so connected to the shoulders, it’s not uncommon to incur shoulder joint injuries if you have a weak upper back.
Using a handheld mirror, watch as you squeeze your shoulder blades together, shrug your shoulders, and move your upper back in any number of ways.
The largest muscle group in the back is known as the latissimus dorsi. Gym rats call this group the lats — and, of course, now you can, too.
The trapezius reaches from the middle of your back to your shoulders and back in again. You have a pair of them, and they form the shape of a trapezoid, simply called the traps. If you aren't sure which muscle group is the traps, just shrug your shoulders — that uses the traps.
Between your spine and shoulder blades is a group of muscles called the rhomboids. Technically they are called the rhomboidei (don’t worry, not even most experts use that term).These are the upper back muscles developed by the exercise.
Although the arms are used in the One-Arm Dumbbell Row, the primary focus should be on your upper back muscles. Visualize and feel the upper back contractions throughout the movement.
To do the One-Arm Dumbbell Row:
Standing on the right side of a workout bench, place a dumbbell in your right hand; let it hang down next to your body with your palm facing in. Bend from your waist and rest your left hand on the bench for balance.Throughout the movement, hold your stomach in; keep your back flat, so that it's parallel to the floor; align your neck with the rest of your back; and keep your knees slightly bent.
Using slow and controlled movements, lift the arm that is holding the weight up until your hand touches your waist and your elbow and shoulder are parallel with the floor. Focus on using your upper back muscles to lift the weight rather than just lifting your arm up and down. Do not rock your body during this movement. Slowly return to start.
Do one or two sets of eight to ten repetitions on each side. As you progress, do two or three sets of eight to ten repetitions on each side with increased weight.Inhale when you begin and exhale as you lift the weight up.
Depending on your fitness level, try the following variations:
Decrease the weight: If you can’t maintain the proper form, decrease the weight. Sometimes it is better to use no weight till you master the technique and your upper back muscles are stronger.
Rotate the elbow: For a more advanced move, place your left knee and your left hand on the bench to keep your body stable. Raise your right arm up and back until your shoulder and elbow are parallel with the floor. Take the right elbow a little higher than your back and rotate it toward your left side. Return to the start. Be sure to flex your upper back muscles. Do both sides.