Lifting For Women: The Back Attack

Strength training is important for your back muscles.

(Ed. Note: The first article in the “Lifting for Women” series was published in the May 2012 issue of  LAW and ORDER. That article provided a workout for the chest muscles. The third article in this series will cover shoulder muscles.)

The glutes? No problem. The abs? Easy. Since glutes and abs are usually the biggest problem areas for women, it is much easier to encourage females to train those areas. In fact, women are usually quite eager to do so!

The back is another story. Aesthetically speaking, one’s back muscles are rarely seen on a day-to-day basis. They have little effect on how clothing fits. However, this does not mean back muscles should be left out of your weight training regimen. Quite the contrary, as part of your body part split, you should include a “back attack” to isolate the various muscles in the back. Here are a few police-specific reasons why.

TV portrays police work as exciting car chases followed by all-terrain foot pursuits and absolutely no paperwork. For patrol officers, the reality is moments of adrenaline rush (possibly life or death) sandwiched between hours of sitting – sitting in a squad car, sitting while completing reports, sitting on a crime scene, sitting in court.

In addition to these long sedentary periods are the long periods of just standing…and that is even worse for your body! Due to the unusual amount of time spent sitting and/or standing, while wearing 30 pounds of police gear, it is important to have extremely strong and well-toned back muscles.

The back consists of several different muscle groups. The exercises in this article will focus on the latissimus dorsi (or “lats”), rhomboids and erector spinae. The trapezius (upper, middle and lower) muscle group will be covered in the next article of this series, which focuses on shoulders.  

A good weightlifting routine consists of isolating specific body parts, ideally one per day (or antagonistic muscle groups, i.e., biceps and triceps), in order to achieve maximum results. This workout is effective at working both the upper and lower back muscles and will lead to better posture and load bearing, which is crucial for those in blue.

Lower Back
Deadlifts are one of the best ways to work your lower back, specifically the erector spinae muscle that runs along your spine. Using a barbell as pictured, bend over and lower the weight in a slow, controlled manner and back up without rounding out the spine. Do not lock your knees when standing and do not let your knees go past your toes when bending. Straps are a great tool to help stabilize the barbell, especially when lifting heavier weight.

Back extensions are a great way to really hit your lower back muscles. Be sure to adjust the roman chair so your legs fit comfortably and securely and that you can achieve the proper range of motion. Place your hands interlocked behind your head and bend forward from the waist. For added intensity, hold a weight in front of you and repeat.

Middle Back
One-arm dumbbell rows strengthen the middle back; each side / arm is worked individually. Place one knee on the bench and keep the opposite leg on the ground to support yourself. Hold the dumbbell on the same side as the leg that is on the ground. Lower the dumbbell to the ground as far as your arm extends without locking your elbows. Raise the dumbbell back up to a 90-degree position and repeat. Do not “swing” the weight – always move in a slow, controlled manner.

Upper Back
Lat pull-downs are great for working your lats. You will definitely feel this one the next day. Be sure to adjust the seat so your legs are firmly locked in the seat. Use the longer angled attachment with a wide grip. Glide the bar down in front of you and repeat. Do not “lean” too far back when bringing the bar down. Do not lock your elbows when bringing the bar up. Do not “lean” too far back when bringing the bar down. For reverse-grip lat pull-downs, use the same bar with a different grip to hit your rhomboid muscles.

Pull-ups are always a great way to work any part of your upper body. To really hit your lats, try a wide grip pull on an assisted dip machine. The assisted dip is a good way to work your way up to traditional, non-assisted pull-ups.

Common Sense Tips 
Wear comfortable, form-fitting clothing so you can see your form. Listen to music that motivates you and helps you tune out any distractions. Unless you are in pain, don’t quit, instead push yourself. Eat a proper meal an hour before you head to the gym to give you the energy. Don’t skip workouts. Unless you make time for the gym, it won’t be there! Hydrate – always bring a bottle of water. Special thanks goes to Xsport Fitness for the use of their facility!

Karen Bartuch has been in law enforcement since 2002, working a variety of assignments including patrol, gang patrol, gang team, undercover, narcotics, policy advisor and intelligence. She is the founder and current president of the Women's Tactical Association. She can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2012

Rating : 3.3



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