Learn How to Strength Train Your Back and Legs at the Same Time
Leg workouts and back workouts go together like peanut butter and jelly. These muscle groups are great on their own, and putting them together just makes sense! There are lots of benefits to working your back muscles in conjunction with leg exercises, and the compound exercises in the workout content below are designed to strengthen those groups together. Because your legs and back contain your largest muscle groups, working them out a few times a week can help improve your core and total-body function, and improve lower back pain.
If combining muscle groups feels like a big step, don’t worry – we’ve got your back with this beginner back workout.
A Little Anatomy
Before we get into the back workout, let’s talk about the muscles we’re working in the below workout content. Most of us know the familiar muscles in our legs: our calves (which are actually composed of two muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus), quads and hamstrings. However, when it comes to our back muscles, people are often unfamiliar, which can make back workouts and back exercises seem more intimidating. Never fear, AF is here, and we think this information is great for anyone to know, whether you’re trying this workout next week or next year. Plus, things like understanding which muscle groups you’re working can really help raise the bar on your workouts, week after week.
Since this workout is focused on your back and shoulders (in addition to legs), we’ll go through the major muscles in the upper body. The largest muscle in your upper body is the latissimus dorsi, which you’ve probably heard referred to as your “lats.” Your latissimus dorsi wraps around the back of your ribcage, from your pelvis to the bottom of your shoulder blades. You might have heard this muscle referred to if you’ve ever done lat pulldowns with a lat bar, as lat pulldowns focus on – you guessed it – primarily the latissimus dorsi. It’s also a key muscle for pull ups.
There’s also your erector spinae, a muscle group that hugs your spine and stretches in a straight line, almost like a bar of muscle, from your pelvis to your neck. Because of its length and the way it supports your body, from your pelvis to lower back to neck, the erector spinae is a great example of why combining your leg workouts and back workouts just makes sense.
Other major muscles in your back include the trapezius, frequently called the “traps,” which wrap around your shoulder blades and stretch from your lower back to your neck. If you’ve ever done dumbbell or barbell rows, you’ve definitely felt these muscles at work. There’s also the rhomboid major and minor, which mostly cover your shoulder blades and work together with your latissimus dorsi for pulling exercises like renegade rows.
Now that you have information on the muscles you’ll be working in addition to leg day, let’s talk about how to get the most benefits out of your workout, with proper form.
No matter what kind of exercise you’re doing, no matter if you’ve been exercising for days, weeks or years – good form is always key to getting the safest, most efficient workout. That’s why we want to share some information about proper form for this workout. There are a few tricky exercises within this workout, so we want to take you through a few of them, to make sure we avoid huge mistakes, move with proper function, and set you up for success every week!
Two stances commonly referred to in workout form are shoulder-width and hip-width. When asked to keep your feet hip-width apart, that means to stand how you would normally stand, with your left and right foot below your hips and pelvis. If you’re asked to keep your feet shoulder-width apart, which is traditional for squatting with the bar, that means a slightly wider stance, with your left and right foot spread out so that they fall below your shoulders. One helpful way to think about this is that when your feet are feet hip-width apart, they fall below your shoulder blades; when shoulder-width apart, they fall below your shoulders.
For example, you’ll want your feet shoulder-width apart for your suitcase deadlifts, with your left foot and right foot in line. Some people prefer to keep their feet a little wider, and some people prefer a more narrow stance, so you can adjust slightly to what’s comfortable for you.
For other exercises in this workout, like the sumo high pull, you’ll want your feet to be wider, as described, so we recommend having 2-3 feet between your left foot and right foot, depending on your height. Make sure you’re using a kettlebell or dumbbell instead of a barbell for this exercise. However, for suitcase deadlifts, feel free to use a barbell if barbells are what you’re more comfortable with. For the plank up-downs, you’ll want your feet hip-width apart or even closer, so that you can jump and keep them together. You’ll also want to keep your left and right hand directly under your shoulders, and bend your left knee and right knee at the same time when you jump up and down. If you want to make the plank up-downs extra tricky, you can incorporate a renegade row.
In that same round, when you’re performing pick-ups, you’ll balance on your right leg, keep a slight bend in your right knee, and touch down with your left hand. For the opposite side, you’ll balance on your left leg, keep a slight bend in your left knee, and touch down with your right hand. Try to keep the right leg and left leg, whichever leg isn’t working, in a straight leg position behind you. You can start with your right leg or left leg in whichever order you want; just make sure you keep that order throughout the round.
You’ll want to think about the same coordination for windmill skaters. When you land on your left leg, you’re reaching your right hand down to the floor across your body, so this move works your core too! Then, jump off your left leg to land on your right leg, bend the right knee slightly, and touch down with your left hand. Jump off your right leg and repeat. Make sure you’re keeping your shoulders pulled back and your lower back straight so you can get the most out of this leg, core and back workout.
Beginner Back and Legs Workout
Description: This beginner workout will work your core, legs, back, and shoulders.
Time: 15-20 minutes
Instructions: Each set of exercises will be done together. Take a 30-second break, and then repeat the set. Do each set two times before moving on to the next one. So you can think of each round as a circuit, and you’ll perform each circuit twice. We recommend that you keep the circuits in order from round one to round four. If you’d like to make this more of a back workout, you can add pull-ups or a bench press (the bench press will also work your arms for more of a full-body workout).
We’re completely happy with the workout below, but if you want to raise the bar and increase the intensity for some of the movements, you can use resistance bands or heavier weights. For example, if you prefer to lift both arms up in Supermans, you can hold a resistance band and pull the resistance band apart when you raise your arms – this is a great way to replicate pull-ups! Adding weight can definitely improve your workout, but only use as much weight as you’re comfortable with. We recommend starting with light weight and gradually moving up, so you can test how much weight is right for you. You can also try this workout as written for a few weeks, then add weight or resistance after 3-4 weeks, once you’re familiar with the workout content. Whether you’re looking for a beginner back workout or you’re an experienced lifter who wants information to level up your leg day, these great exercises are here to help. Try this workout for a few weeks and get ready to raise the bar on results!