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This Is Why You Have Back Fat (Plus, How to Lose It)

Back Strength

This Is Why You Have Back Fat (Plus, How to Lose It)

Five years ago, I had a shoulder injury that kept me from training my upper body for close to four months. During that time, I met a fantastic massage therapist who was formerly a physical therapist. While she was assisting in my rehab, we’d have conversations regarding why so many of us have shoulder issues. The most important thing she said that’s stuck with me is that most people, women especially, tend to carry most of their stress in their upper back and shoulders.

To my knowledge, there’s no scientific evidence to support her claim. However, I’ve taken too many measurements over the past couple of years to find an argument against the following:

Most people carry a significant amount of fat in their back due to stress and muscular imbalance.

The Stress Part

We encounter several things each day that cause stress: work, family, bills, and even training. When we’re stressed, we tend to tighten up our flexor muscles. The shoulders become rounded, and any thought of using the muscles on the upper end of your posterior chain go out the window. During moments of stress, we experience an elevation of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that when chronically elevated can lead to fat gain by making you insulin-resistant. You can also have areas of the body that are more insulin-resistant than others. So, if your back muscles are lagging because they’re never trained and your cortisol is high, there’s a damn good chance that the muscles in your back are insulin-resistant. In contrast, building muscle or maintaining muscle increases your insulin sensitivity.

Fixing Your Imbalances

The body has twice as many internal rotators of the shoulder versus external rotators. When the internal rotators are continually flexed, they naturally become stronger. This sad state of affairs will eventually lead to rounded shoulders also known as Kyphotic Posture. The internal rotators responsible for this are the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, teres major, subscapularis, latissimus dorsi (lats), serratus anterior, and the anterior deltoid. This is very important to know because if you’re going to achieve muscular balance by strengthening your back, you’ll have to complete a pull-versus-push ratio of at least 2:1. Other than the lats, you’ll need to spend significantly less time training those muscles as opposed to your rhomboids, traps, erector spinae, and the teres minor.

What You Should Do

Start including back exercises into your training twice per week. Even though our focus is the back, you should also include rear deltoid and medial deltoid exercises to achieve optimal shoulder health. Make sure you’re performing a horizontal pull-versus-vertical pull ratio of 2:1, as well.

In my experience, these are the best exercises for back development:

  • Pull-ups (lat pulldowns also work)
  • Rack pulls (bar should start just below the knees)
  • Barbell or Pendlay rows
  • Incline DB rows or chest-supported T-bar rows
  • Seal rows
  • Cable rows

For strength, use either rack pulls, barbell rows, or Pendlay rows as your main lift to measure performance using a rep range of 3 to 6. Perform the others using rep ranges of anywhere from 8 to 12.

For the rear deltoids, these are my go-to exercises:

  • Face pulls (banded or with a rope attachment)
  • Incline reverse flyes (dumbbells or cables)
  • Band pull aparts
  • Single arm prone rows

For the medial deltoids, go with these:

  • Incline dumbbell lateral raises
  • Seated or standing dumbbell lateral raises
  • Leaning cable or dumbbell lateral raises

Use rep ranges of anywhere from 10 to 15 on rear and medial deltoids exercises.