3 Activation Exercises To Strengthen Upper Back

back activation exercises blog banner

Some days you might find that you’re zoning out at the gym or just ‘going through the motion’ of a workout. We often forget that the brain is a muscle too. The ability to be deliberate with which muscles you use during a workout is called mind-muscle connection. Doing activation exercises before working out will prepare your body for the exercises you are about to do.


Mind-Muscle Connection

All your movements are controlled by the brain. When you lift up a weighted object your brain releases acetylcholine, a neurochemical that signals your muscles to contract. Mind-muscle connection happens at the neuromuscular junction, the gap (synapse) where acetylcholine is released from your nerves to your muscles which triggers the contraction (1).

Mind-muscle connection helps make workouts more effective because it recruits more muscle fibers when you are lifting. This results in better quality muscle contraction and overall, a better workout.

People who are new to working out may find that it’s difficult know where to feel an exercise. We typically used to using our arms first before we start to feel it in the chest or back. This is where activation exercises come in! Activation exercises helps you be more aware of your body and which muscles are being put to work. There are activation exercises for all parts of your body – abs, glutes, shoulders, chest, arms…etc.

What are Back Activation Exercises?

Activation exercises are quick workouts you do before working out specific muscle groups which helps you quickly target the muscles you want to workout. They are basically a way to ‘turn on’ or ‘say hello’ to muscles you want to target before you jump into a workout routine. These exercises stem from techniques that physiotherapists use to treat clients.

Activation exercises are great because they are super quick, they often don’t require equipment and they make your strength workouts a lot more effective. It also gets you to practice mind-muscle connection discussed earlier on in this article.

Compound exercises such as squats, bench press, deadlifts and pullups are multi-joint movements that work several muscle groups at a time. This makes it difficult to target specific muscles since larger muscles could end up doing most of the work. For example, we see this a lot in people who are quad-dominant who squat heavy but have weak glute muscles. All of their work is translated to their quads! Activation workouts if done first, would help someone who was quad-dominant target their glutes better going into the workout.

3 Back Activation Exercises to Strengthen Your Upper Back

For each of the following exercises, remember to..

  • Do each exercises slowly with control.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top.
  • Practice mind-muscle connection (you could even say the name of the muscle out loud each time you squeeze! That way you won’t be thinking of anything else).
  • Resistance bands are optional.
back activation workout routine

1) Lat Pulldown

  • Draw your elbows behind your back (not to your sides), keeping your core engaged.
  • Pull with your back first before your arms.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as hard as you can. You should feel it in your upper back.
  • Power through each time you draw your shoulder blades together.
  • Do 2 sets of 10 reps.


The letters represent how your arms should be positioned, a total of 5 positions. Again, squeeze your shoulder blades together as hard as you can!

  • “Y” – Lift both arms straight above your head, pulse both arms back.
  • “W” – Lift both arms with your elbows bent, pulse and squeeze at the back.
  • “T” – Bring your arms to shoulder height, pulse both arms back.
  • “L” – With your arms at your sides, bend your arms and rotate them away from your body, pulse both arms back.
  • “I” – Clasp your hands behind your back, pulse both arms up.
  • Do 10 reps per exercise.

3) Superman Lift

  • Start on the ground with your stomach on the ground.
  • Lift your arms off the ground.
  • Bend your elbows and squeeze your shoulder blades together, keeping your chest lifted.
  • Do 2 sets, 10 reps.

For all of these exercises, be sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together as hard as you can. Breathing out at the most contracted point.


It’s important to both strengthen and stretch your back. Activation exercises go hand in hand with improving mind-muscle connection so that you can get the most out of all your workouts.

Related Post

error: Content is protected!