Go to the mirror and take a good look at your bare back. Leave your bra on to start. As you do, move your arms in all directions and twist and bend your torso to each side a little, notice what moves, what bulges, what catches your attention—whether pleasant, disheartening or alarming. Do the same with your bra off. Knowing what you’ve got is the prerequisite to achieving a sexy back. Once you know what you have, you can start working toward what you want.

READ MORE: Look 5 Pounds Thinner—From a Bra!

Three main attributes define a sexy back:

1) the fat under the skin, 2) the skin itself and 3) muscle size and shape. The good news is you can do a lot to influence all of these areas and transform your back into one of your greatest physical assets. Here’s how:

1. Lose body fat:
If you noticed fat bulging at your bra line or creasing when you twisted or bent your torso, you’ve got some fat to lose. Don’t demand fat-free. We’re going for “fat-light” here. Unless you’re one of very few who carry almost no fat just under the skin, you’re going to have some indentation at your bra or swimsuit line. Just get rid of the bulge.To read my recommendations for losing body fat, refer to the following articles: Easy (Free!) Weight Loss Plan, Battling Mid-Life Weight Gain and Is the “Fat-Burning Zone” a Myth?

2. Beautify your skin:
It’s hard to notice an amazingly-shaped back if your skin is splotchy, broken out or dotted with raised moles. So much of a sexy back has to do with smooth, flawless skin. To make your skin a stunning focus point, YouBeauty skin expert and dermatologist Jeanine Downie suggests the following: 1) Get chemical peels to even out your skintone. 2) Have moles or other blemishes removed. 3) Follow up with a sexy spray tan with some shimmery skin makeup, such as Stila All Over Shimmer Liquid Luminizer.

READ MORE: How to Get Rid of Body Acne

3. Activate your back muscles:
For the ultimate sexy back, you need some lean, strong muscles under that beautiful skin. Both your cardio routine and resistance training can work together to get you results. One effective cardio choice is rowing or using a rowing machine. The second choice—and the best cardiorespiratory exercise by far—for developing strong, attractive back muscles is swimming. Each of the four swimming strokes uses every major muscle group in your back (deltoids, lats, trapezius, spine extensors, teres and rhomboids).

The breaststroke, though still effective, uses the muscles to a slightly lesser degree due to the smaller range of movement of the arms. Doing a combination of all of the swimming strokes will give you the most well-rounded results. If you want to build the size of the muscles more than simple free swimming does, use a pull buoy or swim paddles to make your arms work harder.When it comes to resistance training, think “pulls.” Every exercise in which you pull the arms down or back uses the back muscles. Tubing, dumbbells and pull-up bars work well. Do a combination of back rows, reverse flys (really a straight-arm pull back), lat pull-downs, front pull-downs (dumbbell pull-overs) and assisted pull-ups on the bar or machine. For the lower back and spine extensors, use the quadruped opposite arm and leg raise (especially good for beginners or those with back issues), Romanian dead lifts (making sure you know and can use proper form), and swan back extensions—not lifting the chest more than a few inches from the floor. You can search for videos and photos of these moves online if you’re not familiar with them.

VIDEOS: Top Trainers’ Favorite Butt-Toning Moves

Now if you didn’t go to the mirror after reading the first paragraph, go after reading the last one. While I was having my “mirror time” not long ago, I noticed a small rise on one side of my back that was not on the other side. I felt it and had my husband feel it. Sure enough, it was a lump that did not seem like muscle. Days later, I had it removed by a general surgeon. Thankfully, it was benign, but I’m glad I caught it while it was small, and I would have been even more grateful to have found it early if it had been something malignant.Case in point, examining your body is about more than beauty. It is about your health as well. And though my tiny scar isn’t so sexy, the lump was even less so. So treat these examinations not as exercises in vanity, but as investments in yourself and your health.

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