A lot of exercisers are guilty of treating back training as an afterthought. They spend hours training their chests, abs, and arms, and completely forget about the muscles they CAN’T see in the mirror. That’s a shame because a big, strong back can have a HUGE impact on how you look.
Back training is also essential for injury prevention. Your muscles are arranged in opposing pairs across joints, such as the biceps and triceps, and the quadriceps and hamstrings. If you don’t pay the same attention to the muscles on both sides of every joint, you may create a strength imbalance. Too much chest training and not enough back training can cause imbalances that lead to injury.
If you’ve been neglecting your back training lately, or just want to build your best back ever, add these two back-building workouts to your weekly training schedule.
Building a bigger, stronger back requires more than just a few sets of pulldowns and rows. Why? Because your back is made up of several different muscles, some of which have more than one function. Because of this, a good back workout should contain a range of different exercises.
The main muscles that make up your back are (1):
- Latissimus dorsi– called the lats for short, this muscle is located on the side of your upper back. When well developed, the lats can resemble wings. The lats are responsible for extending your shoulder joint backward and drawing your upper arm down and in toward the midline of your body, a movement correctly called adduction. They also rotate your upper arms inward.
- Rhomboids – these small muscles are located between your shoulder blades. They pull your shoulders back and are important for upper back thickness as well as posture.
- Trapezius – known as the traps for short, this large kite-shaped muscle covers most of your upper back. It has three functions and is responsible for shoulder elevation, shoulder depression, and shoulder retraction. Big, strong traps make your upper back thicker and more powerful.
- Erector Spinae – Erector Spinae is the collective name for the muscles that run up the sides of your spine. It extends your spine and also helps keep your spine rigid during exercises like deadlifts and bent over rows. Erector Spinae also includes your lower back muscles.
Two back workouts for double the gains
Most gym-goers train their back muscles just once a week. That’s not really enough if you are serious about building the ultimate back. Instead, we’re going to give you two different back workouts so you can train this vital muscle group twice per week.
Each workout uses different exercises. This will help you develop bodybuilder size AND powerlifter strength. In other words, you won’t just look strong; you’ll actually be strong too.
These workouts are designed for intermediate and advanced exercises only. If you are a beginner, focus on building some basic size and strength before following these specialist back-building workouts.
Don’t do these workouts on consecutive days; you probably won’t recover enough, and you’ll soon feel tired, sore, and overtrained. Instead, do them a couple of days apart, e.g., Monday and Thursday.
Finally, remember to warm up before each and every workout. This will not only lower your risk of injury; it will also ensure that you get the best results possible from each workout.
|3||Cable rows||3||10||90 seconds|
|5||Face pulls||3||15||60 seconds|
Deadlifts are the king of back exercises. They work every muscle in your upper, lower, and mid-back, as well as your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core.
- Place a loaded barbell on the floor. Stand with your toes under the bar, feet roughly hip-width apart. Bend forward and hold the bar with an overhand or mixed grip, where one hand faces forward, and one faces backward.
- Drop your hips, lift your chest, and pull your shoulders down and back.
- With straight arms, and without rounding your lower back, drive your feet into the floor and stand up straight. Do not lean back!
- Push your hips to the rear, bend your knees, and lower the bar back to the floor.
- Reset your position and repeat.
Pull-ups are one of the best lat width-building exercises around. Use a wider-than shoulder-width grip for best results. If you can do more than eight reps, use a chin/dip belt to increase the load and make this exercise harder.
- Hold an overhead bar with a wider than shoulder-width overhand grip.
- Hang with your arms straight and your feet off the floor.
- Lean back slightly and, without kicking or jerking, pull your chin up and over the bar.
- Lower yourself down slowly and smoothly and repeat.
This exercise works your lats and also your mid-traps and rhomboids, which are the muscles across and between your shoulder blades.
- Attach a parallel grip handle to a low pulley machine. Sit on the machine with your knees slightly bent.
- Grab the handles and sit up straight. Do not round your lower back.
- Without leaning forward or backward, pull the handle into your abdomen and then straighten your arms.
- If you have to lean forward and backward to complete your reps, the weight is too heavy!
Often thought of as a chest exercise, pullovers are also an excellent lat exercise. This move will finish off your lats without having to use your hard-worked biceps.
- Hold a dumbbell in both hands with your palms against the inside of the weight plates.
- Lie back on a flat or slightly declined bench and press the weight up and over your chest.
- With slightly bent arms, lower the weight back and over your head until your biceps brush your ears. Pull the dumbbell back up and over your chest and then repeat.
Your final exercise targets your middle traps and rhomboids. These are important postural muscles. Use a lightweight and focus on pulling your shoulders back and together.
- Attach a rope handle to an adjustable pulley machine. Set the pulley to eye-level.
- Hold the ends of the handle and step back with your arms straight and parallel to the floor. Use a split stance for balance.
- Bend your arms and pull the ends of the handles in toward your face. Imagine sticking your thumbs in your ears. Extend your arms slowly and then repeat.
|1||Pendlay rows||5||5||3 minutes|
|2||Lat pulldowns||4||8||2 minutes|
|3||Power shrugs||3||10||90 seconds|
|4||Single-arm cable rows||3||12||60 seconds|
|5||Band pull aparts||3||15||60 seconds|
Pendlay rows are named after American weightlifting and powerlifting coach Glen Pendlay. This exercise will build back size and strength.
- Place a loaded barbell on the floor. Stand with your toes beneath the bar, feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Lean forward and hold the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Straighten your arms, lift your chest, and slightly arch your back. Your knees should be partially bent. This is your starting position.
- Without jerking with your back, pull the bar off the floor and into your abdomen. Lower the bar back to the floor and repeat.
- Each rep should start from a dead stop, so no bouncing!
Lat pulldowns are a good alternative to pull-ups. Use an underhand, shoulder-width grip to work your back muscles from a new angle.
- Adjust the pads so that they hold you securely in place while you work out. Grab the handle with a supinated or palms-up grip and sit down. Lean back slightly.
- Leading with your elbows, pull the bar down to the top of your chest.
- Extend your arms, and then repeat.
While some people like to train traps with shoulders, it’s really an upper back muscle. This exercise is a great trap builder and will also build and strengthen your lower back too.
- Grip and hold a barbell with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Use straps if necessary. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
- Lean forward from your hips and lower the bar down to mid-thigh level.
- Stand up quickly and simultaneously shrug your shoulders. Keep your arms straight.
- Pause with your shoulders held high.
- Lower the weight and then go again.
Single-arm cable rows
This unusual exercise allows you to train one side of your back at a time. It also takes your lats through a large range of motion, which is beneficial for muscle growth.
- Attach a single D-handle to a low pulley row machine.
- Sit on the bench with your legs slightly bent. Grab the handle with one hand and sit up straight.
- Without leaning or forward, or twisting your shoulders, pull the handle into the side of your abdomen. Straighten your arm and repeat.
- Do the same number of reps on both arms.
Band Pull Aparts
The last exercise in this workout is for your postural muscles. Improving your posture will have a significant effect on not only how you look but also how you feel. Poor posture is a common cause of back, shoulder, and neck pain.
- Hold a resistance band with an overhand grip. Raise your arms forward and up to shoulder-height.
- Open your arms and spread the band out across your chest. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
If you want a bigger, stronger back, it’s time to make it a training priority. A couple of sets per week of pulldowns or rows won’t get the job done. Instead, you need to commit to training your back hard twice a week. Follow this program for 6-8 weeks, and you’ll be amazed at the progress you can make.
Modes, Robert J.; Lafci Fahrioglu, Sevda (2019), “Anatomy, Back”, StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, PMID 30969568 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539746/
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