If you’re wanting a wide, thick back then this article is for you.
Most people at the gym don’t put enough emphasis on their back workouts. So much time is spent on the chest and biceps which can often lead to the back becoming neglected.
This is disappointing though as a strong muscular back is the key to a good physique.
If that’s not enough reason for you to train your back hard, then this should be. If you’re back is lagging you can become more prone to injuries through training.
Fear not, in this article we are going to break down the best back exercises and workouts so you can bring your back up to speed.
If you follow the steps laid out in this article and eat the right macros your back will get bigger and stronger than ever before.
Anatomy of the Back
The bulk of the back is made up of a range of different muscles.
- Trapezius (traps)
- Latissimus dorsi (lats)
- Erector spinae
- Teres major and minor
This is how they look on your body:
If you want to have an aesthetic and powerful back you need to follow these rules:
- Make sure you are training your traps with heavy weight.
- To create the “V-Taper” in the back you need to build your lats.
- Heavy rowing exercises will build the mid back and rhomboid muscles
- Deadlifts develop your back like no other exercise. They work the whole back and bring about serious gains.
A lot of guys just train their lats and end up with a slight V-Taper from exercises like lat pulls downs etc but they are often lacking the other areas that make up a truely powerful and aesthetic back.
If you want to build an incredible back there are a few principles you need to know…
Back Training Principles
There are a few key rules to follow if you want to build a big, strong, aesthetically pleasing back.
1. Focus on the right exercises.
If you’re like me when I first started training, I spent the majority of my time on machines and doing isolation exercises to try and target each of the back muscles individually. I should have been spending my time on compound exercises like the deadlift and barbell row.
2. Focus on heavy strength training.
I used to train to get a pump (rather than increase my strength.) I thought that it was better to do multiple variations of drop sets and super sets but found myself hitting a plateau fairly quickly.
In fact you should aim for the majority of your back exercises to be compound movements and heavy lifting (80 to 85% of 1RM and higher.)
That means heavy barbell pulling exercises are going to become your new best friend.
When you’re focusing on lifting heavy your reps are going to be in the 4-6 range.
Performing heavy compound exercises in this rep range allows you to safely achieve progressive overload in each of your workouts.
Progression is the key to building muscle naturally. You see the human body is naturally quite lazy. We could quite easily just plod along without growing in strength or size.
In order to keep getting bigger and stronger we need to continue to subject our muscles to more and more tension over time.
So put simply:
If you don’t keep getting stronger you won’t get bigger.
You can accomplish this by adding volume (reps) but eventually you will need to add weight to the bar. That’s why the biggest guys in the gym usually lift the most weight.
Lets say you are deadlifting 230lbs in the 4-6 rep range. As soon as you are able to perform 6 reps in a set it’s time to up the weight for the next set and aim for 4+ reps again.
Each time you walk into the gym you should be looking to improve on your last workout. Whether it be adding an extra rep or increasing your weights.
Back Workout Volume
Getting the right amount of volume in your back workouts is essential to your success.
If your weekly volume is too low you will see smaller results than you should be getting.
If your volume’s too high you’ll run into problems with overtraining. Recovery is an essential part of building muscle and strength. If you are training too frequently your body will fall behind on its recovery and eventually your results will start flatlining.
Heavy weightlifting requires a significant amount of recovery time. So when you are training your back using heavy lifts there are only so many reps you can do per week before it has a negative effect on yourself.
When your training consists of mainly heavy weights (80 to 85%+ of 1RM), optimal volume seems to be about 60 to 70 reps performed every 5 to 7 days.
A Bigger Back Makes Bigger Arms
Your back is the foundation of a lot of heavy lifts. So the stronger your back is the heavier your other muscle groups can lift on their exercises.
Your body works in symmetry so having a strong back will help you press more on the bench and curl more with your biceps as your muscles work together through functional strength.
This is where a push pull legs style of working out can be beneficial as it makes sure you are training your back as much as the rest of your body.
The barbell deadlift is more than just a back exercise. It hits the entire posterior chain (back side) from your calfs to your upper traps. It’s an absolute must have in your back workouts.
Performing the deadlift correctly is very important as incorrect form can lead to injuries.
Once you have your form nailed down you can progress to lifting incredible amounts of weight and build a huge amount of strength and muscle while you’re at it.
This video explains how to set up for the standard deadlift.
Barbell rows are a staple in any good back workout. Alongside the deadlift the barbell row is one of the best back exercises you can perform. You’ll feel it working the whole back throughout the movement.
The barbell row is the back exercise that you can lift the second most amount of weight. You’ll want to perform this towards the start of your workouts when you’re at full strength.
This is how you perform the barbell row.
Pendlay Barbell Row
Another variation of barbell row is the pendlay barbell row. The pendlay row is similar however you start with the bar from a dead stop on the ground.
Here’s how you do it:
The T-bar row can be performed with a machine or a barbell. Generally it’s best to stay away from machines in favour of barbell exercises but this is one exercise where you can make an exception if you like.
This is how to perform the barbell version:
The Dumbbell row is a great single arm compound exercise for the back and in particular the lats. This variation is good if you need to give your lower back a break from barbell rowing.
Here’s how to do the dumbbell row:
Chin-up and Pull-up
The chin-up and pull-up are serious back exercises. They train every muscle in your back and involve the biceps as well.
Chin ups get more bicep emphasis in the movement so you should use these in conjunction with pull-ups as well.
Here’s how to do a chin-up:
The pull-up is one of the best exercises you can do to build your whole back.
Here’s how to do it:
What if you can’t do a pull-up or chin-up yet?
That’s fine there are plenty of ways to work your way up to a bodyweight pull-up or chin-up. One option is to build strength in other exercises like the lat pulldown and inverted row. This will allow you to build up your back strength to a point where you should be able to start doing band assisted pull ups and chin ups.
To do band assisted chin ups simply wrap a resistance band around the bar and hook your knee through it. This will make it easier for you to ascend to the bar.
You can then gradually work your way onto less and less resistance bands until you can do a few reps on your own.
Another option to build up your strength would be to do negative reps. So basically jump or use a step to get your chin above the bar and then begin by descending down. Try and resist gravity and don’t just let your body fall. Once you get to the bottom jump or step back up to the top of the bar again and repeat.
Progressing the pull-up and chin-up
Once you can do 10 chin ups easily it’s to to add some weight. Use a dip belt around your waist to strap plates to the exercise. You can then build this exercise up as you would any other exercise.
Lat Pull Down
The lat pulldown is a machine variation that allows you to activate the same muscles as pull-ups and chin-ups while adjusting the weight.
Here’s how to perform the exercise:
Standing Cable Pushdown
The standing cable pushdown is an isolation exercise for the lats. If you want to really tear your lats up, this is an exercise to throw in at the end of your back workouts.
This is how to do it:
Best Back Workout
This back workout is made up of mainly compound exercises to train all the major muscles throughout the back. If you want to through in some isolation exercises at the end you’re welcome to but they should always come second to heavy compound lifts.
The back exercise below is designed to be performed once a week.
3 sets of 4-6 reps
3 sets of 4-6 reps
3 sets of 4-6 reps
Close grip lat pull downs
3 sets 4-6 reps
Remember to focus on progressive overload in each of your workouts. Once you hit the top of the rep range for an exercise it’s time to increase the weight.
Allow a full 3 minutes between each set so your muscles can fully recover and go again. You want to be able to give it your maximum effort on your second and third sets so make sure you don’t rush your rest time.
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