A big back is synonymous with hard work and strength. It makes you stand out. It commands respect. There are three major areas of the back that need to be trained- the upper back, lats and lower back. Like most major muscle groups, it takes a lot of work to really make your back stand out.
The four muscles that make up the bulk of the back, and that we want to focus on developing, are the…
- Latissimus dorsi
- Erector spinae
Here’s how they look:
(The erector spinae aren’t shown on the above chart, but they are the lower back muscles that occupy the gray area at the bottom.)
There are a few smaller bundles of muscle that matter as well, such as the teres major and minor, and the infraspinatus. You can see them here:
Focus on lifting heavy weights in your back workouts.
If you want your back to get big and strong, you’ll want to focus on the 4 to 6 or 5 to 7 rep range.
Focus on the back exercises that safely allow for progressive overload.
If you don’t continue to get stronger, you won’t continue to get bigger.
The number one rule of natural muscle building is progressive overload, which means adding weight to the bar over time.
Well, certain exercises don’t lend themselves well to both heavy lifting and progressive overload. Standing lat pushdowns, for example, are no deadlift. Behind-the-neck pulldowns are inferior to traditional front pulldowns.
Another aspect of your back training that you have to get right is volume, or the total amount of reps you do each week.
This is especially important when you’re doing a lot of heavy weightlifting because the general rule is this:
The heavier the reps, the fewer you can do each week.
Heavier weights necessitate more recovery, which means you can’t do as much you can with lighter weights without risking overtraining.
The Best Back Exercises
The deadlift is at the core of any great weightlifting program.
Many people are afraid of this lift because they think it’s inherently bad for your lower back or dangerous.
At first glance, this fear would seem to make sense: lifting hundreds of pounds off the ground—putting all that pressure on your back, particularly your low-back and erector spinae muscles—would be a recipe for thoracic and lumbar disaster, right?
In fact, when performed with good form, the deadlift is actually a fantastic way to build lower back strength and prevent injury.
That said, if you have sustained a lower back injury in the past or have a disease or dysfunction affecting the area, you may not want to deadlift. Unfortunately, I have to recommend that you consult with a sports doctor to see if it will or won’t work for you.
The barbell row is a staple in my back workouts because it works everything from the erector spinae up to the traps.
Here’s how to do the convention barbell row:
The dumbbell row allows you to safely overload your upper back with a full range of motion.
Here’s how you do it:
The t-bar row is another worthwhile type of row that I like to do.
Here’s how to do it:
You can use the hammer strength t-bar machine, which looks like this:
The wide-grip pullup is one of the best exercises you can do to build the middle of your back and your lats (especially as you get stronger and can add weight with a dip dip belt).
Here’s how to do it:
While many people swear by chin-ups alone, I think they should be done in conjunction with wide-grip pullups because they emphasize the biceps more.
Here’s how to do them:
Lat Pulldown (Wide- and Close-Grip)
The lat pulldown is a machine variant of the pullup that allows you to work in given rep ranges more easily (because you can accurately control the amount of weight you have to pull).
Here’s a video that shows proper form on both the close- and wide-grip variations:
As you can see, the close-grip variation is performed with the V-bar attachment.
Seated Cable Row (Wide- and Close-Grip)
Last but not least is the seated row, which is yet another row that’s great for building your upper back.
Here’s how you do it:
Remember–Progression is the Key to Muscle Growth
That’s it on the exercises.
The key, however, isn’t just doing the above exercises. It’s progressing on them. That is, increasing the amount of weight you can handle over time.