Building a Better, Stronger Back

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Back workout
Question: I’m looking for a killer back routine to add to my training. What are some cool exercises I can do to build a better back?

Answer: Interesting question. To build a better back, first look at the muscle groups that compose the back from a bodybuilding viewpoint. You have the lats, spinal erectors, teres major and traps (Trapezius, Latissimus dorsi, Teres major, Erector spinae, Thoracolumbar fascia) and numerous others that support the spinal structure much like the rigging on a large sailing ship stabilizes the masts. The muscles attach in multiple directions and must be worked from multiple directions. That means pulling resistance from both vertical and horizontal planes of movement.

As we outline a training day, remember most people don’t engage the back muscles. They move weight. For our training purposes the back is typically worked by itself.

  • Pullups are the standard for beginning a “world class back workout”. Use an overhand grip just outside shoulder width. Usually we alternate an ab exercise between sets for a total torso warmup.
  • Barbell rows with either a standard overhand or underhand shoulder width grip are the primary tool to build thick, wide lats. You can alternate the angle of the exercise as well between the parallel-to-the-floor variety favored by my old training partner and owner of one of the finest backs in bodybuilding history, Lee Haney, or the 60-70 degree style utilized by Dorian Yates who built a back from another planet.
  • Deadlifts are next up with the reps in the four to six range for three to four sets.
  • Pulldowns are super-setted with dumbbell pullovers.
  • Your finish exercise would be low pulley rows or Hammer Strength seated rows. This one is three sets of 8-10 reps.

There is nothing esoteric about this system except that every rep of every exercise needs to be fully contracted and the working muscles fully engaged. You cannot see your back muscles working like you can your biceps which is why you need to make a mind-muscle connection when training back. Don’t simply move the weight. If you can’t feel your back muscles engaging as you’re training, decrease the weight and slow down your reps so you’re able to hold the bar to your torso as you contract each rep. To make a full contraction you need to lift your rib age as you retract your scapula fully. You will, in time, be able to return to your typical weight but you’ll be effectively training your muscles. When you engage your back muscles fully you will feel the effects 24 to 36 hours later as DOMS sets in and your back feels like you’ve been struck with a bat.

Don’t move weight, engage muscles.

God bless and keep training,
Daryl

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