When it comes to building a larger back in weightlifting/bodybuilding, the most important thing to remember is to focus on the movements. Just like building any other muscle region, a proper mind to muscle connection is the first step to take before adding new exercises into your routine. Once you have built this connection, the next step is to focus on the primary compound movement exercises as these are the greatest exercises one can perform to increase growth in ones back in both width and thickness.
Exercises For Building Your Back
These are without a doubt one of the greatest exercises anyone can perform as they target the entire back region, while also working the legs and glutes. Focus on the movement, not the weight capacity. Make sure to keep your back stiff and not arch it, as inocorrect form can lead to pain and back issues from pulling the weight. I recommend performing deadlifts with a barbell at a moderate weight load for about 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Make sure to stretch and take time to rest between each set.
2. Bent Over Rows
This exercise seems to be forgotten by many yet it still remains to be one of the greatest back exercises one can perform weighted. This is due to the simple nature that bent over rows target the entire middle region of your back starting at your traps and going all the way down to your lower back. For this exercise, I typically perform it after deadlifts and usually start with 1-2 warm up sets while using a light weight to perform close to 10 reps or so. This is to get the arms and back loose and ready to lift the heavier weight for the working sets. During the working sets, I try to go as heavy as possible while still being able to pull the weight all the up towards my stomach/abdominal region, squeezing with each rep, and lowering the weight back down all in a controlled fashion for around 8-10 reps. I typically perform around 3-4 working sets of Bent Over Rows.
3. Wide Grip Lat Pull Downs
For this exercise, I grab the widest bar my gym offers and place my hands at the widest position possible. I’d recommened using a weight load that you can really control the release of, slowly, to maintain tension. If the weight is to high and you feel it pulling you up, then you should reduce the weight. Control is one of the most important things with this exercise.
I bring the bar all the way down as far as possible until the bar is actually touching my chest and squeeze/hold this contraction for 1-2 seconds before slowly releasing before the next rep. I perform these for around 6 sets of 10-15 reps and finish with 1-2 sets of 20-25 reps. It’s important to make sure you squeeze every muscle possible during this exercise when you are at maximum contraction to build that proper mind to muscle connection.
4. Seated Cable Rows
This exercise I perform in 2 different ways using both the wide grip lat pull down bar and also using the narrow grip V bar/close grip handle. Starting with the wide grip bar, I place my hands at the furthest region and pull the bar back until the bar is touching my sternum or right below my chest, squeeze this contraction and hold it for 1-2 seconds before slowly releasing. Focus on the release being about 3-4 seconds with each rep to ensure that you are keeping a constant and proper tension on the back to further engage the muscles. After using the wide bar, I switch to the narrow grip handle and do the same again giving about 4-6 sets with the wide bar and 4-6 sets with the narrow grip handle totaling between 8-12 sets of cable rows.
5. Pull Ups
This exercise is one of the greatest back exercises and can be performed in a few different ways to focus on either the outside region of the back or the inner region. By performing a pull up with your hands as wide as possible, you end up working the outside region to widen the back, whereas if you switch your hands to a narrower grip, about 12 inches apart from each other or so, you will focus the workload on the inner back. With each rep, slowly lift yourself up to the bar as high as possible and hold/squeeze the contraction for 1-2 seconds and slowly release yourself all the way down. The release is important to keep tension on the muscles and for this exercise it should take around 4 seconds or so to completely lower your body down to begin the next rep. Focus on a slow and controlled movement and not just quickly performing a pull up.
Take Home Message
There you have it. My top 5 exercises to help build a bigger back in both width and thickness while targeting the entire back region. Try these exercises out next time you are training your back in the gym and remember to focus on the movement and not just the weight load. Rest 60-90 seconds at most between each set and properly warm up and stretch before beginning any workout to avoid your chances of injury.