When you think of a big, V-taper physique you probably think big barn-door back in the same train of thought. Building a great back is tricky business, mainly due to it not being a mirror muscle worked. This can make for lack of mind-muscle connection and overall lack of muscular development.
These 5 killer back exercises can dramatically change the shape of your back – and create some mile-wide lats!
Exercise #1 The Classic Pull-up
Probably the most essential back-building exercise, the pull-up incorporates using the lats to pull through the movement as well as incorporating the stabilizing muscles.
Rhomboids, traps and supporting muscle within the spine help stabilize the movement- allowing the lats to move freely in a singular plane for maximum muscle growth. Definitely a good one!
a) Begin the movement by positioning arms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on the pull-up bar, palms facing forward.
b) Keeping the shoulder and scapula down and tight, slowly pull chin to furthest possible.
c) Hold at the top for 1 second and squeeze the movement.
d) Slowly return down to bottom, keeping constant tension on the lats.
Sets and Reps: 4 x 10-12
TOP TIP: Can’t do this many pull-ups on your own? Grab a partner to support your feet to free some weight off the movement or use a pull-up assist machine.
Exercise #2 Muscle-Building Deadlift
Not for the faint of heart, but definitely for those looking for a big back!
This can be considered a leg movement or even a full body movement, but the benefits you will get from deadlifts will be leaving you wanting to do them more often. Improved posture, stronger lumbar and increased power and explosiveness are just a few things that will be in your immediate future.
Belt up, go heavy with perfect form and reap the rewards.
a) Begin the movement by positioning hands shoulder-width apart on bar starting from the floor – one palm under, one over.
b) Keeping your back flat and lifting with your legs, exhale whilst pulling the bar into top position situated right at waistline.
c) Squeeze shoulder blades together for 1-second hold.
d) Slowly exhale and bend knees to lower the weight back to starting position.
Sets and Reps: 4 x 10
DEADLIFT FORM: – Very Important
✓ Your feet should be spaced hip-width apart with your grip just outside your legs.
✓ Your back should be flat—neutral spine—from start to finish.
✓ The bar should remain in contact with your legs for the entire range of motion.
✓ Your hips and knees should move in concert to transfer the bar from the ground to an upper-thigh, locked position.
TOP TIP: Keep your lats flexed throughout the movement. This will not only keep your form tight and reduce injury but also increase mind-muscle connection for other isolation exercises.
Exercise #3 Barbell Rows
The barbell row is a great exercise for an overall mass building as well as tying in all the loose ends of the back. Being bent over and holding the weight out in front of you is working the spinal erectors as well as the lower back.
The actual rowing motion works the traps and lats. This exercise will help you achieve your mile-wide back!
a) Start exercise with hands on top of the bar about shoulder-width apart.
b) Bend over to where the back is near parallel with the ground.
c) Pull the weight to your midsection by retracting the shoulder blades and squeezing at the top of the movement.
d) Slowly lower the weight back down, but keeping tension on the traps/lats.
Sets and Reps: 4 x 8-12
TOP TIP: Flip your grip to change which muscles are being worked. Having your hands on the bar will target your middle and upper traps. Using an underhand grip will mainly target the length of the lats!
Exercise #4 Lat Pulldowns
The pull-up is a great move to hammer out but want one that’s even more isolated? Try some pulldowns on a cable pulley machine. Placing the hands out wide will ultimately work the width of the lats and moving the hands closer together will work the middle/upper traps.
This can be a highly effective movement but can be completely ruined if not perform strictly and correctly.
a) Take up a wide grip on the pull-down machine, ensuring scapula is retracted and shoulders are back – palms forward (thumb over bar also.)
b) Tighten your core tight and lean slightly backwards.
c) Slowly begin to pull the bar down to top of chest just under the collarbone and squeeze the shoulder blades together at bottom of the movement.
d) Return to the starting position while still retaining control on the way back up.
Sets and Reps: 3 x 8-12
TOP TIP: Only pull the bar down in front of the chest. Pulling behind the neck has been attributed to rotator cuff injuries to the tremendous amount of stress it places on the shoulder capsule. Keep your elbows at about a 30-degree angle in the plane of motion from your upright torso.
Exercise #5 DB One-Arm Rows
The one-arm row is a classic movement in bodybuilding because of its isolation properties. You can really target the traps or target the lats- whatever you are aiming for.
Also, doing this one arm at a time, you will be able to get a little better contraction and mind-muscle connection be solely focusing on the one side being worked. To perform these, grab a flat or incline bench for the opposite hand and knee for stabilization.
a) Grab a dumbbell of preferred weight – setup on a bench with opposite hand and knee on the bench (like above.)
b) Keeping your back straight and neck in line, pull the weight just underneath the chest by retracting the shoulder blade to start the movement.
c) Pull the weight with just the muscles of the back with as little biceps involvement as possible.
d) Slowly lower the weight back to starting position.
Sets and Reps: 4 x 10-12
TOP TIP: Sometimes lowering the weight will mean leaving your ego at the door but will lead to better contractions. Choose a weight that you can control throughout the movement.
Take Home Message
✓ Don’t be afraid to consume carbs for strength and energy to lift.
✓ A pre-workout supplement 30 minutes before training will increase energy and focus.
✓ Eat protein and carbs post-workout.
✓ Keep getting 8 hours of sleep!