Whether you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or generally athletic for your chosen sport, a strong and wide back will provide tremendous benefits performance wise as well as aesthetically. Unfortunately, it is easy to forget about developing your back as you don’t normally see it and it is easy to focus more on your front or “show muscles” (i.e. chest, abs, and biceps). When this happens over a period of months or even years of undertraining pulling movements and overtraining pushing movements it can lead to many physical side effects.
Besides having an unbalanced physique, it can cause terrible posture in the form of rounded forward shoulders as well as tight pectorals and deltoids that could lead to injury. By training your lats, rhomboids, erector spinae, rear delts and traps as much as you train your chest, front/side delts and abs you will be balancing out your physique for a better look as well as fixing any strength/posture imbalances you may have. In this article, we will be going over some of the most effective and simple back workouts to gain size and strength.
The Best Back Exercises You Should Be Doing
Sometimes called the king of all exercises, the deadlift plays a vital role in any strength or aesthetically oriented routine. While some train deadlifts on leg day and some train it on back day (or pull day), it can honestly be done at the beginning of any workout since it works out almost every muscle in your body to an extent.
While the main focus is on the hamstrings, glutes, traps and low back (erector muscles), this can be influenced depending what stance you take. A wider foot stance (outside of your arms shoulder width apart) also known as sumo stance will put more tension and work on the hamstrings and glutes. A more narrow foot stance (with your feet at or closer than shoulder width apart inside of your arms) also known as conventional stance, will put more focus on your lower back and traps.
No matter what day you include deadlifts on, it is imperative that you program them first into your routine before even squats and bench press. Since it is quite easy to break down form and injure yourself performing the deadlift, starting a workout (after a proper warm-up) with them is the safest way to ensure you aren’t already fatigued from any other exercises as well as you will have more energy to push yourself when you are fresh. Choose what stance suits you best, train in low and high rep ranges, and don’t neglect this important exercise for back strength and development!
A very useful and functional workout indeed, pull-ups wide or close grip, over or under grip, will all help you grow your back. Like deadlifts though, your hand position will influence which muscles will be the main movers of the exercise. Wide grip pull ups have been utilized traditionally to lengthen your lats and increase your spread.
When done with no momentum (dead stop at the bottom of the movement) wide grip will also stimulate your lower trap muscles, rear delts, and biceps to some degree. Close grip while still working your lats and traps will mainly focus on your biceps. Doing a combination of both workouts on a weekly basis will yield the best results from the exercise.
Luckily it is easy to accommodate different training levels from beginners to advanced lifters with pull-ups. For beginners who can’t complete around five strict pull-ups can use a resistance band wrapped around the pull-up bar and your foot to simulate you being lighter. This can be used until you can work up to strict pull-ups with your bodyweight.
For those who can complete more than 12 pulls ups should think about adding weight to make the exercise more difficult as well as stimulate new strength and hypertrophy gains whether it be in the form of holding a dumbbell between your feet or using a weight belt. As a staple of any lifting program, pull-ups are a great way to keep you on top of your relative strength in proportion to your bodyweight (especially when bulking).
Bent Over Row
With countless variations, the bent over row is a very useful exercise to grow your back and fix any posture issues you might have. When using a barbell it is easy to get ahead of yourself and load on the plates but it is important to check your ego and keep your form tight with a weight you can handle on this exercise as it puts your low back in a vulnerable position.
After picking up the bar a bit wider than shoulder width and bending over around 45 degrees it is important to lock your entire body in place and move only your arms through the range of motion to isolate your back (instead of your lower body taking over to get the reps).
You can utilize an overhand grip which primarily contracts the lats, traps, rear delts, or an underhand grip which gives your biceps a bit more stimulation along with working the lats, traps and rear delts.
Other variations of this workout can be done with your chest on an incline bench and be using dumbbells which can help take the pressure off your low back, “Pendley rows” which has the barbell starting on the floor and intensely picking it up towards your ribs to increase explosiveness and many other variations. Implement as many of these as you can to keep your body guessing and the gains coming.
Performed with a cable machine, the lat pulldown is a great alternative to those who are working their way up to being able to do bodyweight pull ups but is also a great auxiliary workout to supplement pull-ups.
Leaning back at about a 45-degree angle you want to grip the bar overhand the same distance apart you would for your pull-ups (or closer and underhand for chin-ups) and control the weight down until it is as close to your chest as possible. Some like to let the bar go up slow and stretch their lats on the way up while others don’t like the full extension believing it will keep the time under tension consistent.
This decision is up to you as long as you control the weight the entire range of motion and keep your form strict. Working the same muscle groups as a pull up, lat pulldowns also have a large amount of variations including single arm which helps stabilization as well as imbalances, a bar with a neutral grip with your hands facing each other which some prefer to feel their lats work more, and the close grip accessory to mimic a semi chin up with a neutral grip, among many others.
Take Home Message
There you have it, a few of the best and effective back workouts to achieve a great v-taper, defined muscularity to stand out and balanced strength with your chest and arms to keep a balanced and healthy body. Whether you do back day by itself, a pull day with back and biceps, upper and lower body days or even full body workouts don’t be afraid to implement these exercises liberally in your routine with both heavyweight and lightweight to maximize strength and size gains.