One of the toughest areas to target in Bodybuilding is the back, which is made up several different muscles which all need to be worked in equal measure to achieve a full symmetrical look.
From your rhomboids and lats to your serratus and obliques, each distinct portion of the back must be trained specifically to some extent for maximum results. Compound movements are crucial but isolation exercises are equally important, otherwise, you may find yourself lagging in a few key areas which will ultimately hold you back in the long run – strength and aesthetics wise.
No well-rounded physique is complete without a strong back – top to bottom – because the muscle groups within are so incredibly important to your overall performance, wellbeing and growth.
Building a broad, defined back with strong traps, huge lats and a solid middle portion takes a lot of time and effort but you will absolutely reap the rewards in the long run.
Many people tend to focus on muscle groups that can be prominently shown off on a day to day basis, including pectorals, biceps and shoulders, which is all well and good, but if you neglect to train your back regularly too, everything will be out of proportion.
The good news is, back day can often be the most enjoyable day of the week in the gym.
Most movements will require you to pull weight in towards you, which allows you to lift heavier loads, thusly promoting higher levels of testosterone and muscle growth.
Before we delve into the nitty-gritty details of specific workouts, I will first go into greater detail on the main time-honoured exercises associated with building a wide, lean and strong back you can be proud of.
Essential back exercises
Deadlifts – Widely considered to be the ultimate test of strength, the deadlift is a compound movement which brings every muscle group in the body into play, but first and foremost it is designed to build up your lower back.
Good form is absolutely essential with this particular exercise to avoid muscular strain or severe injury and the use of a belt is advised to help maintain a stable neutral spine.
It is as simple as it sounds, you are literally lifting a dead weight off the ground, but it is really all about driving up through your hips to work your hamstrings and lower back.
Wide-grip Pull-ups – No other exercise hits your upper back as efficiently as pull-up’s but they can be extremely difficult to perform if you are new to the gym or carrying a little bit of extra body weight.
Hanging from a bar or handles on a squat rack or cable machine, arms shoulder width apart, the basic premise is to hang at full stretch before pulling yourself up, which forces the muscles in the top of your back to contract while also bringing your biceps into play.
Bent over barbell rows – Holding a barbell out in front of you, you will start bent over with your knees slightly bent, before pulling the weight in towards your abdominal region.
This is one of the best exercises for increasing overall size and strength and depending on the angle of your back, you can hit multiple muscle groups in one go.
Single-arm dumbbell rows – A fantastic unilateral movement, this type of rowing forces you to use each side of your body independently, successfully isolating your lower lats.
Keeping your elbows in and your chest up with a neutral spine is crucial when performing this exercise, as is picking a weight you can manage for 8-12 repetitions per set.
Close-grip cable pulldowns – This exercise is performed by setting up the cable machine on one side with two handles attached at the very top, then pulling down into your lower chest from a kneeling or seated position.
The main benefit of using this narrow grip is the greater range of motion it can produce, which is great for building width and strength in the upper lats.
The ultimate back workout
Now here we are, the holy grail of back sessions which will incorporate the exercises I have mentioned above, as well as few more great movements which can be used to complement them in a super-set or tri-set depending on your preference.
What makes this workout so effective is the use of different training methods – no one set follows the exact same format as any other. This is vital in keeping your body guessing and creating the perfect environment for lean muscle growth.
I must first stress the importance of warming up properly before starting any intense bout of physical exertion, which helps to prevent joint pain, injuries and delayed onset muscle soreness.
Train smart and efficiently at all times and above all else enjoy yourself in the gym!
Let’s get into it, starting with once again, the most famous and revered exercise of them all, the deadlift.
Exercise 1 – Deadlifts & Shrugs:
- 4 sets of Deadlifts, 4-6 reps – 70-90% 1RM*
- Complete 3 more sets straight after on a lower weight between 40-60% 1RM, shrugging at the top of the movement.
- Targeting the lower back and hamstrings while also bringing the traps into play with extra shrugs towards the end.
- The extra three sets here will help in warming down and staying flexible after the heavy lifts at the start.
Exercise 2 – Wide-Grip pull-ups & bent-over rows superset:
- 4 sets back to back, 6-10 reps on each exercise.
- Maintain a neutral spine during both movements and control your weight in the downward phase slowly.
- Both exercises will help to increase the overall width of your back by targeting the major muscle groups.
- Performing them as part of a superset helps to increase testosterone and tear your muscle fibres more effectively.
Exercise 3 – Close grip lat pulldowns & standing lat pushdowns:
- 4 sets back to back, 8-12 reps on each exercise
- Be sure to use a wide bar on the pushdowns and set the handle up at its highest point for a full range of motion.
- When performed correctly these two movements are great for a full stretch in your back while helping to promote lean muscle growth and thicker lats.
- Again incorporating a superset helps to raise the overall intensity of your workout and push your body to work even harder.
Exercise 4 – Single arm dumbbell rows:
- 4 sets of 10 reps, between 60-80% 1RM
- As I already touched on when introducing this exercise above, single arms rows are great for isolating your lower lats if performed correctly with your elbows tucked in nicely.
- This movement is similar to a superset, in the fact that you need to perform more reps to complete one clean run through, which is again brilliant for increasing testosterone levels.
Exercise 5 – Lat pull-down machine drop sets:
- 1 x 10 repetitions between 70-90% 1RM + 1 x 10 reps between 40-60% 1RM = 1 full set
- Perform two complete sets, dropping the weight down after your first.
- By this point, you will be feeling worn out and your muscles will be burning, which is why drop-sets is the perfect way to overload them before you finish your session.
- Using a machine ensures you maintain strict form while hitting your lats for the last time with an intense burst, which is sure to pump your muscles with blood.
*1RM – One rep max
I bet you feel worn out after getting to this point!
But trust me, while this workout is definitely as gruelling as it sounds in writing, it is also in equal parts fulfilling and enjoyable.
By pushing yourself to your limits and experiments with different training techniques, you force your body to adapt to a new stimulus which ultimately leads to maximal growth.
While I do not recommend following this session to the letter every time you train back in the gym, I do advise that you keep using supersets, drop sets, volume training etc. to help keep your routine fresh and avoid unwanted plateaus.
I must also stress that whatever commitment you put in at the gym must be matched outside of it by your nutritional habits and recovery rituals, which is actually even more crucial than the lifting side of your quest for physical prowess and mental wellbeing.
Stay well nourished and rest efficiently in between sessions while working out at maximum intensity throughout the week and you will see amazing results in no time.
Bodybuilding is a fine art and there are no shortcuts to carving out a new more defined symmetrical and well-rounded physique.
Take on board everything you have learned from this article and start working towards a stronger, fitter and happier you, with a wide imposing back to show off next time you set off on holiday for a well-earned rest.