The muscles of the back can be tricky to develop, no other muscles rely as heavily on the ‘mind-muscle’ connection such as these. This is because we cannot actively see these muscles easily, we have to focus on ‘feel’ and technique all the more. As expressed in an earlier tip the key to effective back training lays within ‘arching’ your lower back.
This will not only ensure that your back’s doing all the work (as your antagonistic muscles – in this case the abs are stretched) but you’ll also be able to breathe easier as well as having a much greater feel for what areas of the back are being stressed, in other words – what exercises are doing what.
But what exercises are doing what? That’s the key question to ask in order to improve our proportions. We know the type of look we want to create, most of us desire that impressive ‘V-taper’ but also don’t wish to disappear when we turn to the side – so the thickness/density of the back takes equal priority also.
Problem is few of us have ‘perfectly balanced’ lats to begin with, some are naturally wide but lack depth, some are relative dense to begin with but lack width, some low, some high – all this can add to the problems we already face due to the backs natural location.
So going back to the original question, what exercises do what? Upon knowing this we can begin to customise our workouts so we can work towards some significant improvements and develop that impressive back!
Essentially the answer (as you’d expect) is relatively simple, although there is as you can also imagine a certain degree of over-lap.
‘Pulling Down’ movements = Width.
‘Pulling In’ movements = Depth/Thickness.
Lets deal with ‘Pulling Down’ movements first:
By ‘Pulling Down’ I’m referring to the direction of resistance, obviously this includes ‘chins/pull-ups’ too. These type of movements generally work the muscles of the upper back and recruit their fair share of deltoid/trap fibres as well. Please note the close grips will work the rear deltoids more as opposed to the wide grips which will stress the side deltoids more – both will work the traps and the upper back. To be fair my favourite is the close grip, I genuinely believe this works more of the back and by ‘stressing’ the rear deltoids (almost always overlooked) they give the upper back a more complete look. Having said that, you could argue that by using wide-grip ‘chins’ alone you could build a pretty decent back! My advice is to find what brings about the most muscle soreness for you; but try to factor in both grips into each and every back routine.
‘Pulling In’ movements develop the middle to lower areas of the back and largely determine the said areas depth/thickness. The cable rows work the middle/central area possible more than the others but for that sheer ‘powerful’ look you can’t beat ‘bent-over’ rows with both barbell and dumbbells and ‘T-Bar rows.’ No back workout should be undertaken without the inclusion of at least one of these movements. ‘Bent-over’ rows for the back are as fundamental as the bench press is for the chest, they are just opposing movements for opposing muscles groups, you wouldn’t train your chest without pressing would you?
So there you have it, look to train the back hard over 12-16 working sets with a mixture of rep ranges between 1-5, 6-12 and 12+. Give your back an honest review and tailor your workout accordingly with whatever ratio you believe will address your weaknesses. This may be a 60/40, 70/30, or even an 80/20 ratio between ‘Pulling Down’ and ‘Pulling In’ movements or vice versa. Look to prioritise your weaknesses, using the Priority Training technique (previous tip) and you’ll be well on your way to creating the back you’ve always wanted!
The exception to this tip is obviously ‘Dead-lifting’ which is a great exercise for the entire back. Dead-lifts add plenty of thickness and are ideally done at the beginning of workouts due to the energy levels they demand. If you choose to factor in this movement to your back routine, group it alongside the ‘Pulling In’ movements, yes there is some over-lap as stated but dead-lifts focus on the lower and middle back a little more than the muscles of the upper back.