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Improve the proportions of your back

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 the feel of the contractions and technique all the more.
As expressed in another article, an important key to effective back training lies 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 and 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 should also take equal priority.
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 lower backs are greater developed, 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.
By Pulling Down I’m referring to the direction of resistance, obviously this includes “chins/pull-ups/lat pull downs” 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 mentioned that, you could argue that by using wide-grip alone you could build a pretty decent back and really spread the lats out!
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 backs depth/thickness. The cable rows work the middle/central area possibly more than the others but for that sheer “powerful” look you’d be hard pressed to beat bent-over rows with both barbell and dumbbells and a T-Bar.
No back workout should be undertaken without the inclusion of at least one of these movements (compound row). 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 the 2 movements or vice versa. Look to prioritise your weaknesses, using the Priority Training technique (see relevant article) and you’ll be well on your way to creating the back you’ve always wanted!
The exception to the rule is obviously deadlifting which is a great exercise for the entire back. Deadlifts add plenty of thickness and are ideally done at the beginning of workouts due to the energy levels they demand. If you have no intentions of competing with deadlifting then don’t use this movement excessively due to it potentially causing injury and excessive muscle thickness to your trunk/waist.
However, do your research on the stiff-legged/Romanian variety, your hamstrings, glutes and lower back stand to benefit greatly from a lot less resistance and risk to injury.


Disclaimer: All exercises on this site are intended for healthy individuals without any present medical conditions. If you are currently experiencing any bone, joint, or musculoskeletal pain, we advise you to consult a licensed health care professional prior to commencing any of the exercises suggested within this site. The author, editor, and publisher specifically disclaim all responsibility and liability for any injury arising from the use and application of the information provided within this site.

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