Most casual lifters don’t spend the same amount of time training their back then they do their chest and biceps. That’s a big mistake if you want a proportional muscular body because an impressive wide and thick back will undoubtedly draw attention. It increases your chest circumference measurements and gives you that “power” look from the side and back. You don’t have to walk around pretending to have a big back by flaring your arms out anymore if you have a decent-sized back to match your chest proportionately. So learn how to train it correctly and build bigger back muscles.
The back muscles comprise of 3 main sections; latissimus Dorsi (middle back), trapezius (upper back), and Rhomboids (“inner” back). Together they are responsible for the pulling motion of resistance through your arms as the primary extension involved. When you do a dumbbell or barbell row, you are really pulling the weight over a distance. You’re pulling a certain type of resistance over gravity. When a back pulling exercise is done correctly, your biceps activate and contract to initiate the pulling movement over that distance and the back bears the brunt of the load as the primary mover.
Training the back and biceps isn’t mutually exclusive. This is why it’s recommended you build up to using the big poundages with back compound lifts if you want bigger biceps. There are 2 different types of back exercises, which strength and conditioning specialists and exercise physiologists have categorized into vertical pull and horizontal pull back exercises.
Vertical pull are exercises that involves you to pull the weight while standing up or hanging in a vertical position from a bar or lever. Vertical pulling exercises requires you to either pull your entire body up and then lower with the arms as an extension or pull a bar/dumbbell up. The exercises include:
- Upright barbell or dumbbell rows
- Chinups and pullups – do them weighted with dumbbells, weight vest, or weight belt
- Lateral pulldown – use a variety of different grips including pronated, supinated, and neutral grip
- Deadlift – use dumbbells, barbell, or trap bar for trap bar deadlift
You will find that you’re able to handle less weight with these movements because you have no platform or weight bench to support your body. Your body is the support itself. Deadlifts, chinups and pullups can also be considered full body movements.
Horizontal pulling exercises require bending over or lying on a support, like a weight bench, or being suspended horizontally with rings, so the torso is parallel or near parallel to the floor. Exercises include:
- Dumbbell and barbell rows
- T-bar rows
- Bench rows
- Body rows on rings
These 8 exercises are the primary horizontal pull and vertical pull lifts for getting a bigger and thicker back. Your back routine should consist primarily of these main movements or variations of these lifts for building a strong and muscular back. Use different rep schemes within the bodybuilding ranges, 5-8 reps and 8-12 reps. Alternate reps of 5-8, 8-10, and 10-12 reps and even going heavier to 3-5 reps on occassion through different training cycles.
Use shock techniques like forced reps, rest pause sets, ultra high repetition sets (as high as 25 reps), compound supersets, regular supersets, and long eccentrics/negatives. Use controlled and good form. Lift explosively on the concentric or “up” phase but keep it controlled on the eccentric or “down” phase of any back lift. Focus on squeezing and contracting your back muscles as you pull up.
The back responds very well to heavy weights. Look up to barbell rowing with good form using 300 lbs or deadlifting 400 lbs and I guarantee you’ll have a big back to match your strength. Progressive overload can be applied with step loading using a target rep range. Here’s an example below using the barbell row for a target rep range of 5-8 reps, starting weight of barbell row at 100 lbs in week 1
- week 1: 100 lbs for 5 reps
- week 2: 100 lbs for 7 reps
- week 3: 100 lbs for 8 reps, now you’ve hit your target 8 reps, time to increase the weight for next week
- week 4: 105 lbs for 5 reps
- week 5: 105 lbs for 6 reps
- week 6: 105 lbs for 7 reps
- week 7: 105 lbs for 8 reps, you’ve reached your target again so it’s time to increase the weight again for the next week
- week 8: 110 lbs for 5 reps
So in 8 weeks (2 months), you increased 10 lbs on your personal best for the barbell row, not bad at all.
As you see, step loading requires you to slowly and gradually build up to using heavier weights week after week. When you stall for several weeks at the same weight, drop the weight by 10 pounds and build back up to a new personal record. Keep on repeating the loading cycles until you stall for more than a month, then switch exercises and use the step loading technique again. This is how you build pure functional strength and this is how you get stronger in the long term.
Use these tips and get on the road to building bigger and fuller back muscles.
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