What Are The Best Back Building Exercises?
If you’d like a thick, wide and strong rear, then seriously look into the chances of doing these workouts and exercises.
When I first started, my gym sessions were similar to most other guys on the floor, who wanted to get all ripped but didn’t know exactly where and how to start.
A lot of focus was put on the biceps and chest with the shoulders, back and legs often getting the snub.
My mistakes helped me learn quite a few things, and I started focusing on my proportions (which needed some work on the back):
My lats especially needed a bit of extra work.
Therefore, in this write-up about best back exercises, I would like to share what are the best back building exercises (according to me), along with some crucial elements needed to carve an impressive back.
Similar to the majority of muscle groups, considerable work is essential for making the back stand out. It’s not just about the dumbbell rows and pull-ups, which I used to do before.
Fortunately enough, things aren’t complicated, especially if you know what you’re up to. And I would like to break all the things down for your knowledge – the ideal back exercises, the way I program workouts, etc.
I am confident that if you religiously follow my instructions and adopt a healthy lifestyle, your back will eventually become stronger and bigger.
More About Back Muscles
The primary four muscles accounting for the major portion of the back, and which you should be focusing on are the:
- Erector spinae
- Latissimus dorsi
Along with these muscles, there are some other smaller muscle bundles too: the teres minor and major, and infraspinatus.
Now, this is what your goal should be with regard to holistic back development:
- Huge, but not overly developed, traps which set up the higher back.
- Broad lats that stretch low below the torso, creating the much allured V-taper.
- Huge rhomboids that develop “valleys” upon flexing.
- Clear infraspinatus and teres muscles development and isolation.
- A profuse, Christmas tree-like shape in the lower region.
Let’s begin with a few fundamental principles of back exercising, and later we shall focus on back workout samples and recommendations.
The Basic Back-Training Science
The two major errors the majority of people commit during their back training sessions are:
1) Working with incorrect back exercises.
Several people lay emphasis on excessive machines and separation exercises, which don’t play a major role in erecting a thick, deep and powerful looking rear.
2) Focus on high-rep exercising.
Making this mistake would limit the growth and development of all the primary body muscle groups and is especially instrumental in a multifaceted and major muscle groups such as the back.
I can understand if the aforementioned points contradict most of what you’ve assumed and learned about back training, or general weightlifting till date.
I had this habit of working with every back machine that I came across and thought the machine responded well to higher reps and lower weights.
Well, among the major lessons I have learned about natural muscle-building and lifting is the higher the emphasis on heavy lifting and compound movements, the better are the results.
And in the case of back training, it means tremendous heavy rows and deadlifts with additional exercises such as chin-ups and pull-ups.
However, you could probably be thinking how international models and fitness enthusiasts manage to do an insane number of reps with shoulder workouts, resulting in cannonball shoulders.
But that needs the same level of dedication too.
Yes, this may sound discouraging to newbies, but it’s a fact that needs confrontation.
When proper steroids take center stage, it becomes astonishingly simple to attain huge muscle growth within a short time span. Just spend time in the gym for some hours every day performing back-to-back repetitions, multiple exercises, and the muscles will become bigger with time.
In fact, with steroids, it is usually recommended that major focus is put on high-rep training.
Steroids help with rapid muscle buildup, but do not help the ligaments and tendons keep up. As a result, weights that are usually manageable may be overwhelming for the connective tissues.
This is usually how steroid consumers damage their joints.
Anyway, let’s get back to our main point of discussion.
Due to the back training errors, you only end up with a V-taper and nothing else. Basically, that is only a set of lats sans any separation and thickness in the lower or middle portions.
A proper back exercise conditions the lats but does not simply isolates them and ignores the remaining. In fact, the focus is on the prime movers.
The strategy is quite simple:
1) When working out the back, focus on heavy weightlifting.
If you’d like your back to be strong and big, you must emphasize on the 5 to 7 or 4 to 6 rep range.
2) Adopt exercises that permit a safe and progressive workload.
If you are a natural weightlifter, you can be sure of the truthfulness of the following statement: if you are not getting any stronger, you won’t be getting any bigger.
The first rule for naturally building muscles is a gradual workload, meaning the intensity of the training sessions should be upped incrementally.
There are some exercises that cannot be categorized as either progressive workload or heavy weightlifting. For instance, standing lat pushdowns aren’t deadlifts. Compared to usual front pulldowns, pulldowns behind the neck are inferior.
Another element of back training you should be getting correct is volume, or the number of reps you perform every week.
This is particularly crucial when you are performing extensive heavy weightlifting, due to this general rule:
If the reps go heavier, the lower will be the count every week.
Heavier weights require more time for recovery, which means excessive training without self-inflicting an injury is not possible, compared to lighter weights.
I have tried several different frequency schemes and splits. When the training is primarily heavy weights-focused, the optimal volume tends to be close to 60-70 reps performed during a week.
Besides the back, this applies to other primary muscle groups of the body too.
Now that we’ve undergone some fundamental literature on training, let us consider a few of the ideal back workouts for building strength and muscle.
The Best Back Exercises
Similar to other muscle groups, the back also has multiple exercise options or alternatives. But only a handful are truly impactful or necessary.
The following exercises are the ones that have helped me dramatically improve my back. These exercises should help you attain similar results too if done properly.
In any professional weightlifting program, deadlifting is the core.
My back had issues with both size and strength before I started my deadlift routine. Since then, there has been no looking back.
Most people are scared of deadlifting because they believe the exercise can potentially hurt their lower back.
Initially, this fear may look sensible: lifting several hundred pounds off the floor – levying all the pressure on the back, especially on the erector spinae and low-back muscles – would result in a lumbar and thoracic disaster.
However, medical research unfolds a different story.
In fact, when done with proper form, the lift is a great way to prevent lower back injury and build strength.
But, if you’ve had a lower back issue before or have a dysfunction or disease troubling the spot, a deadlift isn’t recommended. I would like you to meet a sports doctor and check if a deadlift will work for you or not.
Okay, once you’ve determined your eligibility for the exercise, know more about proper form.
The Deadlift Setup
1. Your feet must be positioned slightly narrower so that it’s not as wide as the shoulders.
2. Ensure the bar is placed somewhere between your foot’s middle portion and your shins.
The key here being the shoulders should be in proper alignment to the bar, or marginally behind it. This lets maximum leverage when setting the bar into motion. For skinnier or taller lifters, the bar will most likely be against their shins. For thicker or shorter lifters, the placement would be somewhere near the feet’s middle portion.
If the lift bar is very close to the body and the shoulders way over the bar, you should be moving the bar forward when lifting up to get it above your knees. If the placement is too away from the body, you would most likely end up falling in front or would not be able to move upward via your heels.
3. Stand tall projecting your chest and breathe deeply into the diaphragm (not the lungs), like preparing your abs for an impending punch to the stomach.
4. Head under closer to the bar by pushing back your hips; it’s not squatting down straight. Arch your body’s lower part and keep the shoulders down.
Like most newbies, don’t end up bringing the hips extremely low, trying to squat the weight up. The more the hips below optimum positioning, the higher they must elevate before you can carry up the weight away from the floor while pulling, which is only wasted activity.
Rather, you must experience tightness in your hips and hamstrings as you move your body to almost a “half-squat” position. And when your hips start rising, you would like the shoulders to follow suit and the weight beginning to come off the floor.
5. Hold the bar, with either an over-underhand or double-overhead grip, on your shins’ exterior and compress it as much as you can. Ensure your shoulders go down and back and put your lats to work.
6. Don’t face the ceiling or look below at the floor – ensure your head is neutrally positioned.
7. Move your body slightly upward and then revert back as fast you could by exerting pressure via your heels. Keep the elbows hasped in place and slightly arch your lower back.
Make sure your hips and shoulders are moving up simultaneously – do not shoot up your hips without elevating your shoulders at the same time.
8. As you inch closer to the top, compress your glutes so that the hips are pushed via the final movement phase.
Ensure the top core tightness is maintained. Do not release the abs tension.
9. Several people use their knees for breaking the lockout, which is not right. Rather, you must use your hips, reverting to the original position. The bar must be sliding down your thighs.
10. Ensure a stiff lower back arch, keeping the shoulders back and down.
Also note that you must isolate each rep. Do not use the floor to bounce your bar back, which would result in sloppier reps.
The name deadlift exists for a purpose – the weight must be picked when it’s dead, in no motion; using the bounce’s momentum is not right.
Therefore, once the bar gets grounded again, alter your setup stance if needed (breathe in the air, exert pressure on your abs, maintain a good spinal position, puff out your chest, position the shoulder in a downward position, etc.) and take up the next rep intensely.
Putting Them All Together
The Sumo Deadlift
A sumo deadlift incorporates a broad stance (almost 2 times your shoulders’ width) to cut down the shearing force and motion range on the nether back.
Compared to a regular deadlift, the sumo lift may seem much more comforting around the hips, based on your biomechanics (the sumo deadlift will be ideal for you if your toes point out while walking).
The sumo deadlift’s drawback is its decreased motion range, which means lesser work performed.
However, it assists with heavier loading. Therefore, it is difficult to ascertain the kind of approach that’s ideal for holistic muscle development.
I prefer the standard deadlift and recommend it to others too, provided the workout is comfortable or doesn’t place excessive pressure on the nether back. If so, the sumo deadlift would be ideal.
The Hex Bar Deadlift
Also called the trap bar deadlift, the hex bar deadlift is the ideal technique to learn deadlifting, since there isn’t much ankle and hip mobility needed to reach the bar.
Also, the spine undergoes little shearing stress.
Similar to the sumo deadlift, this deadlift technique also lets you lift higher weight loads than a conventional deadlift, making it almost the perfect exercise to develop complete lower body strength.
2. Barbell Row
A barbell row is my staple back workout since it works on everything – right from the traps to the erector spinae.
Personally, I prefer a unique version of the exercise, called Pendlay row (see video below).
It’s my personal favorite because it lets you work on your back via a complete motion range than an erect position.
And if you are slightly concerned about your back, don’t worry. You won’t have any issue while rowing weights, provided the form is kept in and the deadlift is done every week.
However, opt for the traditional row if you think the Pendlay row is not comfortable.
3. Dumbbell Row
The dumbbell row lets you safely overload the upper back with a complete motion range.
4. T-Bar Row
Another worthwhile row variant, the t-bar row is what I prefer doing. I am usually not an admirer of machines, but I don’t have any qualms with the t-bar hammer strength machine.
5. Wide-Grip Pullup
A wide-grip pullup is among the best exercises for building your lats and the middle back portion (particularly once you start gaining strength and can use a dip belt for adding weight).
There are several people who believe a chin-up is sufficient enough. According to me, the exercise is extremely effective, but it must be done together with a wide-grip pull-up since that leads to more emphasis on the biceps.
7. Lat Pulldown (Close- and Wide-Grip)
Lat pulldowns are basically a pullup’s machine variant that lets you exercise in a given range of rep more easily (since you could accurately manage the total weight you should be pulling).
A V-bar attachment is used for performing a close-grip variation.
8. Seated Cable Row (Close- and Wide-Grip)
The seated row is another variant in the series of rows great for building the upper back.
We’re done with the exercises now.
To gain maximum benefits from the aforementioned exercising techniques, doing them is not good enough. You must also keep track of your progress and take your exercise regime to another level with each development. In other words, you must increase the weight whenever you find the existing weight set is not too challenging.
The Ultimate Back Workout
An ideal back training exercise regime would focus on all the important muscles of the area, which includes the lower back portion, with special focus on heavy lifting.
Similar to other muscle groups in the body, your back is likely to benefit from increased rep work, but you should lay emphasis on heavy weightlifting if you’d like to have the best results possible.
Therefore, this is what I would like you to follow for the next two months, at least one time every week.
- Deadlift – Warm ups and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps (close to 85 percent of 1RM)
- Barbell Row – 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps
- Wide-Grip Pullups (if not possible, try doing chin-ups) – 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps
- Optional: One-Arm Dumbbell Rows – 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps
That’s about it. This may look easy, but it’s really not so.
Some miscellaneous remnants:
• You have the choice to take up optional sets.
If you are an expert or professional-level lifter, or you think your existing workout plan isn’t testing your limits, you may perform the last three sets. Though, 9 heavy sets are more than enough.
• Once you’ve reached the height of a particular set’s rep range, you go higher in weight.
For example, if you hit 6 reps on your initial deadlift set, you add in five pounds to every bar parts for the subsequent set and exercise with that heft until you manage to pull up the weight for 6 reps, and thereon.
• Take a rest of 3 minutes between every set of 4 to 6 reps, a couple of minutes of rest between sets comprising 6 to 8 repetitions, and a minute gap between sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.
Getting sufficient rest between the sets is crucial because the breathing gap gives your muscles time to recover or gain its complete strength, which eventually helps you give your maximum effort to every set.
• Ensure you are on a healthy diet.
A majority of regular people and fitness enthusiasts are aware of the fact that protein majorly contributes to our body’s muscle growth and overall frame. But very few know that calorie consumption plays an important role as well.
By now, you probably realize the way you train and eat determine how seemingly impossible or incredibly simple losing fat and building muscle will be. My journey to enlightenment wasn’t easy.
I had to go through a lot of hardships, and in the process, I ended up making several mistakes. I am sharing my training secrets with you so that you can cut to the chase and not waste time on things that don’t work.