Adding muscle mass to the back, the largest muscle group in the human body, is a must for fitness freaks. Men love the feeling of having a broad V-shaped body.
It is a fact that many of the professional bodybuilding competitions are won majorly because of a solid back.
Many amateur bodybuilders do not focus on the back, judging their bodies just by what they see in the mirror. The truth is: a good back can be noticed even from the front.
Thumb rule: Stop obsessing over the tiny details such as forearms, biceps, etc. and give the back all the attention it deserves.
Muscle density is very important when it comes to sculpting a wider back. What are the benefits of having a wide back?
- The upper body appears larger and stronger. A big back will be ideal to support other muscle groups too. An increase in lifting strength can be noticed while working with other muscle groups in the body.
- It helps correct the posture while performing other exercises. Proper form is of paramount importance if you are a regular gymmer. If you are not doing it correctly, you are only training for injury. A wider back helps protect your spine while performing under heavy load.
- A thick back gives the illusion of a smaller waist to others.
Anatomy of the Back:
Located on the rear part of the torso, the primary function of back muscles is to bring the arms back and in the downward direction. The back has four major muscle groups:
- The Latissimus Dorsi, popularly known as “lats”, is the broadest muscle in the back region. It is somewhat a triangular muscle that connects to the Teres Major/Minor and Rhomboids. These muscles are located under the armpit and bring the arms down.
- The Teres Major/Minor And Rhomboids are attached to the lats. The function of these muscles is stabilizing the shoulders.
- The Trapezius muscle is located on the base of the neck region. These extend till the midpoint of the back. The main function of Trapezius muscle is lift and rotation of the shoulders.
- The Spinal Erectors in the waist region are involved in supporting the spine.
Here we cover some routines for building a thicker back and some of the most effective exercises.
Exercise 1: Wide Grip Pullups
Many people use this as a warm-up exercise before hitting the back in different angles, but wide grip pullups in itself is a perfect mass builder for the back. It causes the highest stimulation in the muscles, which is great for building a wider back.
Steps for wide grip pullups:
1. To do this exercise, hang your body against a firmly placed rod. Ensure that the palms are faced outwards, and the width is more than your shoulder width. Wide grip pullups focus primarily on the lats muscle, but also require considerable shoulder and arm strength.
2. Extending the arms fully in front of you, in the chosen grip, create a slight curvature of approximately 30 degrees by pushing your chest out. It is the initial position of the exercise.
3. Pull your body up until your upper chest is at the same level as the bar. Exhale while you move up and inhale deeply as you come back to the initial position. It is counted as one repetition.
4. Doing wide grip pullups till failure is a good idea.
Focus on the squeezing of lat muscles as you are in the final position. Also, pay attention to the stability of your body.
Try to eliminate unnecessary motion of the body, only your shoulders and arms should move.
Concentrate on stretching the lat muscles fully when you go down to the starting position.
Exercise 2: Inverted pull-ups
Many beginners find it tough to lift their bodies against the body weight. There are pull-up assist machines that decrease the load considerably. In the absence of such a machine, using a spot will be a good idea.
Alternately, you can try out inverted pull-ups on the smith machine.
You can set the bar at different heights; pick up a comfortable height to start with and gradually decrease the height so that it gets difficult to set after set since the body is laid back further.
On the flipside, advanced bodybuilders can add extra weights in the form of plates to work against higher resistance.
Exercise 3: Rowing One Arm Dumbbells
Dumbbell rows: This is one of the best movement exercises for the lats, rhomboids, and traps. Guys particularly love this exercise because it is easy to work with the heaviest weights.
One arm dumbbell rows can be done by placing the right leg on a bench, and gripping a suitable weight dumbbell with the left hand.
Steps for One arm dumbbell rows:
1. Bend your torso in a way that your upper body is parallel to the bench. Stretch your hands out completely and squeeze your lat muscles a bit.
2. Pull the dumbbell weight with your arm close to your left side. Focus completely on squeezing the lat muscles. Many people use an incorrect form where the arms are used more than the lats.
3. Use the correct weight to ensure that majority of the load is focused on your lats. Once you are done with the required number of reps, do the same with the right hand.
Exercise 4: Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows
You can try out two arm dumbbell rows too. Use an incline bench and rest your upper body on the incline while still in the standing position. Or alternately, you can do the bent over dumbbell row.
Steps for Bent over dumbbell rows:
1. With appropriate dumbbell weights in each hand and your knees bent slightly, bring the upper body forward keeping the back as straight as possible. Lift the dumbbells to your sides and feel the squeeze in your back muscles.
2. Lower the dumbbells again to come back to the starting position. Make sure that your head is up throughout the repetitions. You can do this till failure or the recommended amount of reps.
Do not round the back as this might lead to back injuries. For people having a sore back, using a pulley row is recommended to do this exercise.
Using a barbell for rowing is good too. Barbell rows are perhaps the best exercise for feeling the contraction in the muscles.
Exercise 5: T-Bar Row With Barbell
T-bar row: T-bar row is an advanced level exercise to add thickness to the back. It is a machine in many good gymnasiums. However, one can perform this exercise with a thick barbell too. (the one that you use while performing bench chest presses)
Steps for T-bar row with barbell:
1. Place a barbell in the corner of the gym, put a heavy plate at one end, a suitable weight that you can lift. Bend over so that your torso is at an angle of 45 degrees to the ground.
2. Extend both your hands and lift the barbell either with your hands or using a V-grip handle. Pull the weights till the plates touch your chest.
3. Make sure your lower back is in arched naturally to avoid putting too much pressure on it.
4. Do the suggested number of reps. Four sets of 10, 8, 6, 4 reps each is a good way to build a thick back.
One must have a strong core to perform this exercise; it is suggested that only intermediate and advanced gymmers should try it. This exercise targets the middle back, traps and rear deltoids.
Pull-ups give you wider lats, but if you want to load dense back muscles, rowing is a must.
The three most important factors while you train your back are compression of the back muscles, the range of motion and contraction in the muscles.
As far as the back is concerned, the contraction is a little tough to feel. Getting the mind-muscle connection while training arms, for example, is easier, than in the case of lats or other back muscles.
Beginners can train their back with Smith machine rows. Gradually, they can move on to barbell rows that hit the muscles very well.
Seated cable rows have a good effect in the addition of back muscle mass too. It is important to hit the back in various angles, thereby facilitating the growth of muscle tissues while you rest.
Exercise 6: Wide grip pulls downs
Lat pull downs is a great exercise for beginners as well as advanced gymmers.
Wide grip pull downs hit the lats well, in fact, many beginners get stronger at performing this workout to see some benefits while performing pull ups.
Steps for lat pull-downs:
1. Rest on a lat pull-down and grip the bar with a width more than the shoulder width. Adjust the knee pad so that you can rest your legs easily. It ensures that you can avoid unnecessary movement in the vertical direction, and the maximum intensity is put on the lats.
2. With the palms facing in the front direction, pull the bar towards your body at an angle of approximate 30 degrees. Create a short curvature by sticking the chest out.
3. Touch the bar almost till your chest and squeeze the muscles to feel the contraction.
4. Do a warm up set before increasing the weight loaded gradually.
Note that only the arms should move throughout this exercise. Also, many people do the mistake of pulling the bar with the forearms, thus failing to optimize the benefits of this exercise.
Close grip pull downs involve placing the hands at a distance lesser than shoulder width. You can perform this exercise with a straight bar or a V-bar.
Many people perform the behind-the-neck variations of pull downs, but that is not recommended as it can cause injury to the rotator cuffs.
Exercise 7: Deadlifts
Deadlifts are one of the best compound exercises for the overall development of a muscular body. For people with pre-existing
Lower back problems, this is not recommended, though. Perhaps starting with simple dumbbell deadlifts is a good starting point.
More than a focused muscle group, this exercise is great for building overall muscle mass, synthesize protein in the body. Probably that is why it is known as the king of muscle builders.
Especially for the upper back muscles, it is an efficient workout.
Steps for deadlifts:
1. Place a barbell loaded with suitable plate weights. Keep your back as straight as you can and bend the knees.
2. Bend in the front direction and grip the barbell with a shoulder width. You can use wrist straps for a better handle.
3. Stand in front of a loaded barbell. With a firm grip on the bar, start lifting the weight with your legs and back until you reach the straight position. Stick the chest muscles out and bring back the shoulder blades.
4. Consider doing a warm up set before you move on to the main sets.
Never round your back, as this can lead to serious injury. Consider taking the help of a trainer in the gym who can show you good form.
Romanian deadlift is another variation you can try out. In this exercise, you will push the weight with your hips and not bend down fully as in the traditional deadlifts.
Exercise 8: Barbell Good Mornings
For the lower back, stiff-legged barbell good mornings is a great exercise.
Steps for stiff-legged barbell good mornings:
1. With a barbell firmly placed on your shoulders, bend your upper body forward and keep your heads up throughout the range of motion.
2. Lower the torso till your body is parallel to the floor.
3. Repeat till you reach the recommended number of reps. Glutes and hamstrings are the secondary muscles trained in this exercise.
Perform 4-5 of these exercises to get those wings. Ensure your nutrition is good, and you get adequate rest to recover from the intense training sessions in the gym. A sample routine that you can try out is:
Wide grip pull-ups: 3 sets till failure
Deadlifts: 4 sets of 10,8,6,4 reps.
Rowing (cable rows or barbell rows): 4 sets of 10,8,6,4 reps
Lat pull-downs: 4 sets of 10,8,6,4 reps
One arm cable row or T-bar row: 4 sets of 10,8,6,4 reps
You can also train biceps with back as exercises in both use a pulling mechanism. Biceps anyway are trained when you hit the back.
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