Many people neglect their back because it’s not really a “show muscle” like the pecs, delts and arms. But this is a big mistake, as a wide, thick, muscular back is extremely impressive. Also, the back muscles make up a very large part of your total musculature, and developing them will add pounds of mass to your frame. So in this article I’ll tell you exactly how to build a bigger back.
The back is divided up into three main parts. These are the latissimus dorsi (lats), which can be seen from the front and give the appearance of width, the trapezius (traps), which is the diamond shaped muscle that runs from your neck all the way down to your mid back, and the erector spinae, which are the cable like muscles of the lower back that extend from the top of your glutes up to your lower traps. But there are also several smaller muscles, such as those around the shoulder blade area, which include the rhomboids, teres major and minor, infraspinatus and rear deltoids.
So if you want to effectively build up all the muscles of your back, there are three main exercises you need to do, and a few optional extras that might be worth considering too. These are as follows:
Deadlifts are King
Deadlifts will pack on size and build strength into the whole of your back like nothing else, but they are particularly effective for the lower back and traps.
Work up to 1–3 top weight sets of 3–8 reps, and try to increase the weight you are using as often as possible. Deadlifts can be done either on your “back day”, or on your lower body day, if you are doing an upper/lower body split.
Barbell or Dumbbell Rows for Thickness
Rows build size and thickness into the entire upper back, and they are very effective for bringing out all the smaller muscles around the shoulder blades, which help make the back look more defined.
You can do rows with either a barbell, dumbbells or a cable, but my personal favourite is the basic barbell bent-over row. However, if you have lower back issues, you might be better advised to do the one-arm dumbbell row instead.
Do 2–4 sets of anything between 6 and 12 reps. Personally, I like to do heavy barbell (or dumbbell) rows, for sets of 6–8 reps, on one day of the week, and cable rows, for sets of 10–12 reps, on another.
Pull-Ups for Width
Pull-ups, chin-ups and pulldowns are the best exercises for targeting the lats and giving you a wide back. And they are great for the biceps as well.
Pull-ups (where the palms of your hands face away from you) put slightly more emphasis on the lats, and slightly less on the biceps, than chin-ups (palms facing towards you). But there is not that much difference, and they are both excellent back builders.
Again do 2–4 sets of 6–12 reps. I like to do pull-ups or chin-ups, for sets of 6–8 reps, on one day, and pulldowns, for sets of 10–12 reps, on the other.
The above exercises are all you really need to build a truly impressive back. But if you have a bit more time that you wish to dedicate to building your back, there are a few others that might be worth considering too. These include shrugs and hang cleans for the traps, good mornings (if you are flexible enough) and back extensions for the erector spinae, and face pulls and bent-over lateral raises for the muscles around the shoulder blades.
Shrugs are best done for 8–12 reps, but cleans are normally done for 6 reps or less. Good mornings and back extensions can be done for anything between 6 and 20 reps. And the smaller isolation movements (face pulls and bent-over laterals) seem to work best when done in the 8–15 rep range.
Putting it all Together
Of the optional exercises listed above, the one’s I would most recommend are back extensions and face pulls. So, assuming you are doing an upper/lower split, you could put it all together something like the following:
Do deadlifts on one of your lower body days, and back extensions on the other. And on one of your upper body days do bent-over rows, pulldowns and face pulls, and on the other do pull-ups, cable rows and bent-over laterals.
Or, alternatively, if you want to train your entire back in the same workout, you could simply do deadlifts, bent-over rows, pull-ups and face pulls, and perhaps add in pulldowns and cable rows if you are not training any other body parts in that workout.
Or you could alternate two different back workouts over a 7–10 day period, doing deadlifts, pull-ups, cable rows and face pulls in one workout, and bent-over rows, pulldowns, back extensions and shrugs in the other.
Always make sure you do each exercise through a full range of motion, and focus on getting a strong contraction in the muscles being trained. It also helps to stretch and flex the lats for 10–20 seconds after each set of pull-ups or rows.
So that’s about all you need to know in order to build a bigger, stronger back. Train hard and be consistent, and you’ll soon have a back that anyone could be proud of.