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How to Build a Bigger Back

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Muscle

Today I want to share 5 tips with you about how to build a bigger back.

Because it’s not a “show muscle,” and you can’t see it in the mirror the back is often neglected or trained improperly.

This is a huge mistake seeing how a thick, wide back is far more impressive than almost any other muscle group.

1) Learn to Arch Properly

Before you do another set of horizontal or vertical pulling you need to be 100% sure that you can arch your back properly. Most people can’t for the first few months of training.

Strippers and fitness models, however, can  (See the accompanying photo).  So either go to a strip club or fitness contest and study their form intently or follow my instructions below.

In order to know what a proper arch feels like, lay face down on the ground. Now put your hands behind your head and lift your chest up off the ground as high as you can.  Hold it there.

Feel that tightness in your lower back? That’s a proper arch. And that’s what I want you to feel on every set of rows that you do.

If you do a set without a proper arch the muscles can not contract properly, and if you are doing any type of bent over row you will be putting yourself in a dangerous situation and risking an injury.

Your lower back must always remain arched and your chest must remain puffed out throughout your entire set.

2) Use Picture Perfect Technique

Most people use horrible form when training their backs and it shows.

I constantly witness guys flopping up and down on the chin up bar with horrendous form. Their chests are caved in and their shoulders rounded forward in the top position.

This takes all the stress of the muscles you are trying to train. And it’s one of the things that leads to crappy lat and upper back development.

Always keep your chest up during each and every rep. When you do this you won’t be able to get as high. Don’t worry about it, though. Your chest doesn’t have to hit the bar.

As long as your chin clears it you’re fine. Some bigger guys or people with shoulder issues won’t even get that high. It doesn’t matter as long as your form is perfect.

Trying to pull yourself too high takes the stress of the lats and causes your technique to break down. Lat growth goes out the window when this happens.

Squeezing out a few more reps with rounded shoulders and a concaved chest is a waste of time and will only slow down your recovery ability. So just drop off the chin up bar when you can’t maintain proper form or use a band to assist you (which is highly recommended if you can’t do at least five picture perfect reps with bodyweight).

3) Improve Your Mind-Muscle Connection

Many people can’t feel their backs which is a major reason why they don’t grow. I suggest you try the following drill before doing chin ups:

Bend your arm 90 degrees and extend it over head. Now have a partner place his palm on your triceps muscle. As he resists you push down using only the strength of your lats.

It will help increase the mind-muscle connection if he places his other hand on your lat. Do this for a few reps on each side a minute or so before doing a set of chins.

Try to lock in that feeling of driving down with your elbows.

Don’t think of pulling with your biceps when you do chin ups but rather imagine that the weight is behind your elbows and you have to drive them down and back.

The next thing you can do is have a partner stand behind you when you are doing chins and place his hands on your lats so that you can feel them throughout the set. Having him slap or chop them would be an even better idea.

It might look a little bizarre to other members of your gym but these are the sacrifices you gotta make.

If you hold hands with him between sets it won’t seem as odd.

if anyone knew how to build a bigger back it was Yates

4) Drop the Weight You Use on Rows

You’ve heard me reiterate the importance of going heavy a thousand times over. But going heavy is relative.

You have to go heavy with a weight that allows you to use perfect form, in the target range of motion, while feeling all of the tension in the belly of the muscle; not the joints or the spine.

Just heaving up heavy weights with shithouse form does very little except set you up for an injury. If you can’t feel your back or it won’t grow as fast as other body parts then you need to take a step back and start over with much lighter weights.

Focus on the tips I listed above and be sure that you are pulling with the lats and squeezing the shoulder blades together on every rep.

5) Stretch the Lats Between Sets

One final tip that has proven very successful in helping people build a bigger back is to stretch the lats between sets. Immediately after each set of chin ups or rows you do, stretch your lats for 10-20 seconds and then take your prescribed rest period.

After your last set of the day get a really deep stretch in the belly of your lats and hold it for sixty seconds. The best options here are either hanging from a chin up bar or grabbing a power rack with one hand while squatting down and pulling away from it.

Bonus Tip: I know the title said five steps but I’m in the giving mood so here’s one more for ya…

Immediately after your last set of lat stretches go right into an intense lat contraction. The best way to do this would be to do the classic bodybuilder lat spread pose.

Again, this may look a little odd to do in a public gym, but it’s nothing compared to some of the embarrassing shit I do on a daily basis.

If you’re mortified to be seen doing this, as you should be, you might consider just running into the mens room and hitting your pose in there. It’s your call.

Please leave your comments below.

Leave a Reply

24 Responses to How to Build a Bigger Back

  1. RockyVlad April 20, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    Damn you’re giving us a reason to go to the strip clubs :P

  2. Peter Fabian April 20, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    Thanks–informative and entertaining–great gifts to share, done with such skill, humor and great chic pics

  3. andrew April 20, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    Who is that fine ass chick?????????

  4. Michael LePree April 20, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    the lat stretch tip is awesome i’ll def use it on my next back workout.

  5. Kirk April 21, 2010 at 9:06 am #

    Thank you for focusing on this topic. Far to many people at the gym I train at either neglect their backs or use the horrible form you mentioned. I was blessed to learn proper form from the start but even with proper form it took me a while to be able to feel the muscle work.

  6. Chris April 21, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    Does this apply to one arm rows with a knee on the bench as well?

    You’ve mentioned in the past that by cheating and dropping down a little toward the floor to crank out a couple of extra reps won’t effect your progress.



  7. Taipari April 21, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    3 things bro…

    1. My form is my weakness. I know to ark (not exactly as appealing as the girl in the picture) but it was my collapsed chest and rounded shoulders in my chins that i just realised after reading this post that were killing my gains. Corrected and working hard to get my reps up!

    2. The stretch is crazy after chins, just done my day2 phase 1 exercise session right now and after stretching after chin sets and correcting my form, i can definately feel that i’ve worked my back. what the f*** must i have been doing before my corrections!!!

    3. The chick. who where what gah dayum


  8. jasonferruggia April 22, 2010 at 5:38 am #

    @ RockVlad- I guess I am. Although, personally I find strip clubs as boring as watching paint dry.

    @ Peter- Thank you very much, sir.

    @ Andrew- Just one of many in my little black book ;)

    @ Chris- It really depends on your level of experience and mastery of the exercise. I do cheat reps and strict reps. It just depends on the training phase I’m in or even what set it is. If you have mastered the art of back training and can feel your lats on each and every rep, then yes, you can definitely cheat your rows.

    @ Taipari- Glad these tips helped you out.

  9. Rick April 22, 2010 at 8:40 pm #

    Jason one question regarding your tip on how to learn how to arch properly. Is this the same tightness you want your trainees to feel when doing squats and deads etc.?


  10. Steve April 23, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    thanks for all the great tips and entertaining articles..

    keeping in mind your MGS tips, what do you think about a 4 day push/pull split? (for example:
    Monday- hang clean, push press, various presses, dips, etc
    Tues- chins, rows, etc
    Thurs- presses, dips, etc
    Fri- squat, deadlift, chins, rows, etc


  11. Jason April 25, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    Great point about lowering the weight. I have got caught up from time to time loading up the weight but not really focusing on my back

  12. Raymond - ZenMyFitness October 20, 2010 at 3:12 am #

    Cool tip my back is my biggest worry with every exercise … I’m always worried an injury is just around the corner .. I get a strain every now and then either for carelessly throwing around a weight or in an exercise.
    But this is fantastic for me to remember to focus on my back when doing rows and chins which I never did like you describe here but I will definitely change now!

  13. wrestler strength November 12, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Great tips…although I really just pulled up this post to see if there were any more pics like the one on your homepage attached to this post lol!

  14. Jamin Thompson November 15, 2010 at 2:01 am #

    First of all it took me 25 goddamn minutes to read this post because my eyes were stuck on that broads ass the entire time. lol

    Anyways, another killer piece dude and you’re 100% on point. I see guys flopping around like a fish out of water all the time doing pull-ups and lat pull downs. Typical back workout fail…which of course means they aren’t using point #3 at all either. By the way, the good thing about training out here at gold’s venice is that you don’t have to run to the bathroom just to strike a lat spread pose. Seems like everyone and their mama is in there having a posedown 24-7 so I think I’ll have to bust that one out when I hit back this week lol!


  15. Scott Tousignant June 4, 2011 at 6:10 am #

    Outstanding post Jason!

    Driving the elbows down and back has been the greatest tip that has helped me during the past 2 years. Many people are using all arms to pull themselves up.

    I have also found that the wide grip pull-up hits my lats better than the palms facing each other or palms facing you chin-up.

  16. K.Gopal Rao July 18, 2011 at 4:39 am #

    Dear Jason,
    I had thought chin-ups worked the biceps, now u mention the lats. However, since I can’t manage a single chinup, I’ve been trying to work the lats with dumbbell rows, which is for the lats according to all I’ve read, but somehow just don’t feel any strain in the lats after trying a set of dumbbell rows. I keep my forearm vertical and try consciously to lift it without help from the biceps, but the strain still ends up on the biceps. What could I be doing wrong?

  17. Marlzuni March 31, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Hello Jason,

    I’ve developed a decent back width with pull ups and chins but my upper back and back thickness seems a bit lagging. How would I improve this ? Doing the inverted rows, should I arch the back as well ? I trained almost exclusively with bodyweight exercises, only occasionally doing the compound lifts (very rare).

  18. Vleit March 31, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    One of the best lat burns I had recently was from doing l sits on the jungle gym felt like my back was going to rip apart

  19. Adam Zee January 4, 2013 at 3:04 am #

    I love the myriad of tips you give out Jason!

  20. Mikael January 28, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    I find it is easyer to hit the lats if the bodyweigt is centered. Try different positions, like bending your legs or pushing them backwards.

  21. Braccini January 29, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    Coach, what are your thoughts on the idea I’ve beene reading lately that a hollow position pull-up (basicaly what you describe as a bad form pull up on this article) is a better choice for pure pulling strength. Would like to hear your opinion, thanks.

  22. Matt April 25, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Great article Jason, thanks for spreading knowledge. One thing you may also want to emphasize next time is to not arch TOO much because people sometimes think more is better and arch too excessively. Currently trying to fix my anterior pelvic tilt with tight erectors. At the age of 19. Haha. Thanks for the post!

  23. ashraf May 29, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    Should I do same arcing for deadlift also?