There are three exercises that need to become staples in your program to if you want to build a thick, muscular back and those are chin ups, rows and deadlifts. Everything that isn’t a variation of one of those exercises is essentially a waste of time for anyone looking to add tons of mass as rapidly as possible.
Starting from the top, we have the traps which go from the neck all the way down to the mid back. These can be worked most effectively with dead lifts, shrugs and hang cleans.
Deadlifts should be done for sets of 1-5 reps unless your technique is perfect and you are an intermediate to advanced lifter. In this case you can experiment with higher reps. Just be sure that you can maintain the stiffness in your abs and spine throughout the set. Shrugs are best kept at 6-15 reps and cleans should usually be done for six reps or less.
Next are the smaller muscles around the shoulder blade area which are the infraspinatus, rhomboids, teres major and minor and rear deltoids. These muscles work during all forms of rows. If you are really looking for bang for you buck and to work as many muscles as possible then stick with big compound rowing exercises like dumbbell, barbell and bodyweight rows. These will work most muscles in your back.
If you are more advanced and want to isolate and directly target some of these smaller muscles you can do that with face pulls, bent over lateral raises, scare crows and external rotations. These smaller isolation type exercises are not necessary but can help prevent imbalances and can put the finishing touches on a well muscled back. Unlike other isolation exercises such as leg extensions and concentration curls, these exercises actually do serve some purpose and are effective and building size and strength and preventing injury. When utilizing some of these smaller isolation exercises be sure to keep the reps in the 8-12 range as that is what seems to work best for these muscles.
The lats are next and are the muscles that stick out under your armpits and give you the appearance of width. They make up a great deal of the total back musculature. To really increase the size of your lats and thus the width of your back, focus on all variations of chin ups and pull ups.
Lastly we have the erector spinae which is basically the lower back musculature. A well developed set of erector spinae really stands out and lets people know you are way more than all show and no go. There is no better lower back exercise than the deadlift and its variations. Some other great erector spinae builders are good mornings, 45 degree back extensions and reverse hypers. These exercises should be done for 8-20 reps.
While everything written above is important and should be considered, you could ignore all of it and just deadlift on a regular basis and still develop a very impressive back. Deadlifts are the king of the back builders and work every muscle group. If you are pressed for time, stick with deadlifts. If you have more time to dedicate to building a big back do a few sets, twice per week of some type of deadlift or lower back exercise (deads should only be done once per week for advanced lifters), some form of shrug, an upper back “isolation move,” and some variation of rows and chin ups.
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