If you want to build a thick, muscular back there are three exercises that you need to become very familiar with. Those exercise are chin ups, rows and lastly but most importantly; deadlifts. If you did nothing but those three exercises faithfully you would end up with a muscular and impressive looking back.
The back muscles make up a huge portion of your total musculature and developing them will add pounds of mass to your frame.
So how do we go about developing all of the muscles of the back? Firstly we have to address the traps which start at the neck and go all the way down to the mid back. These can be worked most effectively with dead lifts, shrugs and hang versions of the Olympic lifts such as cleans, snatches and high pulls.
Deadlifts can be done for anywhere between one and twenty reps but I would recommend that most lifters stay in the 3-8 range the majority of the time. That ensures that you’ll be able to maintain proper form and be safe. Shrugs are best kept at 6-12 reps and cleans should usually be done for six reps or less.
Next on the list 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 and most of the other exercise listed. If you are really looking to get the most bang for you buck and to work as many muscles as possible then stick with big compound exercises for your back work.
But 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 injuries. For this reason alone I believe advanced lifters would be wise to add a few of these in from time to time.
Unlike other isolation exercises like leg extensions and concentration curls, these exercises actually do serve some purpose and are effective at building size and strength and preventing injury. When utilizing some of these smaller isolation exercises be sure to keep the reps in the 8-15 range as that is what seems to work best for these muscles. Instead of just hoisting weight really try to focus on getting a good contraction when training these smaller 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 the occasional higher rep set of pulldowns or band assisted chins.
Lastly we have the erector spinae which is basically the lower back musculature. This area extends from the top of the glutes up to the lower traps. 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, back extensions and kettlebell swings. These exercises should be done for 6-20 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. Whenever someone asks me how to gain weight I tell them to eat a lot and do deadlifts.
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, two or three times per week of some type of deadlift or lower back exercise (deads should only be done once per week as they are very tough to recover from), shrug, upper back “isolation move,” compound row and chin up. You’ll be mistaken for a barn door before you know it.
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