Big Bad Back Training!
There is nothing like an impressive back. If you look over the past three decades all the Mr Olympias have had outstanding back development. Samir Bannout Mr Olympia in 1983 had a big and highly developed back, complete with Christmas tree development in the lumbar region. On to Lee Haney, Mr Olympia from 1983-1991 had a back as wide as a jumbo jets wings! Then the Brits took over the best back prize with Dorian Yates dominating the Mr Olympia from 1991 -1997 with a back incredibly detailed, thick and wide and as hard as granite. Ronnie Coleman was next with freaky development winning the Mr Olympia from 1998-2005. Along came Jay Cutler winning in 2006 and ’07 and regaining the title from Dexter Jackson in 2009 with an extremely wide back although not as detailed as Ronnie’s but up there with the best for width and thickness. If you have no idea who I am on about then open up another tab in your web browser and get googling and you will see what I am talking about. Great back development looks amazing and makes you stand out from the chest and arms brigade in most gyms these days, of course none of you belong in that category do you? You better not otherwise I have not taught you a thing! It’s all about complete development ok and if I see any of you lot ignoring legs and back then we are going to fall out!
The main muscle that stands out when you look at an impressive back is what us bodybuilders call the lats, the latissimus dorsi muscle. This is what gives us that impressive width and thickness. Then you have the upper back muscles that look like small mountains from shoulder to shoulder consisting of the rhomboids, teres major and trapezius muscles. The lower back looks mighty impressive when developed and these are the erector spinae.
I go on about it in every training article, and I am going to go on about it again as it’s even more important with back training and that is form. FORM FORM FORM FORM!!!!!! Got it? Good! I see so many people training back with bad form, pulldowns where the body is parallel to the floor or even worse the head nearly touching the floor. Serious you should spend some time in the gym where I work. I see it all there. The worse I have seen is bent over rows where the person has so much weight on the bar that he has to have a spotter either side of the bar to help him lift off the squat then he proceeds to do what seems like having an epileptic fit then has the spotters help him back with the weight. It’s shocking! Although it does crack me up that he thinks he’s tremendously strong and that he thinks everyone watches as they are so impressed, what he doesn’t see is everyone laughing at him, bless!
What is unique with your back? You can’t see it can you? When you train chest, arms shoulders etc you can see these muscles in the mirror which really helps you focus on the muscle and use the visualisation technique. As you can’t see your back that means you really have to focus on the movement and muscle to really hit the muscles hard. Your visualisation skills will develop very quickly with back training. So when you first start training back do not worry about the weight. Go for the feel, really feel all them muscles working, feel the contraction. Once you have mastered all that the weights you use will go up and you’ll be nice and strong and using great form with good contractions at the top of the movements.
Right, on to the training! I am going to give you a beginner’s workout and an intermediate workout for the more advanced. We will stick with basic exercises as you will know by now that that’s what I know is best and for bodybuilding we don’t want any of them sexy exercises doing 400 movements at once. We are after building good quality muscle and as much of it as possible naturally OK?! The beginner’s workout will consist of three exercises and intermediate will consist of four. The exercises will consist of a vertical pull movement and two horizontal pull movements. For the intermediate workout I will add a big compound movement that will hit the whole body but will help build a big strong back, and it is one of the best exercises you can do!
Machine Pulldown (various grips)
Chins (various grips)
Bent over row
Seated and various cable rows.
Onto the workouts!
Machine Pulldown. 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
You will find this machine in all gyms. It is great for building width to the back and also some thickness. You can use various grip positions but for this workout we will use a wide grip. Grab hold of the pulldown bar about 1.5 times shoulder width, keep the back in neutral, chest expanded and shoulders back. Keep your core muscles tight and start to pull the bar down to the top of the chest so you get a good strong contraction in your lats. Keep the shoulders back at the bottom of the movement, do not let them roll forward. Keep the chest up and squeeze the lats. Keeping the weight nice and controlled raise the weight back to the start position.
A great exercise for building thickness and one that will help the beginner keep the back in neutral. Have one knee and one hand placed on a flat bench, back in neutral and core tight. Have the opposite foot on the floor and grab a dumbbell with the other arm. The starting position will be with the dumbbell hanging, while keeping the back in neutral pull the dumbbell up towards the body pulling through with the elbow and keeping the elbow close to the body. Focus on pulling with the back and not the arms! Slowly lower to the start position.
Wide Grip Seated Row 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
This is a great exercise for thickening up the upper back muscles and also for pulling the shoulders back for an improved posture as posture is important! We do not want them shoulders pulled right forward and have a rounded back looking like An ape walking around the gym, it’s really not a good look trust me! On a seated row machine ( if your gym doesn’t have one of these use a cable machine and pull a bench in front of it), use a wide bar, for instance the pulldown bar. Sit on the bench, knees slightly bent, back in neutral and core tight, chest up. Take a wide grip of the bar and pull the bar into the lower chest. Keep your elbows up so that the elbow wrist and shoulder are all in line. Pull the shoulders right back and make sure you do not shrug your shoulders. Feel that contraction then lower the weight back to the starting position. You do not need a lot of weight on this exercise it’s all about the feel.
That’s it for the beginner’s workout. It will hit all the muscles in the back and get you off to a good start.
Deadlift 4 sets of 8-12 reps.
This is one of the best exercises you can do to gain mass on the whole body but also great for building thickness in the lower back and all over! Start with the bar touching the shins. Grab hold of the bar with one hand using an over grip and the other hand using an under grip. Your grip will be just outside your lower legs. Get you hips down and have your back in neutral, core tight and chest up. Once you are in position pull the weight off the floor until you are standing tall. Make sure you pull while pushing your heels into the floor. The best thing to do is rather than thinking of pulling the weight up, imagine you are pushing your feet through the floor. Then lower the weight under control back to the floor. So many people round their back when doing this exercise, don’t! Keep it in neutral throughout. If your back rounds you have too much weight. Form remember!!!
Bent Over Row 4 sets of 8-12 reps.
One of the best back exercises for thickness and width. Take an over hand grip on the bar, have your back in neutral and core tight. Have your back at about 45 degrees and knees slightly bent with your backside sticking out. Pull the bar towards the midsection pulling the shoulders back and pulling through with the elbows. Contract the back muscles then lower to the start position. Do not round the back or throw the weight up. Control and form at all times. I’ll be watching!
Wide Grip Seated Row 4 sets of 8-12 reps.
Same as in the beginner’s routine but using a little more weight, again keeping good form though.
This routine will be all you need for building an impressive back. The addition of deadlifts will take your physique to another level and make your physique more powerful looking.
Good luck with your back training, listen to what I have said and go for it! Do not ignore this important bodypart. I may be watching!