With all the focus on arms, abs, and glutes, many women often overlook the importance of building a sculpted back. Mirror muscles are quick to get all the glory, but a developed back is essential for a well-rounded physique. You wouldn't want one leg to be stronger than the other or one biceps to have a bigger peak; it's just as important that the back of your body is as developed as the front.
Because it's composed of so many major muscle groups—including everything from the lats and traps to the delts—the back is a highly intense area to train, which is even more reason to include it in your weekly rotation. Lucky for you, Neon athlete and WBFF fitness diva Ashley Hoffmann has the art of building a sculpted back down to a science.
Building the back is as much about balance as it is about actually lifting. The right amount of horizontal movements combined with vertical movements will fine-tune your physique and bring out the definition you crave.
Here's Ashley's workout advice for a body that will make others do a double take when you walk into, around, and out of a room.
1. Don't Make A Mind-Muscle Mistake
The first mistake most people make when training back is not fully targeting the muscle they're working by neglecting the mind-muscle connection. "If you can't feel the contraction in your back, lighten the weight, focus on form, and drive with your elbows," Ashley explains. "The last thing you want to do is just go through the motion or focus solely on heavy weight."
If you are lifting too heavy, it'll be hard to really feel the specific muscles you're targeting because you'll be recruiting other muscles to assist. Don't let your ego get in the way of progress. Very often, getting the best and most challenging back workout actually means dropping 5-10 pounds on the bar.
2. Perfect Your Form
Next, take steps to ensure your form is perfect. When you're training back in general, and specifically training bent-over back exercises, "think chest up and shoulders back, while keeping a small but tight arch in your lower back," Ashley says.
Failing to maintain this position might also force other muscles to come into action that shouldn't be assisting the movement, taking the focus off target muscles. Sometimes maintaining good form can be made easier with a few cues and some good imagery.
"Sometimes people think they need to be pulling the weight toward them, so they end up using their biceps to bring most of the weight down and don't feel much of anything in their back ," says Ashley. "I like to imagine my hands as hooks, which are helping pull the bar down by driving with my elbows. Think of putting the biceps to 'sleep' and you'll get more out of every back workout."
3. Squeeze During Every Rep
When training back, Ashley also likes to keep her entire body tight and squeeze at the peak contraction of every rep. If you're struggling with good form, she emphasizes control and contraction: "If you're worried about form, lighten the weight up and focus on holding the contraction," she says. "Squeeze the muscle and control the negative movement as you return to the starting position after each rep."
4. Avoid Momentum
A big mistake many people make when training back is letting momentum take over the movement pattern. The minute you're swinging the weight up or down, even to the smallest degree, is the minute you're moving away from results.
Using momentum to move the load will simply set you up for injury, not better gains. Momentum often becomes a problem if you're lifting with your ego. Once again, the best remedy here is to lighten the load and focus on controlling the movement through all portions of the lift. Remember that both the concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering) phases count as far as building lean muscle is concerned.
5. Utilize Multiple Implements
Finally, to get the most from every session, attack your back with a variety of implements and movement patterns. For instance, in Ashley's workout below, you'll see she uses barbells and dumbbells, as well as her own body weight, in an effort to build a fully functional, aesthetic back. Each mode of resistance training offers unique benefits that will help take your physique and progress further.
Back to the Front
Don't ever let your workout grow stagnant. Keep mixing it up and trying new exercises as you make progress. If you're in need of something new, channel your inner Ashley Hoffmann and take a swing at her favorite back workout.
- Pendlay row
3 sets of 12 reps
- Chest-supported T-bar row
3 sets of 12 reps
- Single-arm dumbbell row
3 sets of 10 reps per side
- Lat pull-down (wide-grip)
3 sets of 12-15 reps, followed by one dropset to failure on the last set
- Chin-up or assisted chin-up
4 sets of 15 or until failure
- Rack pull
4 sets of 10 reps