Best Back-Building Principles & Routines!

In this article, I discuss back training and the principles that I've used to design good back training routines for myself and many others. By using this information, I guarantee you that you too will get a wide and thick looking back. Read on!

Introduction

Through the years I have gotten many compliments on my back development. As a result, I've also gotten many questions regarding how to achieve a wide and thick back.

In this article, I discuss back training and the principles that I've used to design good back training routines for myself and many others. By using this information, I guarantee you that you too will get a wide and thick looking back.

The Importance Of Having A Well Developed Back

A good back not only gives your physique a wide and powerful look, which immediately identifies you as a bodybuilder, but it also gives you the illusion of having a smaller waist.

It's sad that some recreational bodybuilders neglect their back training simply because they cannot see the body part, and thus, focus solely on training the chest instead. However, they do not have any idea of the big disservice that they are doing to themselves. The best bodybuilders in the world have a phenomenal back.

Back Anatomy

Before I discuss my principles for creating a great back, let's cover some basic anatomy first.

The back muscles are located on the posterior part of the torso and their function is to draw the arms back and downward. It is composed of four main muscle groups:

  1. The Latissimus Dorsi, which are located right under the armpits and stretch down attaching to the waist. Their function is to bring the arms down and backward.
  2. The Teres Major/Minor And Rhomboids, which attach to the lats around the shoulder blade region and are involved in moving and stabilizing the shoulder blades, as well as helping the lats move the arms.
  3. The Trapezius, which are located on the base of the neck and extend themselves down to the center of the back. Lifting and rotating the shoulders is their main function.
  4. The Spinal Erectors, which are located at the back of the waist at the lumbar region and are attached to the vertebrae, the ribs and the pelvis. Their function is to provide posture and support to the spine.

Principles To Achieving A Wide And Powerfully Thick Back

In order for your back to be wide and thick you need to develop its four muscle groups. This is accomplished by using a variety of the right exercises that target each muscle group and by understanding which ones emphasize width and which ones emphasize thickness of the mid-back.

The following discussion talks about the different exercises for width and thickness and the muscle groups that they target.

Good Back Exercises

Like any other list of bodybuilding exercises, back exercises are divided in compound, multi-jointed movements and isolation movements. The compound movements will activate all heads of the muscle emphasizing a particular head depending on the type of movement. Pullup and pulldown motions will mainly accentuate width while providing thickness as a secondary effect. Rowing motions, on the other hand, emphasize thickness of the midback with width being a secondary effect.

As I've mentioned before, compound movements performed with the torso moving through space (such as wide grip pullups, underhand chin-ups, and deadlifts) will give you the most stimulation than compound movements performed on a machine (like the pulldowns, t-bar rows or the low pulley rows). Isolation movements like the stiff arm pulldown then come in 3rd place in regards to stimulation.

1 Latissimus Dorsi Emphasis
(Emphasis On Width But Also Help With Thickness)

These exercises emphasize the latissimus dorsi section of the back with secondary stimulation on the Teres Major/Minor And Rhomboids.

Free Weight Basic Exercises (Highest Stimulation):

(Note: not good for those who suffer from shoulder pain or who are susceptible to rotator cuff injury)

(Note: If you are not strong enough to perform pull-up exercises, simply either use a spotter to help you or a chin assist machine such as the "Gravitron", as even when using this machine the movement is superior to doing a pulldown)


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Pull-ups.
Video: Windows Media - MPEG - Video iPod

    Machine Based Basic Exercises (Less Stimulation But Good For Beginners):

    (Note: not good for those who suffer from shoulder pain or who are susceptible to rotator cuff injury).

    Isolation Exercises (Free Weights and Machine Based):


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    Decline Pullovers.
    Video: Windows Media - MPEG

    2 Teres Major/Minor And Rhomboids

    (These Are Midback Muscles So These Exercises Emphasize Midback Thickness But They Also Help With Width As The Lats Are Stimulated As Well)

    These exercises emphasize the midback muscles and thus provide the back with a thick and powerful look.

    Free Weight Basic Exercises (Highest Stimulation):


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    T-Bar Rows.
    Video: Windows Media - MPEG - Video iPod

    Machine Basic Exercises (Less Stimulation But Good For Beginners And Advanced Bodybuilders Alike As They Provide A Different Feel To The Exercises And Thus Are Good For Detail Work):
    Isolation Exercises (Free Weights and Machine Based):


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    External Rotations.
    Video: Windows Media - MPEG - Video iPod

    3 Traps:

    These exercises emphasize the traps as well as the delts. Therefore they can be trained either on back day or on shoulder day.

    Free Weight Basic Exercises (Highest Stimulation):


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    Barbell Upright Rows.
    Video: Windows Media - Real Player

    Machine Basic Exercises:
    Isolation Exercises (Free Weights and Machine Based):


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    Dumbbell Shrugs.
    Video: Windows Media - Real Player

    4 Spinal Erectors Emphasis:

    These exercises emphasize the spinal erectors with secondary emphasis on the teres major/minor, rhomboids, and lats (as in the case of the bent knee deadlift).

    Extreme attention needs to be paid to exercise form and the weight used should always be kept under control. Do not sacrifice form in the name of adding weight as doing so can result in serious lower back injury.

    Free Weight Basic Exercises (Highest Stimulation):


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    Dumbbell Deadlifts.
    Video: Windows Media - MPEG - Video iPod

      Isolation Exercises (Free Weights and Machine Based):


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      Hyperextensions.
      Video: Windows Media - MPEG - Video iPod

      Now that we have presented several exercises for the back, lets take a look at some effective bodybuilding routines for the back.

      Beginning Bodybuilding Back Routine:

      For those who are just starting out in bodybuilding, I always recommend a full body routine practiced 3 times a week that uses mostly basic exercises to target each muscle group. As a result, a back routine for the beginning bodybuilder may consist of just a couple of exercises that cover all of the back muscles.

      Click Here For A Printable Log Of Beginning Bodybuilding Back Routine.

      How To Progress:

      After 4 weeks of performing 2 sets of each exercise for 10-12 reps, move up to 3 sets per exercise. Keep the rest to 1 minute in between sets.

      Intermediate Bodybuilding Back Routine:

      After 12 weeks in the beginning bodybuilding schedule, it is time to graduate to an intermediate routine in order to keep progressing. In this routine, the body is split in two separate days; chest, back and arms on day 1, and shoulders, legs and abs on day 2.

      • Wide Grip Pullup to Front (alternate with Reverse Close Grip Pullups on the next workout): 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
      • T-Bar Row Machine (alternate with One Arm Rows on the next workout): 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
      • Bent Knee Deadlifts: 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)

      Click Here For A Printable Log Of Intermediate Bodybuilding Back Routine.

      How To Progress:

      After 4 weeks of performing 2 sets of each exercise for 10-12 reps, move up to 3 sets per exercise. Keep the rest to 1 minute in between sets.

      Note: Use either a spotter or a chin assist machine to help you perform the pullup movements. Only use the pulldown machine at this stage in case that none of these options are available.

      Advanced Bodybuilding Back Routine:

      After 12-16 weeks on an Intermediate Program, it is time to graduate into more Advanced Bodybuilding Routines. This does not necessarily mean more time in the gym, though for those few of you whose ultimate goal is bodybuilding competition, then more time in the gym will be the case.

      The main difference between Advanced Training and Intermediate Training is that in Advanced Training, you'll need to change your program every 3 weeks to keep the gains coming. Therefore, the use of periodization is key, which is the orderly manipulation of sets, repetitions and rest in between sets.

      Related Periodization Articles:

      If competition is your goal, then you may need to increase your weight training days to 6 in order to accommodate a larger number of exercises.

      There are many splits that one can use as an advanced athlete:

      • Bodybuilding Antagonistic Muscles Workout Split: In this bodybuilding workout split, the body is divided over three or four days and antagonistic muscles (opposing muscle groups), are paired together in each bodybuilding workout. So you may do chest/back/abs on Day 1, shoulders/arms on Day 2 with legs on Day 3.
      • One Major Muscle With Two Smaller Muscle Groups Bodybuilding Workout Split: In this bodybuilding workout split, the body is divided over three days and one major muscle group (such as the chest, thighs and back) is paired together with two smaller muscle groups (such as biceps, triceps, hamstrings, calves, abs and shoulders) in each bodybuilding workout. An example of this routine is a push only day such as chest/delts/tris, a pull only day such as back/bis and a legs/abs day.
      • One Major Muscle Group Per Day Advanced Bodybuilding Workout Split: In this bodybuilding workout split, the body is divided over six days and one major muscle group is targeted in each bodybuilding workout.

      Now that you have an idea of the training splits that can be used at this level, here are some sample periodized advanced bodybuilding workout routines for the back:

      Advanced Back Workout #1 (Weeks 1-3):

      Click Here For A Printable Log Of Advanced Back Workout #1.

      Advanced Back Workout #2 (Weeks 4-6):
      Modified Giant-set

      Click Here For A Printable Log Of Advanced Back Workout #2.

      Note: In a modified giant set you get to perform an exercise, rest for the prescribed period of time, go to the next one rest, and continue to the next one up until all exercises have been performed for the required amount of sets. In the case above, the weight needs to be increased on each subsequent set.

      Competitive Bodybuilding Back Routine:

      For competitive bodybuilding, the goal is to stimulate the muscle from multiple angles in order to ensure full development. At this stage of the game, not only will you be using compound basic movements to keep stimulating growth but also a variety of isolation movements to really target the muscle in specific areas.

      The back routine below is an example of how a competitive bodybuilding back routine may look like. At this stage of the game, the bodybuilder should know what their weak points are and thus change exercise order and choice accordingly. For instance, if width needs to be developed more, then more exercises for the lats need to be incorporated. On the other hand, if midback thickness is lacking then rowing motions need to be emphasized.

      Also, the use of set extension techniques, such as drop sets and supersets is encouraged.

      Superset #1:
      Superset #2:
      Superset #3:
      Superset #4:

      Click Here For A Printable Log Of This Routine.

      Conclusion

      Now that you know what my principles for back development are, it's time to go to the gym and put them to the test. I guarantee you that when combined with the right bodybuilding diet, supplements and rest, the results you will achieve may require you to get a new wardrobe.


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      Author, Hugo Rivera.

      About The Author:

      Hugo Rivera, About.com's Bodybuilding Guide and ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, is an internationally-known best-selling fitness author of over 8 books on bodybuilding, weight loss and fitness, including "The Body Sculpting Bible for Men", "The Body Sculpting Bible for Women", "The Hardgainer's Bodybuilding Handbook", and his successful, self published e-book, "Body Re-Engineering". You can visit Hugo Rivera at www.bodybuilding.about.com, at www.HRFit.net, and his new site www.losefatandgainmuscle.com.