Surely one of the most impressive body parts worthy of the fullest development is the back. Comprised primarily of the latissimus dorsi, the flaring "wing" muscles that, as the largest muscles of the back, give a well-developed physique an impressive V-taper, the trapezius, which lends thickness to the upper back, and the spinal erectors that support the spine and appear as muscular columns attached to the lower back, the back as a whole can be seen from all angles, making it a valuable asset for any bodybuilding competitor.
|BACK ANALYSIS: TERMINOLOGY
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Given the back is such a large body part, with a large collection of specific muscles that all have different functions, training it can be a complex task that requires many exercises and sets. Targeting the lower, upper, inner and outer back muscles is something that, to be done successfully, demands massive overload. Like the legs, the back can take a lot of work and will less likely be over-trained with 15 to 20 sets per workout as would be the arms or chest with the same number of sets.
It is important then to select at least four exercises, each stimulating a specific region of the back, to force growth. Supersets, forced reps, rest pause and drop sets are all strategies that can be used to successfully tax the back to get it growing again. Those who train the back with more rather than less tend to agree that this is the only way to stimulate it sufficiently.
Since the back cannot, in most cases, be seen while it is being trained, it is often cited as being very hard to sufficiently target, the rational being you cannot fully train what you cannot see. Therefore it is extra important to feel the back through a full range of motion, to squeeze the muscles thoroughly, and to visualize what is going on back there to get maximal development.
The back is an important grouping of muscles in that it supports all we do. Whether sitting, standing, running or lifting, the back takes the strain and provides stability. A weak back, then, means that all other activities we participate in are compromised and this includes weightlifting. Without a strong back, the pressure we can put on other muscle groups in the gym is lessened
To achieve adequate back strength, we must train it from all angles. Generally this means choosing basic width and thickness movements along with a variety of isolation exercises to promote even development and the resultant structural support.
Onstage the back really shines as it gives the illusion of greater overall size whether viewed from the back, front or side. For example, when some competitors stand side-on in the symmetry round they almost disappear due to poor back development. And from the back, of course, it is "game over" if you cannot demonstrate both width and thickness.
When people talk about bodybuilding greats, one thing is commonly discussed: their tremendous back development. From Sergio Oliva to Lee Haney, to Dorian Yates to Ronnie Coleman, multiple Olympia winners all, one thing binds these men: although they may have lacked in certain areas, their back development was the best onstage during their rein.
One man who has shown amazing back development throughout his natural bodybuilding career is Tony Catanzaro. It is often said that it is best to get bodybuilding advice from someone who has fought hard to make it to the top and this is definitely the case with Tony.
To build his massive back he has, through necessity, explored every trick in the book. He finally found an approach that worked best for him, which is to say, it should work best for most of us who struggle to pack on the mass. For real-world back training advice you can go no further than Tony. Here he gives the low-down on how he built his back and how you can develop yours to its fullest potential.
[ Q ] How does a person know when they have achieved great back development?
I'm about to reveal to the world what the secret is to having awesome symmetry and that Greek God type body, that is lats that are flared out like a peacock and concrete back thickness. If you have these qualities you know you back is on track. If you don't have them, well I'm about to take your physique to a whole new level.
Throughout my bodybuilding career, I've always known the importance of a good V-taper. Without wide lats, you're just a broomstick with muscles. In this article, I'll let you in on my secrets to building a champion Greek God back.
[ Q ] What do you consider to be your greatest strengths as far back development goes?
Definitely my width: when I'm on stage and I flair out my lats there are not many natural bodybuilders that come close to me. This is another reason why Ronnie Coleman was champion so long - his lats blew away the competition.
In my opinion, Ronnie is the best and he will be Mr Olympia again. You can never achieve the ultimate physique without good lat development. Your lats are what give the illusion of having a small waist and this is what bodybuilding is all about. Arnold was another perfect example of awesome lat development, even Franco Columbo. Think about it. Every legend from yesterday to today had or has awesome lats.
[ Q ] How did you develop your back?
I used to do tons and tons of pull-ups and I still do today. If you want awesome lats, then pull-ups are a must. As I got stronger and reps of 15-20 became too easy, I would add weight around my waist or use a weighted vest. There's no magic formula as to how many reps or sets, I would just go until I couldn't go any more and trust me your lats will be so pumped you'll feel as if you could fly.
[ Q ] How do you train your back now?
I always start out with pull-ups. I've been having some pain in my forearm tendons lately so I have been skipping pull-ups, but I can't wait to get back into them again because nothing works better. I do four sets to failure with a wide grip using wrist straps, adding more and more weight with each set.
Then I'll do behind the head pull-downs with the lat machine. This is great for developing the upper middle back and even the traps. I do four sets of 12, 10,10 and 8 reps increasing the weight with each set.
Then it's on to some bent over barbell rows. You can't develop a thick back without them; I'll do four sets of 12, 10,10 and 8 reps increasing weight with each set.
Then I'll finish off with some bent over dumbbell rows - four sets of 12, 10,10, and 8 once again increasing the weight with each set. And that's my back attack workout.
[ Q ] Why are pull-ups the best exercise for back width?
In order to get the width you need, you have to stretch out those lats and put enough stress on them to grow and pull-ups are the answer. Do them with wrist straps so you don't have to focus on your grip, so you can just focus on your lats.
[ Q ] What are the best exercises for back thickness, and why?
For thickness the key here is to build the center of the back. The best way to do so is in a bent over motion. Deadlifts, bent over rows and dumbbell rows are awesome and I always incorporate them into my back workout.
I never liked doing deadlifts because I was never one for just being thick, but they are a great exercise for building not only your back but your entire body! So don't forget to do them as well.
[ Q ] The lumbar - erector - region is often overlooked. What is the best way to develop this area?
The best lumbar exercises are the ones where you have to hyperextend the back. Good mornings are the best. Just place a barbell on your shoulders behind your head and lean your body forward slowly and then contract back up to and erect position - you can do these standing, or sitting on a bench.
[ Q ] Some competitors have naturally high lat development. How could they add more fullness to their lower lat muscles?
Here's a trick: when you do seated rows arch your back the opposite way when you stretch forward. Do you remember how Arnold did those rows in Pumping Iron? You can also do this with a partner and a towel. One guy holds the towel, and the other one bends slightly forward and does a rowing action. Well the oak had the best lower lats next to Franco. Go figure; they always did those towel stretches together. Coincidence? Grab a towel. It's not just for catching sweat.
[ Q ] What are some mistakes beginners make when training their back?
I hate it when I see guys and girls doing everything by the book! Books or magazines that were probably written by people that don't even work out, I might add.
Stop training by the book and start listening to your body. You have to understand that the body and mind work together - when you know you're working effectively you will see results, if you feel you're not hitting it then you are not.
Training is nothing more than a release of adrenaline and that's why you can't do everything by the book. Your body is not a text book: it is bone, flesh and blood. Train it naturally and stop looking for an answer that has already been given to you from a higher being. Common sense goes a long way.
[ Q ] Give me some of your best back training tips.
Always go for the pump! Don't rest more than a minute between sets, and I mean one minute. Don't do one set then three sets of talking to your friends that are only looking to bring you down. Focus on what you have to do and that's it. There's plenty of time for talking when you're done.
Also remember to stretch between sets. Your muscles need to stretch in order for them to grow. When you stretch, you are sending blood into the muscle and it's that blood that creates the pump.
[ Q ] Who has the greatest back development in bodybuilding right now (besides yourself)? Why is this? What do they have that we as bodybuilders should aspire to?
Ronnie Coleman's back is unbelievable and this is why: his width is perfect and his back thickness is balanced perfectly. Also, his waist is small and this is also a key factor in wide lats. Remember, balance is everything and it doesn't matter how much you weigh or how tall you are, all that matters is your shape.
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Ronnie Coleman At The 2006 Olympia.
View More Pics From The 2006 Olympia Finals Here.
I'm only 185 lbs and I appear bigger because my waist is very small and my symmetry is right on. This is because I always trained my body as a work of art, not for how big and bloated I can look. This is a mistake a lot of young kids today are making they think, "Let me just put on as much size and then I can rip up," but what they find themselves doing is looking at their abs and saying, "Oh my God, what happened to me."
If you are natural, and to me natural is the only way to be, it's very hard to gain more than 5lbs of lean muscle a year. So what's with the extra 30lbs off-season? Let me tell you, it rhymes with bat.
[ Q ] When training back some people cannot really apply the same kind of focus they do to other body parts, as they cannot see this area. How could they prevent this problem?
Remember in Pumping Iron when Arnold was looking at his back in the mirror and saying "it's getting closer?" He was posing for Ken Waller and Ken said, "It looks like a road map back there". Trust me, if you want to see what your back looks like, you will find a way. I would just have someone take a few photos of my back for me. That's the best way so I can see for myself what's going on back there. Try it.
[ Q ] What would you recommend the beginner do to develop a wide, thick back?
Basic exercises like pull-ups and bent over rows, and deadlifts as this is a great way for a beginner to activate those muscles in the shortest time possible. Try doing four sets of each with a rep range of 12, 10, 10 and 8.
[ Q ] As people becoming more experienced, generally they find it harder to progress. What is the key to making further gains in back development at the more advanced level?
Well you can't grow on weights alone. You need food and I mean the right food and the right amount. Most guys are always yo-yo dieting and they can't seem to stay focused on what they need to be eating. I always eat the same type of food and the same amounts each day - this way my metabolism is adapted and if I want to gain some weight or lose weight all I have to do is adjust my caloric intake.
I also create diets for people all over the world. For a diet that will get you in the shape of your life, please visit my website at: www.anthonycatanzaro.com.
[ Q ] The back is a major contributor to the much-desired V-taper. How can a bodybuilder enhance their V-taper?
Besides getting your lats to be as wide as possible, you also need to work on shrinking the waistline. The best exercise for this is broomstick twists and vacuums. They both are excellent in shrinking the waist. I train my abs every other day. Go to my abs article here at Bodybuilding.com for more details.
Remember, a well developed back is the difference between first place and 3rd. When your back is wide and thick, you will have the symmetry you need to stand out on stage as well as in the gym!
Good luck and as always GOD BLESS!!