Building An Extraordinary Back!

It's not unusual to find a competitor with huge arms. It's not unusual to have sweeping quads or a Herculean chest. But to dominate any bodybuilding lineup at any level, the common denominator is always the same.
It's not unusual to find a competitor with huge arms. It's not unusual to have sweeping quads or a Herculean chest. But to dominate any bodybuilding lineup at any level, the common denominator is always the same. You MUST have an extraordinary back! Just ask Lee Haney, Dorian Yates, or Ronnie Coleman.

The back is the centerpiece of your physique. It defines your symmetry. An effective lat spread can give you the appearance of wings. But too often, many athletes rob themselves of their full back development when training. Since you are unable to see this body part while you are training, easily avoidable mistakes are made. These mistakes can hamper your growth and stall your advancement in developing your physique.

Back training requires a pulling action. The first major problem happens when you employ too much biceps power into the movement. this is a common problem with beginner weight lifters as well as most experienced lifters. It's a natural reaction to pull with your arms first then employ the back as a secondary muscle group. This is wrong! If you're training your back, think about nothing else but your back! Initiate the pulling action in the back first. Shift the stress of the weight pass your biceps and onto your shoulder blades (lats). This muscle group is much larger and more powerful than your biceps could ever be.

The second major problem happens when you attempt to pull heavy weight without using wrist straps. Too often, your grip will give out before your back will. Using wrist straps allows you to relax your grip to a certain degree and concentrate on the section of your back you are targeting. Without the straps, you will find yourself tiring and gradually shifting your emphasis from your back to your biceps. So when the judges ask for a rear double bicep pose, all they will notice is how big your arms are and the lack of size and definition in your back. Never train your back without wrist straps!

Now that I've stressed the two major problems with back training, let's design your back training program. Remember the major muscle groups in the back are trapezius, posteroid deltoid, teres major, rhomboids, latissimus doris and erector spinae.(a little bit of Anatomy & Physiology) To effectively stimulate these muscle groups you should divide your back into three focal points: upper, mid, and lower back. This will make it easier to concentrate on your total back without neglecting areas you cannot see. When training any one of these three focal points, you should only feel the stress in that target area of the back. If you don't, then you will immediately recognize that something is not right and start making adjustments to correct it. Those adjustments could be as simple as changing the height of your seat, readjusting your hand position, or just relaxing your arms and slowing down your movements.

Which exercises are most effective when training the back? There are many choices but the most common exercises, according to Arnold Schwarzenegger's Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, are:

Upper Back:
upright rows, cable pulldowns, wide grip pull-ups, T-bar rows(using a high grip), shrugs

Mid Back:
bent over barbell rows, seated cable rows, one-arm dumbbell rows, T-bar rows(using a lower grip)

Lower Back:
deadlifts (gotta do them and learn to love it!), hyperextensions

Note: When performing these exercises, keep in mind these points.

Upright Rows - Always keep your elbows higher than your hands. Don't rush this movement, slow deliberate reps are best. Never allow your upper body to jerk backward placing the lower back into excess extension.

Cable Pulldowns - It's natural to start the movement with the arms. Don't do it! Initiate the movement in your back by pulling your shoulder blades downward. Relax the stress in your hands and arms, so you can concentrate on your back.

Wide Grip Pull-ups - This exercise can be very demanding on your body during the off-season when you are weighing a bit heavier than usual. So be careful b/c you can easily strain your shoulders. Always warm-up before performing this exercise.

T-bar Rows (high grip) - Keep your back straight. Try to keep your body close to parallel from the floor. Avoid standing high during this exercise. That happens when the weight is too heavy and you over compensate the movement. Draw your elbows upward pinching your shoulder blades together.

Shrugs - Never lower your head down to your shoulders. Keep the head up and bring the shoulders to the ears. DO NOT roll your shoulders in a circular motion.

Bent-Over Barbell Rows - Great exercise! If mass is what you're after, then you better be doing these. From my experience, this exercise is most effective when performed at the start of your back training routine. Keep your back straight and pull the bar into your waist, not towards your chest.

Seated Cable Rows - Keep your chest up and into the pad but don't over extend your arms. Over extension on the eccentric phase of the exercise will shift the stress off your back and turn your back workout into an arm/shoulder workout. A definite no-no in back training.

One-Arm Dumbbell Rows - Keep elbows close to your body. Start with the weight in a full extension position then draw the dumbbell up and back towards your hips. Start with your weaker side first.

T-Bar Rows (lower grip) - Keep elbows close to your sides. Remember not to over extend your reach on the eccentric phase of the exercise.

Deadlift - Be careful! This exercise could cause lower back pain if performed improperly. so take it slow and don't start off too heavy. Keep the back straight, head up and the bar close to or touching the body.

Hyperextension - Keep your hips on the pad. If your hips are too far on the pad, you will no longer be training lower back. Instead, you will be training hamstrings. Once again, a definite no-no in your quest for a bigger, more defined back.

Now that you have the fast facts, you can go and revamp your back training routine. And the next time you step on stage or even take your shirt off, they won't just notice the size of your arms. They will also notice your extraordinary back! Train hard, train smart, think BIG!