The back is a large group of muscles, and there are many ways to make it grow bigger and stronger. What makes the back even more complex is that you can't see the back muscles working while you're lifting. For the most part, you must go by feel.
If you're struggling to make back gains, let's take it back to the beginning. These three moves are as basic as it gets, but they have been around a long time for a reason: They are highly effective. But only if you do them right. The equipment required is minimal, too: free weights and a place to hang.
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You can use one of three grips when performing pull-ups. Overhand is most effective for the overall back as well as the shoulders. The hammer grip will recruit more biceps and forearms. The reverse grip, on the other hand, does make the biceps work harder, although the back still carries the majority of the load.
Experiment. Use the grip that proves most effective for you. If you struggle to do pull-ups with your body weight, use an assist machine or have a partner hold your feet to guide you. If you're alone, loop a resistance band to the pull-up bar and place a foot inside to act as a spotter.
Regardless of your approach, make sure you feel the lats working more than anything else during the exercise. In the hanging position, stop just shy of a complete stretch to keep tension where you want it.
You know how to do a dumbbell row, right? If not, you can check your form with the Bodybuilding.com Exercise Database.
You can perform these with both arms at the same time using the incline bench dumbbell row variation of the movement. This will help you keep strict form, recruit the muscles properly, and also help protect your lower back.
Your other option is to work one arm at a time. This will place focus on balancing strength and size between each side. Start with the side you feel needs the most improvement so you can focus on it with more energy.
Yes, these are last instead of first, their traditional positioning. The point of this workout is to focus on contracting muscle and improving development. This means using less weight and paying greater attention to form. If strength is your first priority with aesthetics as a close second, place the deadlift first in the workout instead.
Straps are a viable option here since we want the back to do the work. Keep the bar closer to your body so the pull is easier and more efficient. Also, keep your lats engaged throughout the entire rep. Once the bar passes your knees, push your hips forward hard and lock out both your hips and knees. Remember to maintain a neutral spine throughout the entire rep. No rounding your back!