Back is one of the more challenging muscle groups to train, in part because you really can't see the muscles you're working.
Unfortunately, many athletes think they're right on track with their back training, when in reality, they're heading straight for a bad back instead of a big one.
Does this describe you? If you are pursuing any of these four doomed strategies, the answer is yes—and you should change course immediately!
1. Ignoring Injuries
This is common for training in general but it happens the most frequently with back day. Advanced athletes grow so accustomed to feeling pain—especially in the lower back—they convince themselves to push on because they're training upper back or know how to "work around it." Iron rookies think back soreness just comes with the territory and they move forward because they don't want to appear soft.
There's a difference between being a little sore and being hurt. Back pain may be common, but a back injury is serious and should not be taken lightly. Err on the side of caution and get it checked out before you hit the weights hard again. You might have to take a little bit of time off, but that's a small price to pay to avoid permanent disc damage or possible surgery.
2. Overcomplicating Matters
I'm all for trying something new just to see how it works. There are many innovative ways to target the lats and shock the muscles by finding new ways to target your back.
But, there's a difference between trying something new and wasting time. People try all types of complicated lifts trying to target their back, but the real issue is that they never established that all-important mind-muscle connection using just the basics.
If you do a bent-over row correctly, you should feel your lats working. If you're doing a pull-up without using momentum, your back will be blasted. A back that's not sore after back day is not a sign that you need to switch to a more advanced exercise, it's a sign you need to learn how to engage your back more.
You should already feel your back workout in your back. If you don't, then don't waste time making your lifts more complicated. Focus on the basics, and learn to engage the correct muscles before moving on to more advanced moves.
3. Neglecting Pull-overs
If you've been neglecting this classic back-builder, you've been missing out. The classic pull-over isn't an easy exercise to master. Even when you do, this humbling exercise forces you to use less weight than you'd like to if you're serious about proper form. But one thing is for sure: Pull-overs are awesome for developing your lats.
This venerable exercise is the preferred back exercise of many champions. One is six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates, another is some guy named Arnold... If you have the machine at your gym—like Yates prefers—it's about time you became well acquainted with it.
If you don't have a machine, tackle this move the same way Arnie would by grabbing a dumbbell and a bench and getting serious. Quit neglecting moves that work just because you'd rather do pull-ups and pull-downs. Spend a few weeks with this move and your back will grow like a weed.
4. Not Completing Enough Reps
Back training can make you feel incredibly strong—there's nothing like clanging the entire stack and having it feel easy. To chase that superhero high, you might be tempted to go with 2-4 reps on the one-arm row—just so you can use the heaviest dumbbell in the gym and feel like a total badass. Or, you might find yourself loading up six plates per side for a rack pull just to hit a double.
Unless you're a powerlifter, low reps have their limits. Hypertrophy occurs only when you combine heavy weight and high reps, not just one or the other. Yes, it is fun to occasionally max out on your pulls, but if you are serious about muscle growth, your rep range should begin no lower than six.
Don't shortchange your gains by skimping out on reps. You'll have to lower the weight a bit at first, but if you stay focused on building your back properly, you'll build strength and size. Before you know it you'll be packing the plates back on the bar and making your way back up to the elite end of the dumbbell rack.