Franco was only 185lbs and generally smaller than the majority his competition, but his back made him look like an absolute monster and easily comparable with people 50lbs heavier than him. The back has always been one of my favorite muscle groups to work on, so I decided to dedicate an entire article to this commonly neglected muscle group.
Anatomy of the Lats:
First off, like all muscles, you must understand the anatomy and function before you get in the gym and train it. The latimus dorsi, also known as "lats", are thick sheet like muscles that spread from the center of the middle back and waistline region and sweep out to the sides. The main function of the latimus dorsi is to draw your arms towards your body.
There are two basic exercises for the lats:
- Chins - In which you hang from a bar and lift your chin, or even better, your chest over the bar
- Pull downs - In which you pull a cable down to your body, mimicking the chinning motion
- Rows - In which your arms, extended away from your body are drawn to the abdominals.
Chins or pull downs performed with a wide grip recruit fiber in the sides of the back and widen the lats, while chins or pull downs done with a medium to close grip recruit fiber in the middle back region and where they insert into the waistline. Rowing generally thickens the middle back.
Complete Lat Development:
In order to get complete back development, you need to acquire wide lats, back thickness as well as large strong spinal erectors. Thick lats that fan out like wings are always very impressive since the back muscles are the largest on the upper body.
Many people ignore their lower back, but it is very important to have the spinal erectors developed and strong to not only protect you from injury, but possibly help you win a bodybuilding contest.
Some good mass building exercises for the back muscles are:
- Wide grip chins/pull downs
- Bent over dumbbell or barbell rows
- T bar Rows
- Seated low cable rows
- Close grip chins/pull downs
Anatomy of the Lower Back:
The spinal erectors are large, thick band like muscles that bulge out of the lower back region. The main function of the spinal erectors is to hold the body upright.
There are two basic exercises for the lower back:
- Extensions - In which the upper body is brought upright from a leaned position
- Dead lifts - In which the spinal erectors and legs are used to push the body up from a crouched position and hold it upright.
My current lower back routine is composed only of dead lifts.
Many people completely ignore their lower back because it is not particularly noticeable. This is a dangerous practice that will eventually lead to injury. Make sure you strengthen your lower back so that you can support your body and handle more weight with other exercises.
The spinal erectors are the slowest recovering muscle on the body. This is because their main function is to hold the body upright, and when worked through a full range of motion, they can get unbelievable sore and may need up to 100 hours to fully recover.
Mind Muscle Connection:
The back is probably the hardest muscle group to shock into growth, and takes some experience to acquire a good feel. When training the back, I recommend performing slow reps with good form, making sure to contract the muscle and concentrating on isolating it.