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Back Off! Massive Muscle Building for Your Back


Having a strong back is critical for success in athletics, in staying healthy during training and for overall well-being. With that said, what does it take to get a strong back? Read on and find out how to build massive muscle that will make everybody take notice.

1. Pull Ups and Chins Ups form the foundation:
Pull ups and chin ups are to your back as squatting is to your legs. You need to do them and do them often. Not only do they use a tremendous amount of muscle, but they also get you BRUTE STRONG. All the connective tissues of your shoulders and back get noticeably stronger when you perform these exercises. Many people get bogged down with trying to do max reps on pull ups and chin ups. If you have ever read the Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, Arnold recommends that you pick a goal number of reps you want to achieve and do as many sets as it takes you to reach your goal number. I feel that this is one of the best ways to increase your pull up and chin up strength.

2. Go heavy on big lifts:
By this I mean go heavy on the deadlifts, the barbell shrugs, barbell rows, back extensions etc. All of these lifts require the back musculature to work overtime in a big way to engage and lockout the movement. You will be hard pressed to find a single exercise that does not require the back musculature to be engaged to some degree to help with the execution of the lift.

3. Balance your back budget:
Make sure you train your back with a sense of balance. Make sure to hit a horizontal row (seated rows, DB rows, barbell rows), a vertical pulling motion (shrugs, pull ups, chin ups), also make sure to get your external rotators with some band external rotation, DB external rotations, or cable external rotations. Lastly hit some retractions before or after your work out.

If you follow these three steps, in no time at all you will have a back that legends are made of. Imagine going to the beach and hitting a lat spread and making people wonder if a solar eclipse is occurring. Now tell me that doesn’t sound cool.

Sample Back Workout:

Warm Up:
A. Plate Halos 2 x 15
B. DB Retractions 2 x 20
C. Static Pec Stretch 3 x 10 s (each side)

Strength Training Workout:
1. Chins Ups: 10 x 3
2. Barbell Rows 5 x 8
3. DB Shrugs 3 x 10
4. Seated Low Row 3 x 12
5. Band External Rotations 2 x 20

Top 5 Muscle Building Exercises for the Back

Alright, you got me!  I threw in some extra ones :)

1.  The Pull-up / Chin-up

When you see someone walking around the gym with a big back, you can guarantee they can jump up and kill 15-20 pull-ups without even breaking a sweat.  See the connection?  Pull-ups and chin-ups are two of the best mass builders for the back.   Targeting the lats, shoulders, biceps and grip, these exercises have so many different varieties, you’ll never get bored.

Modifications:

  • Change the grip; wide, narrow, alternated
  • Change the grip again; towels, thick ropes, two fingers, three fingers, gloves
  • Overloaded; dip belt, med ball, sandbag, db, kb
  • Change the movement; side-to-side, slow negatives, holds, explosive

how-to-build-muscle-back-training

2.  Deadlifts

Sumo deadlifts, conventional deadlifts, beyond the range (from a deficit), rack pulls, it doesn’t matter, do them.  The back not only works antagonistically to stabilize the torso (and spine) it works to lock out the weight to finish the movement.  Deadlifts, by definition, are an exercise where you can move big weight.  Advanced lifters use chains, bands and if you’ve been

Deadlifts Modifications:

  • Implement:  Barbell, Trap Bar, Db’s
  • Stances:  Conventional, wide
  • Range of Motion: beyond the range (deficit), partial – rack pulls
  • Overloaded:  bands, chains, straight weight

how-to-build-muscle-deadlift

3.  Seated Rows / Bent Over Rows

Seated Rows

Don’t throw them, don’t hyperextend, don’t tuck your chins and many other bad technique flaws you see everyday in the gym.   Do them correctly and you’ll be targeting your lats, rhomboids, biceps, grip and posterior delts.

ihow-to-build-muscle-seated-rows

Bent Over Rows

Biggest flaw?  Being too upright.  Most guys use this exercise with too much weight and either throw it up, don’t arch their back or have too limited range of motion from being too upright.  Keep your torso as close to parallel to the ground as possible while keeping your back in neutral.

how-to-build-muscle-bent-over-rows

4.  Back Extensions

Targeting the erectors, hamstrings and glutes.  Stay neutral and don’t hyperextend or hyperflex your lower back.  Head should also be in neutral with the back.  You can overload this movement with a variety of implements like; kb’s, db’s, med balls, barbells or just holding an Olympic plate.

how-to-build-muscle-back-extensions

5.  Face Pulls / External Rotations / Band Pull Aparts / Foam Rolling

Even though exercises 1-4 are super important for adding layers of muscle to the back, #5 is the key.

REMEMBER THAT!

#5 is the difference between fighting through a crappy injury or lifting a long time with the greatest strength potential.  Focus on the little muscles that balance and stabilize the joint and are responsible for the health of the shoulders and you’ll be golden.

Face pulls and band pull aparts target the upper and lower traps, rhomboids, posterior delts and teres major.

Foam Rollers improve soft tissue quality and extensibility while releasing tension and removing scar tissue and adhesions.

Face Pulls

Check out this video too:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kexr7CqnVng

Amazing Shoulder Health Page:  Shoulder Rehab

how-to-build-muscle-face-pulls

External Rotations

Posture should be upright and the shoulder packed back while doing this controlled movement.  The weight can progress as proficiency and strength progresses.

how-to-build-muscle-external-rotations

Band Pull Aparts

This movement should be done for tons of reps.  Try getting 100 to 200 reps in the fewest sets possible.

how-to-build-muscle-face-pulls

Foam Rolling

Roll back and forth on the targeted area for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

how-to-build-muscle-foam-rolling

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13 Responses to “Back Off! Massive Muscle Building for Your Back”

  1. Jedd Says:

    No reason for anybody to have a weak back after they read this post. Smitty really broke one off for you. He goes into even more detail on this in his product AMD – Accelerated Muscular Development.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Smitty,

    Thanks for a very comprehensive post and sharing a chunk of your extensive knowledge. I have a few questions I’d like to bounce off of you.

    1) I’ve seen some liken the trap bar deadlift to a squat more so than a deadlift despite the fact that the bar is in your hands, and it still requires isometric upper back action as with other deadlift variations. Is it possible to use trap bar DL’s in place of a squatting movement and then do conventional or sumo DL’s on another day or is that likely to be too much for the CNS? Is it best to just stick with substituting these in for another type of DL and still thinking of them as more of a “hip” dominant movement as opposed to a “quad” dominant movement to be used in place of some squatting movement?

    2) With seated cable rows you said, “don’t tuck your chin and many other bad technique flaws you see everyday in the gym.” Does this just mean to not flex the head forward? I always try to keep as neutral a position as poosible, but I also tuck my chin in slightly (as I do with deadlifts and squats), although this is a subtle head nod (using the deep neck flexors) as opposed to flexing my neck/bending my head forward. Is this subtle chin tuck incorrect or were you specifically referring to fleing the head forward?

    3) For band pull aparts, would there be any benefit to adding handles to a band (for example, stirrup handles like those from a cable crossover) to allow you to keep the back of the hands facing backward/have the arms somewhat externally rotated as you pull apart as opposed to having the arms internally rotated when pulling apart/the back of the hand facing upward?

    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

  3. Joe Hashey Says:

    Damn, Arnold has back muscles where I have spine…

    Joe

  4. Jim Smith Says:

    Thanks for a very comprehensive post and sharing a chunk of your extensive knowledge. I have a few questions I’d like to bounce off of you.

    1) I’ve seen some liken the trap bar deadlift to a squat more so than a deadlift despite the fact that the bar is in your hands, and it still requires isometric upper back action as with other deadlift variations. Is it possible to use trap bar DL’s in place of a squatting movement

    ## Yes, of course, but you have to remember. Lifting with the trap bar (the conventional way) is more quad dominant, so don’t forget to add in some RDL’s or other hamstring/glute specific movements.

    and then do conventional or sumo DL’s on another day or is that likely to be too much for the CNS?

    ## It all depends on the intensity; the load, the volume, the speed, etc…and your current state of recovery.

    Is it best to just stick with substituting these in for another type of DL and still thinking of them as more of a “hip” dominant movement as opposed to a “quad” dominant movement to be used in place of some squatting movement?

    ## Don’t get hung up on dominant this and dominant that, just train. Be comprehensive with your lower body training, ie…unilateral and bilateral movements and balance the volume and you’ll fine.

    2) With seated cable rows you said, “don’t tuck your chin and many other bad technique flaws you see everyday in the gym.” Does this just mean to not flex the head forward? I always try to keep as neutral a position as poosible, but I also tuck my chin in slightly (as I do with deadlifts and squats), although this is a subtle head nod (using the deep neck flexors) as opposed to flexing my neck/bending my head forward. Is this subtle chin tuck incorrect or were you specifically referring to fleing the head forward?

    ## I always advise keeping the head in neutral alignment for all exercises.

    3) For band pull aparts, would there be any benefit to adding handles to a band (for example, stirrup handles like those from a cable crossover) to allow you to keep the back of the hands facing backward/have the arms somewhat externally rotated as you pull apart as opposed to having the arms internally rotated when pulling apart/the back of the hand facing upward?

    ## That doesn’t really matter, but good thinking. The key is overloading the horizontal shoulder abduction to activate the traps, rhomboids and posterior delts.

    Thanks for reading!

  5. Jeff Says:

    Thank you for the practical and helpful info, much obliged!

  6. Michael - The Fat Loss Authority Says:

    Wow… My back is screaming after reading through these exercises.

    I like the bent over advice a lot. I see guys lifting poundages they have no business handling. 75 degree angles and I’m surprised I haven’t seen 911 dialed at my gym.

    Mike

  7. coach mike Says:

    ok being a hard core kettlebell guy I have a move that has packed more beef on my back than anything. The bent press! Slow and heavy! If you can hit 10 or more find more iron! After a year of them a freind started calling me latzilla!

  8. Adam Says:

    I love back, I love barbells, I love weighted pull ups (anchorman spoof, ha)

    Great info and IMO the best back exercises you can do. I believe that my back is one of the strongest and most used muscles I have. Since in the Marines I do a ton of pull-ups to stay in shape for our PT test.

    Stressing the added weight to overload is key IMHO. I can do 20+ dead hang pull ups and the only reason is the added weight and hitting numerous groups on the back.

    Great info!!!….. and I am guilty of standing a little too straight up during bent over rows. Oh and what about good mornings, I love those to!

  9. Miah Says:

    What is your opinion on the type of barbell row where your torso is parallel with ground and you explosively pull the bar to your chest, dropping it fairly quickly.

    Also pendlay rows which are the same but with thoracic back contraction during pull.

  10. D-Rock Wilson Says:

    hey Smitty, I have never used a foam roller but I am wanting to get one here pretty soon. I was going to ask you what size/style you would recommend for a beginner at it? thanks

  11. Jim Smith Says:

    D-Rock – go to Elitefts.com and get the black foam roller buddy.

  12. http://www.nicodoescrossfit.com Says:

    A foam roller is an absolut must if you lack the money to have regular massages. It’s definitely good for you and it comes at a reasonable price….

  13. Simple and Unique Barbell Warm-up – Follow the Leader :: Diesel Strength & Conditioning | Innovative Strength Training for Athletes Says:

    […] – PVC bent over rows […]

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