Building a Bigger Back

It's a shame that not a lot of people like to train their back just because they can't see it being worked. It's really confusing because, to my mind, the back is one of the most "visible" body parts. As bodybuilders we work on our bodies constantly for the physique we can show off. I can always tell a bodybuilder, who work hard on their back. Regardless of what they're wearing, you can see a strong, V-shaped back with "extra-wide shoulders. A V-shaped back with flare lats will always show in the front side as a slender waistline. So next time, you are doing ab training for that washboard look, don't forget the back.

The object in training your back is to concentrate on three aspects: width, thickness, and power and strength.


In order to really add some width to your back I suggest a couple of different exercises. I like to start off my back training with wide grip chin-ups to the front. Chins are usually a good warm-up exercise because you are only working with your bodyweight. If you are more advanced and really want to blast it, add some weight to a belt. I like to start off with three sets going to failure on each set. Really try to take the biceps out of the movement.

Another good exercise for adding some width to your back is wide-grip pulldowns to the front. I do not recommend wide-grip pulldowns to the rear because it puts your shoulder girdle in an uncompromising position. If you do have shoulder problems (like 85% of all bodybuilders) you may want to try close-grip pulldowns instead.


I have found that back thickness is acquired through a variety of rowing exercises. Rowing exercises are my personal favorite because I seem to be able to really feel my back working while rowing. Some effective exercises are seated close-grip rows, bent rows, T-bar rows and cable rows.

Once again, when doing rowing exercises form is extremely important. Three basic things to keep in mind: slightly lean back and pull up your chest, arch your back, and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

A great exercise to try is close-grip, seated pulldowns to the front. You will need a double handled, close-grip v-bar and a pull-down machine. Get firmly positioned with your legs under the support pad and your arms directly above your head. Now, have your partner or spotter stick their finger directly between your shoulder blades. Each rep I want you to pinch and squeeze your spotter's finger in between your shoulder blades. This guarantees that you are getting a full contraction and really squeezing your back on each rep.

For my second exercise I usually pick a different rowing movement each time. I also like to throw in cross bench, dumbbell pullovers every once in a while. Remember, variety is a great way to get your back sore each and every time you train it.

Power and Strength

Up until this point, you were probably thinking that you wanted to give this type of back training a try. Guess what, it just wouldn't be fun unless we threw in a grueling exercise. Yep, you guessed it, deadlifts! The reason people hate deadlifts is because they suck! They are tough, intense, and require a lot of mental concentration. Usually the more grueling an exercise is, the more effective it is.

The reason deadlifts are so difficult is because they involve many different body parts and involve quite a bit of technique. If you are not a regular deadlifter, start slow and concentrate on your form. I prefer deadlifting off the floor with a forty-five pound plate beneath my feet. A couple of quick points to remember when deadlifting: keep your body tight, your head slightly tilted toward the ceiling, and start and finish the movement with the bar touching your shins.

You have probably read many different schools of thought pertaining to reps and sets when it comes to the deadlift. Remember, we are not power lifters, we are bodybuilders. Huge amounts of weight aren't necessary to build a quality back.

One final word on deadlifting. It is very important that you concentrate on involving your whole back while doing the movement. Try not to pull with your hamstrings, traps, biceps and lower back. Once you get the technique down, you will see vast improvements in your back development in no time.

Back Routine

3 sets of 10 repetitions
3 sets of 5 repetitions
Dumbell Rows
3 sets of 10 repetitions
Close-Grip Pulldowns
3 sets of 10 repetitions
Seated Rows
3 sets of 10 repetitions


Muscles Worked: Back (outer) or latissimus dorsi, biceps, and forearms
Position: Standing below a chin-up bar, reach up and grasp the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing forward). Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart.
The Exercise: Hang fully stretched from the bar. Slowly pull your body up to the bar so your chin is over the bar. Try to touch the top of your chest to the bar. As you move upwards, focus on pulling your elbows down at an angle towards your rib cage. Pause slightly at the top of the movement; once the lats have completely contracted at the top, slowly lower the body to the starting position. Avoid swinging or kicking your legs or allowing them to go straight. As a guideline, if you can do more than 10 to 12 reps, it's time to add some weight using a dip belt.
Tip: Chin-ups can be performed using varying grip types, though for your purposes of building a big, wide back, the overhand grip is very effective.


Muscles Worked: Back (middle) or rhomboids, back (upper) or trapezius, back (lower) or erector spinae, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and forearms
Position: Start with the barbell on the floor with your feet a little less than shoulder width apart. Keeping your back straight and eyes positioned forward, bend at both your waist and your knees and crouch down to grip the barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart.
The Exercise: Keeping your back straight, chest forward, head up, and the weight back on your heels, stand up while keeping the barbell close to your body, so that the bar clears your knees and comes to rest at your hips. Lock your legs and shoulders out at the top of the lift. Lower the weight with your legs and back under control to the starting position on the floor. Do not round your back at any time! This is very important.
Tip: There are two types of grips for the deadlift. They are commonly called the "alternate" grip and "overhand" grip. Many people prefer the alternate grip. In the alternate grip, one hand is supinated (with the palm facing up) and the other is pronated (with the palm facing down). This grip has the advantage of helping assure that the bar does not slip away during the exercise.

Dumbell Rows

Muscles Worked: Back (outer) or latissimus dorsi, back (upper) or trapezius, Back (middle) or rhomboids, shoulders (rear) or deltoids, biceps
Position: Find a weight bench. Place the knee and hand on one side of your body on a bench for support. Keep your back flat and parallel of the floor. With the opposite hand, grasp a dumbbell, let it hang at arm's length fully stretching the muscle. Keep your palm facing your body throughout the full range of this exercise and keep your body steady and stationary. Before starting, look straight down at your supporting hand, so it's easier to keep your spine straight.
The Exercise: Without using any momentum, slowly lift the weight as far as you can. Simultaneously tighten the abdominals to keep the body from rotating as you "row" the dumbbell. Pull the dumbbell up and back toward your hips. Squeeze hard and contract the back muscle. Concentrate on doing the work with your back, rather than your arm. Slowly lower the weight to the starting position, don't bounce dumbbell back up! Remember to keep the weight always under control.
Tip: Remember to pull using predominately your back and not your biceps on this exercise. And of course, try not to twist your body.

Close-Grip Pulldowns

Muscles Worked: Back (outer) or latissimus dorsi, teres major, back (middle) or rhomboids, biceps
Position: Set the seat on the pulldown machine so your knees can slide easily and comfortably under the knee pad. Then grip a V-bar with your palms facing inwards. Keep your back slightly arched and in an upright position. Maintain this position throughout the exercise – too many people sway and jerk their upper bodies to help move the weight.
The Exercise: Begin the exercise by arching your lower back slightly and sticking your chest out. Pull down to your chest, while leaning backwards slightly. Try to squeeze your shoulder blades together when the handle touches your chest. Slowly let the weight rise under control to the starting position.
Tip: If you find your forearms are tiring faster than your back, try-using lifting straps to help assist your grip.

Seated Rows

Muscles Worked: Back (outer) or latissimus dorsi, back (upper) or trapezius, back (middle) or rhomboids, back (lower) or erector spinae, rear (posterior) deltoids, biceps
Position: Sit on a seated-row platform or in front of a low pulley. Place your feat on the platform or blocks. Lean forward slightly with your knees bent and grasp the cable attachment (V-bar) with your palms facing inward.
The Exercise: Pull the cable attachment to your waist while straightening your back. I suggest going heavy on this exercise, yet squeeze your inner back next to the spinal erectors and surrounding your shoulder blades. Return the cable attachment to the starting position. Extend your arms and let your shoulders stretch forward. Heavy seated rows cable should be preceded by light sets focused on shaping. You might do 1 to 2 warm-up sets before really loading the stack.
Tip: Try not to lean too far backwards when pulling the handle to your waist. Always keep your chin up and look straightforward.

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