Muscle Model champion and Doctor, Emil Hodzovic, gives us a rundown on some fundamental movements for building a bigger back.
The back. Now, not to state the obvious but it’s behind you. This often means in a new gym-goers formative years it is often forgotten or at least neglected for more obvious muscle groups (such as the chest). However, it is such a fundamental part of a physique that physique shows have been won or lost the second the line-up turned to face the rear.
Let’s be honest, you can see a good back from the front and even clothed, a mountain range of a back will leave people in no doubt whether you even lift, more so than that chest or set of arms.
So how does one go about building a bigger back that a gorilla would be proud of? Read on...
This topic is huge. I could lecture endlessly about all of the fine intricacies of a bigger back training. Instead, I’m going to break it down into my top three back exercises. If you include these in your weekly split then you’re well on your way to a sick set of wings. If you don’t do any of them on a regular basis then you really need to re-evaluate your status as a gym goer.
1. The Deadlift
The deadlift is the bread and butter of back training. Before we go into some more detail, let’s just clear a few things up. Deadlifts don’t give you a thick waist. They will develop your core, just like squats and the other big compound movements but to achieve a level of oblique hypertrophy where your waist is thicker than if it just had excess fat on it is nigh on impossible. So get that excuse straight out of your head. And that’s exactly what it often is, an excuse…because deads are HARD. There is no other exercise that loads the back to the same degree as deadlifts from the sheer weight lifted. It will build both thickness and width and it will give you that 3D effect that so many people crave.
Top Tip – Deads are hard and although this isn’t an excuse not to do them, it is possible to overdo them and deadlifting heavy and often can be quite taxing. For me personally, I tend to do them roughly once a fortnight as part of my back workout but I tend to go in hard when I do. Oh, and also, don’t bounce them. It’s a ‘dead’ lift. That means a dead stop at the bottom before you go again.
2. The Barbell Bent - Over Row
The barbell bent-over row is next on my list of bigger back training essentials. It’s such a versatile and comprehensive movement and although you can’t load it as heavily as the deadlift, you can still shift some pretty serious weight. There are infinite variations of grips and back positions including the single arm dumbbell row and T bar row but generally speaking the barbell version is the most ubiquitous and even within just this bit of kit there is wide variation. Generally speaking, I prefer over grip and I try to get right over the bar with my back as horizontal as possible. If you’re not careful or start any higher it just ends up turning into a shrug. Within the movement, try and lift the bar to the top abs and control the movement as much as possible but you can alter the line of the lift and angle of the back so you are hitting different parts of the back.
Top tip – Depending on the variation, a little bit of leg bounce is entirely acceptable but if you’re nearly upright and throwing the bar in some sort of half range jerking movement then you’re doing it wrong… bro.
3. Lat Pull Down
I think the final one on the list has to be the Lat Pull Down. Often available in even the worst gyms and even more often performed horribly; it hits the back in the vertical plane versus the horizontal movement of say, the Bent Over Row. Again, there are infinite variations of grips and handles and ranges of movement but the standard wide grip front down does the job.
Top tip – Before you start the movement, grip the bar and allow the arms and scapula to extend fully – imagine you’re hanging loosely and letting the shoulder relax. Then, to begin, bring the scapula down and back, keeping the arms straight before bending at the elbows. This is the FULL range of motion and allows you to engage the lats and rest of the back MUCH more effectively.