It is sometimes funny to watch how much time and energy bodybuilders and other athletes spend on chest training, without attaching importance to the back. In clubs, I often see muscular guys proudly strolling in tight T-shirts and bulging their chests like turkeys. They usually have quite noticeable chest, shoulders and arms, but if you look at them from behind, then nine times out of ten it seems that they have completely forgotten about back training.
And this is sad, because a real bodybuilder always strives for proportional development of all muscle groups. Without a powerful back, you are nothing more than a dumbass, training your own body only half and caring only for those muscles thatcan be seen in the mirror. Such “athletes” will be instantly swept off the stage at any bodybuilding tournament, because the back has taken on enormous importance since Dorian Yates, along with Ronnie Coleman, as a result of their training, defined new parameters for its development.
It is a fact that even among the athletes who work seriously on the back, only a few achieve success. However, I am still convinced that everyone is able to build an impressive back if they follow the ten rules outlined below.
1. Perform at least half of the exercises with free weights.
Wherever you work out, you can always find a huge variety of different types of back workout machines. In one fitness center, I counted over twenty different machines from brands such as Cybex, Hammer Strength, Icarian, Body Masters, Nautilus and Life Fitness. There, you could train your back for a year and change machines every week without ever sitting down in the same one. Sorry, but by the end of the year, your back would not have become wider than it was at the beginning.
Machine work is a great addition to basic free weights training, but if you don’t do at least a couple of heavy exercises on the day of your back workout, you won’t stimulate noticeable muscle growth. Working with free weights is not easy. As Arthur Jones said, you need to try not to make it easier for yourself to do the exercises, but on the contrary – to make them even harder. Pulling a 150kg staff from a bent over is much easier than sitting on a gleaming chrome belt deadlift machine – with a stopper set at the same 150kg. If you want your back to bulge with muscles, then at least half of the exercises for it must be performed with free weights.
2. Do not replace pull-ups with rods on the block.
This rule follows from the first, but it is so important that it deserves a separate point. Pull-ups are an absolutely essential exercise for your back. Pull-ups are extremely difficult to do correctly, and I think only 10% of all bodybuilders get the most out of them. Correct pull-ups involve lifting to a level where there is about five centimeters between the chest and the bar. At this point, you should stop, bring your shoulder blades together and tighten your upper back muscles strongly. Then you need to slowly lower yourself to almost completely straighten your arms, constantly maintaining the tension of the broadest muscles of the back, and start a new rise.
It is very easy to replicate this technique in deadlifts on a high block, but this is where the difference lies. I have seen thousands of guys doing great on deadlifts with a weight close to their own body weight or even more, but they rarely have a back that I would like to look at a second time. Show me a man who can do a strict set of ten repetitions in wide grip chin-ups with 20kg of additional weights on the belt, and I bet he will have an excellent back.
Many trainees avoid pull-ups because they can’t do a lot of reps. But that’s why they should pull up on every back workout. Everyone is able to improve performance in this exercise, provided that they work regularly and refuse the block. I assure you, if you have achieved noticeable results in pull-ups, your back will definitely tell about it.
3. Tighten your back muscles and feel them work
You can train without feeling the work of certain muscle groups, but still forcing them to grow (a good example is the arms and legs). Not so with the back – if you’ve never felt the muscles work in the various pulling movements for the back, it is very likely that the biceps and rear deltoids did most of the work all this time.
I knew one guy whose shoulders and arms were almost impossible for his figure, but his back looked flat, like a plain. Every time I watched him train his back, I saw his biceps swell like airships. Like many others, he did not develop an effective connection between the brain and back muscles.
For a long time working with my clients, I realized that it can be good for disciplining purposes to force them to mentally pronounce the syllables “tighten” and “stretch” during the positive and negative phases of each repetition. You may need lighter weights to really get a feel for your back muscles, at least until you become comfortable with the technique. But there is nothing to worry about. If you have never felt their work and did not get pumped in them, chances are you have nothing to brag about in terms of the development of your rear.
4. Avoid cheating
I have seen athletes careless about exercise in all muscle groups, but the worst observations have been about back work. More precisely, the vast majority of traction trainees use inertia. Take a dumbbell row with one hand bent over. Few can use 50 kg in them in a strict form, controlling weight throughout the range of motion and achieving good muscle contraction at the top point. However, every second person can take a dumbbell of 60-70 kg and perform convulsive movements, in shape reminiscent of pathetic attempts to start a stalled lawn mower engine.
I have a lot of respect for Ronnie Coleman, but in his film The Incredible, he set a bad example for everyone by doing bent-over rows with a weight of 225 kg! At the same time, its form is terrible, terrible and once again terrible! Ronnie throws the bar up and hits it with his chest, and then hits it again, but at the lowest point of the amplitude. With this technique, the back muscles get very little work, while the joints and ligaments experience monstrous overload. At best, lifting weights will slow down your progress, at worst you will get a low back or biceps injury and spend god knows how much time in rehabilitation. Forget pride and work with weights that you can lift correctly. Another way is to keep playing heavy weights and not get anything to be proud of.
5. Work from different angles
The back is our most difficult muscle group. The biceps, for example, are much simpler. All you need to do for the biceps is to do all kinds of curls. For the back, you will need at least one vertical pulling movement (for example, pull-ups), one horizontal (pulling to the waist while sitting), as well as pullovers, shrugs and hyperextensions to load all parts of this huge and complex muscle complex. Advanced trainees also need to change their grips. That is, you need not only to pull the weights, but also try to provide muscle stimulation at all possible angles.
6. Stretch Between Sets
One of the components of the process of creating a wide back is by spreading the shoulder blades to the sides. Stretching the lats between sets helps a lot in this. Grasp the vertical support with one hand, bend forward with your head lower than your hand, and pull your pelvis back until you feel a full stretch of the latissimus muscle on that side of the body. Hold the stretched position for five seconds and do the same for the other side. Some fitness experts, including John Parillo, believe that aggressive stretching (when the muscle is pumped with blood) also stretches the muscle fascia, which promotes muscle growth. The fascia is a tight connective tissue that wraps around the skeletal muscles. To my knowledge, no research has been conducted on this idea, but many bodybuilders are convinced of the great benefits of stretching.
7. Take care of the lower back
Injuries are always sad, but in the case of problems with the lower back, many exercises for the back become simply impossible. You can forget about deadlifts, any free-weight deadlifts and heavy shrugs, not to mention squats or overhead presses. One of the rules for avoiding low back injury is to never round your back, especially during bent over rows, deadlifts and deadlifts with straight legs. Always keep a slight backbend in all exercises. In this position, the lower back is most stable and less prone to injury.
The second rule is to strive to increase the strength of the lower back. Work hard in hyperextensions and forward bends with the barbell on your shoulders, constantly trying to increase the weights. When you get to the point where you can do ten good hyperextension reps with 45kg additional weights, your lower back will be fine.
8. Change your workouts regularly
Do not work on the same program for more than three or four weeks. Vary your exercises, grip width and type, repetitions and pace, and exercise order. Change the split every few months so that the back workout falls on a new day of the week or is combined with work for another part of the body (but never work out the back after biceps, otherwise they will not be able to help properly load the back). Remember one axiom: if you continue to do what you have always done, you will have what you already have – and nothing more.
9. Perform deadlifts
Almost every owner of a well-developed back attributes their achievements to deadlifts. Ronnie Coleman and Johnnie Jackson are two great recent examples, but bodybuilders of the past decade such as Dorian Yates and Mike Francois have regularly included heavy deadlifts in their programs. Looking further, 70s and 80s stars Franco Columbia and Samir Bannout were big fans of this exercise and had some of the best backs of their time.
I don’t believe that pulling from the floor is necessary to get the most out of deadlifts. Partial pulls in a power rack from knee level can also force significant growth. I like partial deadlifts because they are more like a back exercise, as opposed to regular deadlifts, which, together with the upper back, put a lot of stress on the lower back. Whichever option you choose should form the backbone of your back training program. Many people have found success with this exercise – you shouldn’t ignore it either.
10. Take care of the strength and development of the back
The most important factor in the development of the back is a very strong desire for this development. There are too many guys in the halls who are preoccupied with adding inches on their arms or pumping up their breasts, and not particularly worried about their backs. If you do not see your own back in the mirror, this does not mean that others do not notice it.