I struggled for years to put muscle on my back.
The exercises I did never really felt like they “clicked,” and for some reason, I wasn’t seeing any progress back there.
It wasn’t until I learned and applied the following principles to my training that I really started to see things taking shape.
Since I started training smarter (and harder), as I’m about to show you – my back growth has taken off.
And now I get comments like this on my posts:
The first thing to understand is that having an impressive, muscular back really comes down to three main muscle groups.
Today, I’ll show you what they are and how you can train them best to move your back closer to its potential!
I also want to give you 4 back training principles that will allow you to laser in on your back during training to get an unbelievable amount of work in all the right places.
THE 3 INGREDIENTS FOR BACK DEVELOPMENT
Let’s start with the muscles that often get missed: the spinal erectors.
Guys who ignore the spinal erectors will forever struggle to develop the back “thickness” that a lot of guys want.
The spinal erectors, which run parallel to your spine, act to extend the spine – pulling your back from a flexed or rounded position – into an arched, or extended one.
Think of them like cables that pull your spine into a straightened position.
Or the hydraulic lines that lift and extend the bucket on a backhoe.
In order to train these muscles effectively, we need to get into a position where we are supporting or moving a weight that is trying to fold us over.
It’s tough to beat things like conventional deadlifts, good mornings, or bent-over rows for this.
If I had to guess, based on how sore I got from training in the past… sets of 5-10 on deadlifts have probably put more meat on my spinal erectors than anything else.
With bent-over rows and front squats adding a bit of icing on the cake.
IF YOU WANT THE COVETED “V-TAPER”:
Next up, you’ll want to build your lats.
This will create that width and “V-Tapered” appearance that initiates at your armpit and runs down towards your waist.
Think of your lats like the ‘monkey muscle’.
They’re so big, gnarly, and strong because they were used by our evolutionary ancestors to climb trees.
The lats act primarily to extend the shoulder or pull things towards you.
They’re probably hit the hardest in vertical pulling motions.
Check out some incredibly strong natural lifters on YouTube, such as AlphaDestiny or Bald Omni Man, with wild pull-up numbers.
It’s just impossible to be brutally strong at chin-ups/pull-ups and not have big lats.
So focus your attention on vertical pulling-type movements to train your lats.
Lat Pull Downs, Chin Ups, Weighted Chin Ups, Assisted Chin Ups, and Pull Ups of all grip types are your best bet here.
These can all be done in the 5-25 rep range, depending on what feels best for you.
I love chin ups in the 5-10 rep ranges, and pulldowns in the 10-20 territory.
AND NO BACK IS COMPLETE WITHOUT THIS…
Now for the third and final muscle group.
This area gives you that full, ‘yoked’ appearance that fills out a shirt nicely, and undoubtedly shows people that you lift weights.
The upper back.
This includes your traps and rhomboids, which act primarily to retract and elevate your scapulae.
They pull your shoulder blades up and together.
This is where horizontal pulling-type movements fit into the equation.
Things like bent-over rows, cable rows, dumbbell rows, chest-supported rows, and dumbbell rows are all great options here.
Again, great in the 5-25 rep ranges across the board, but I like to focus on the 10-20 rep range for these exercises.
My big intention with ALL of these exercises is to allow the weight to pull my upper back into a deep, nearly uncomfortable stretch before pulling it towards me.
THE FOUR KEYS OF EFFECTIVE BACK TRAINING:
1. Focus on the stretched position
Your back loves to get stretched.
That’s a huge factor in how much muscle you’ll grow long-term.
Thanks to researchers, we know that putting your muscles into a deeply stretched position is a fantastic idea for building more muscle.
So don’t be scared to get into a big stretch when you’re doing your chin-ups and your rows.
That means going ALL THE WAY deep into your chin up and maybe even holding that position for a full second before pulling yourself back up to the starting position.
You might have heard the idea of training with a “full range of motion” before.
Using a more complete range of motion is what will allow you to get that stretch.
This will feel like a tense bundle of rubber bands is being pulled from your upper arm, across your armpit, and down into the middle of your back.
Aim to feel this sensation on every single rep if you can.
It will mean that you have to use less weight than normal or do fewer reps, but that’s fine.
The goal is to tell your muscles to grow.
And if we can get that done with less weight – even better.
You’ll notice a common theme here…
2. Milk the eccentric
You want to use eccentric control – which simply means lowering the weight under control.
The “eccentric portion of the lift” is just the lowering phase.
You’re actively FIGHTING the weight on the way down.
That’s an opportunity for you to generate even more muscle growth, so you’d be foolish to ignore it.
And if you’ve never done this before, I guarantee you’ll be feeling all kinds of soreness you’ve never experienced before.
This video of IFBB Pro Jared Feather coaching on machine rows hit home so hard with me, that I still think about it every time I do rows.
‘MILK THE ECCENTRIC’ means you’re lowering the weight intentionally, and using the weight to stimulate more growth on the way down.
‘RIGHT OFF YOUR BODY’ means that you want to be controlling the weight from the very first inch of the eccentric.
You want to lower it down all the way under control.
If you milk it all the way down until you’re in a deep stretch, you’re going to feel all kinds of back soreness, pumps, and tension in the muscles you want to grow.
But holding onto the weight for this long can be challenging for some folks, and they might find that their forearms are giving out before they have a chance to really train their back.
3. Tools aren’t cheating – use them!
That’s why you should use straps for your back training.
Straps remove your grip strength from the equation.
Straps are not cheating in this context.
They help you train harder than you could without them.
A simple pair like this wrappable style is awesome.
But even better is this Versa Gripps or “tongue-style” wrist wrap.
You just wrap the tongue around the bar, then press your palm into the strap to create additional friction.
Voila, you don’t have to worry about hanging on for dear life.
This will allow you to place the final piece of this puzzle.
4. Stop breezing through your workouts
I mean fucking hard.
A lot of guys sandbag their back training and wonder why they never feel their back getting very worked while they train.
Getting a big back pump, feeling tons of tension, and getting sore in the right places… those are all what’s called lag variables.
They follow along after you’ve done the right things on the front end.
You could do everything else mentioned here, but if you don’t pull hard with your back training – it will never quite click the way you want it to.
You’ll never feel the back as deeply and acutely as you could.
You’ll never get the same kind of growth you could otherwise.
You’ll always wonder why your back exercises never feel right.
So – pull hard from the get-go on your chin-ups and rows, and keep pulling when things get hard.
I guarantee that you are leaving more reps in the tank with your back training than you probably think.
The first time you give yourself permission to just keep doing reps (especially if you’re new to using straps) you’re going to have a mind-altering experience.