Wide, ripped, thick, and freaky-strong is how most fit fanatics would describe their dream back. A super V-taper that makes your waist look tiny is priceless, but it's no easy feat! The back is a large body part, so it requires a lot of energy, intensity, and proper planning to build a routine that generates great results. Luckily, I'm a master planner.
So many different movements can build your back. Barbell rows, cable rows, deadlifts, and chin-ups come to mind, and that's just scratching the surface. Where do you start, and what do you prioritize? This article will detail five top-notch back exercises you don't want to miss. Mix them into your routine to switch things up and keep your muscles guessing!
Before you hit the gym and attack your back, you need to know the muscles you are targeting. Let's check out the functions of the major muscle groups of the back: the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, erector spinae, teres major, and rhomboids.
Muscle and Function
Muscle: Latissimus Dorsi, a.k.a. "lats" Function: Pull the arm down toward pelvis; pull body up toward arm
Muscle: Trapezius, a.k.a. "traps" Function: Scapular elevation, adduction, and depression
Muscle: Erector Spinae Function: Extend and support spine
Muscle: Teres Major Function: Move humerus posteriorly
Muscle: Rhomboids Function: Bring scapula toward spinal column
1. Chin-Up 21s
Transform your basic chins into super chins that force your back to grow! The 21s technique will increase your muscles' time under tension while targeting three different ranges of motion.
This creates a fuller and wider V-taper by developing the lats as well as the overall back musculature. Use a pronated (overhand) grip to target more lats and less biceps.
- Take hold of a chin-up bar with a wide, overhand grip.
- Start from the bottom position with a full stretch in your back.
- Perform 7 reps from the bottom to the midpoint of the exercise.
- Perform 7 reps from the midpoint to the top of the exercise.
- Perform the last 7 reps with a full range of motion. Pull your body up to the top by pulling your shoulder blades together and down. Slowly resist your bodyweight as you descend to the starting position.
Pull your shoulder blades together and down as you lift yourself up. Use a spotter or the chin-assist machine if necessary.
2. Barbell Rack Rows
We're going to start these rows from a dead stop off the rack, which breaks the concentric and eccentric phase of the exercise and forces you to recruit more muscle fibers for greater power, development, and growth. This technique will also boost your back thickness.
- Load the bar at mid-shin height on a rack and take a shoulder-width grip.
- Pull the bar up toward your ribcage in a dynamic and explosive manner. Resist the weight back onto the rack.
- Pause on the rack for a second or two to release back tension, then repeat for reps.
For an added challenge, add chains to each side of the bar to alter the strength curve and add progressive resistance through the pulling phase.
3. Blackburn Back Extension
This exercise increases the strength and stability of your back musculature while targeting the entire posterior chain. It improves posterior chain muscle balance and strength, which translates to injury prevention and stronger compound lifts like squats, rows, presses, and deadlifts.
- Get set on an isometric back extension. Hold your upper body in line with your legs.
- Start with your arms overhead and your thumbs pointed up. Switch your arms out to the sides with your thumbs up. Your arms should now be perpendicular to your body.
- Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle and externally rotate your shoulders.
- Finish by moving your arms to your sides and turn your palms up to the ceiling. Hold each position for 3-5 seconds and focus on retracting your shoulder blades.
Add weights to increase the demand on the stabilizers and the entire posterior chain.
4. Alternating Kettlebell Rows
Targeting one side of your back at a time improves balance and development. The dynamic aspect of alternating rows also requires more energy and develops overall back and pulling power.
This move shocks the back and offers a different challenge than traditional dumbbells. It improves functional power and grip strength, which is especially useful for sport-specific conditioning.
- Grab a pair of heavy kettlebells and, with your knees slightly bent, hinge from the hips.
- Brace your core and keep your back flat.
- Pull one kettlebell up to your armpit and twist through your obliques as you bring your elbow up and past your torso.
- Row to the opposite side and keep the exercise moving with a dynamic and continuous tempo.
Turn this into a more isolated exercise by doing these face down on an incline bench.
5. Straight-Arm Pull-down
This exercise isolates the lats with a controlled movement. We're going to use a rope attachment to create an even greater range of motion.
Straight-arm pull-downs let you target the lats without the interference of secondary muscles. This is a great finishing exercise to build the mind-muscle connection.
- Take hold of a rope attachment and step a few feet away from a cable machine.
- With your feet shoulder-width apart and your chest open, pull from the shoulder joint with straight arms by contracting your lats.
- Bring the rope as far down as possible outside of your hips.
- Squeeze and slowly return the rope to eye level.
For an added challenge, grab both ends of the rope with one hand and isolate each side with a one-arm pull-down.