For many, the back remains an invisible and forgotten muscle group. Unlike the chest, shoulders, arms and abs, it is not striking, as does the six sculpted cubes or biceps stretching the sleeves of a T-shirt. More importantly, it is difficult to catch the back of poor development by closely studying your reflection in the mirror.
The problem has a simple solution – not easy, mind you, but simple. Give your back muscles the same attention that other parts of the body receive, and take a little time to identify any deficiencies in their development.
These five tips will help you work your back muscles from every angle possible and create the perfect upper body, from the deep muscles around the spine to the lats that diverge like a cobra’s hood.
1. Heavy deadlift
Pulls are a motley group of movements, uncomfortable, sometimes brutal. And yet, when it comes to developing the width and thickness of the back, there is little that beats the classic barbell rows or bent-over dumbbells. But there is one problem: from the deadlift technique, which many athletes use, the lower back quickly gets tired, because of which the lats do not receive their due amount of work.
If you are familiar with this situation, put your free weights aside and try the one-handed landmine row, also known as the Meadows row. A favorite exercise by IFBB pro bodybuilder John Meadows is performed with a barbell, one end of which is attached to a landmine machine. If your gym doesn’t have one, just slide the empty end of the bar into a corner or use a T-bar deadlift. Thus, you can increase the working weight and, adding stability, correctly redistribute the load.
Stand in front of the loaded end of the bar, perpendicular to the bar. Bend your legs so that your back is at an angle just above parallel. Grasp the free end using the palm down grip as if you were doing a dumbbell row. Pull the barbell by pulling the elbow back and bringing the shoulder blades together as the projectile moves towards the body. You can also place the forearm of your other hand on the same side of the thigh for balance.
2. Remove momentum
Inertia during training is not always a bad thing. For example, if you are doing weightlifting exercises, you are using inertia to develop explosive strength. In other cases, the inertial movement of the projectile reduces the load on the target muscle and makes the exercise much less effective.
If you want to fully unleash the growth potential of your back muscles, you need to slow down many exercises, including free weights, pull-ups, and block rows. For example, during deadlifts or bent-over rows, a short pause at the bottom of each rep helps dissipate momentum.
MuscleTech Brand Ambassador Abel Albonetti is a fan of one specific exercise that uses this technique.
The Pendley Row is a barbell drill requiring a full stop at the bottom of each rep when the bar is lowered to the floor. To do it correctly, place your feet shoulder-width apart, the front surface of the shins almost rests on the barbell. Bend your legs and grasp the bar with your upper grip, slightly wider than your ankles. The back should be parallel to the floor, the core muscles are tense, the eyes look forward to a point on the floor. Pull the barbell towards your upper abdomen, directing the movement with your elbows and bringing your shoulder blades together at the top point. Lower the bar along the same trajectory and release momentum by placing the bar on the floor for a second before the next rep.
3. Do not pull the same – make a pullover
The classic dumbbell pullover is not getting the attention it deserves. The authors of articles on bodybuilding do not contribute to its popularization, but muddy the water by talking about which muscles – the chest or back – work here. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger said that a pullover helps to expand the chest. Aside from this dubious statement, a pullover is a good upper body movement that involves the lower chest and lats, with an emphasis on the latter.
When performing a pullover with a dumbbell, you can lie on the bench in the usual way and lower the shell behind your head, or you can lie perpendicular to the bench, leaning on it with your upper back. For a change, make a pullover with a barbell, bent EZ neck, or in a standing crossover. In a crossover, use a rope stick and an overhead pulley; Pull the rope from behind your head with your back to the load stack. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a nautilus pullover machine in your gym that wasn’t used by anyone, but the six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates. He said that this exercise helped him a lot in developing his lats.
4. Strengthen neuromuscular connections
Admittedly, it is more difficult to establish strong neuromuscular connections with muscles that are not visible in the mirror. To create an unbreakable connection between the muscles and the nervous system, you need to exercise more, and the following row on the upper block works well for this.
One-Arm Row on Knee Block
This exercise, also called the one-armed kneeling row, can be a major tool for developing strong connections between the brain and back muscles. There are three good reasons for this:
- As with any movement in a cable machine, the one-handed row on the upper block on the knee keeps the working muscle in tension throughout its amplitude. This promotes greater activation of the lats in the eccentric phase and allows you to focus on muscle contraction directly during the deadlift.
- Unilateral exercises, as opposed to simultaneous work with both hands, increase the range of motion. Since each side has to handle the full load, you can concentrate on one lats and tighten the lagging half for more proportional development.
- You will need to reduce your working weight. The back is a powerful muscle group, and therefore in training, many take unnecessarily heavy weights. At the same time, the technique suffers greatly. The one-handed deadlift on the upper block while kneeling gives the opportunity to put technique above pride. (Your workouts already have a lot of exercises in which you work with a lot of weight. For example, the landmine row discussed earlier with one hand.)
Lift straps around the handle can help minimize the involvement of the biceps in the exercise. With them, the forearms and biceps are less involved in the grip, so you pull almost exclusively with your back for each rep. In addition, as the handle moves up, push the shoulder blades forward slightly to stretch the lats more. At the beginning of the next rep, first bring your shoulder blades together, then pull.
Place the one-handed row of the upper block at the end or near the end of the back workout. Do 4 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 30-60 seconds in between.
5. Powerful finish
Aside from the glutes, quads and hamstrings, the back is the strongest muscle group. Add to that that it is made up of many muscles. The array includes large and small rhomboid, large and small round, lats, straightening muscles, and trapeziums, among other connecting groups. As a result, we get a part of the body that is difficult to stimulate. To give your back the attention it needs, be sure to bomb your muscles at all angles and use different grip options throughout your workouts. A final chord for complete muscle depletion will also come in handy, especially if you can’t break through the training plateau.
Combo 100 Reps
A 100-rep finisher will finish off all stubborn muscle fibers; it can be used in top block rods or horizontal rods. Choose the first option if you want to add width, and the second option if you need thickness. Or alternate the two from workout to workout if you want to develop both.
For the final exercise, use machines, not free weights. A fixed trajectory is safer when you need to exert maximum effort, especially against a background of fatigue. It is also worth using straps to secure your grip – otherwise your forearms are likely to give up sooner than your back muscles. Put on the weight with which you get to failure in 20-25 reps, and put a stopwatch in front of you. This is what this finisher looks like in practice:
- Stamp reps until you reach short-term muscle failure where you cannot do another rep with correct technique. Take the number of reps and subtract it from 100 to find out the rest time. If you’ve done 20 reps, rest 80 seconds.
- After 80 seconds, resume your set and work until the next failure counting from 21. Count to 35? After this set, rest for 65 seconds and then return to the exercise.
- Continue this way until you have done 100 reps. The closer the finish line, the fewer reps will be in the set. Use the 100 minus total reps rule to determine your rest time. By doing so, you can boost your intensity, increasing your work-to-rest ratio.
- As your endurance and strength levels increase, increase your working weight in future workouts.