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If there’s one body part that often gets overlooked even by muscle-hungry bodybuilders, it’s the back muscles.
It makes sense if you think about it … you can’t see your back in the mirror (for the most part), it’s hard work to train your back, and no one ever asks, “How much can you barbell row?”
Even though it’s easy to make back an afterthought in your workouts, that’s a mistake if you want a fully developed, strong, and healthy body. After all, taken together the muscles in your back make up more mass than ANY other body part!
Fortunately, back muscles respond well to heavy training, and it’s not THAT hard to put together a solid lat-building routine. Here are six high-intensity training tricks that will help you sculpt your back and make it a strong point.
Your back is a very complex bodypart, but your training comes down to basically two goals: get wider and get thicker.
To get wider, you need to pick exercises that target your latissimus dorsi muscles, which run from your armpits to the sides of your waist. The primary action of the lats is to pull your arms down and back from an overhead position to the point where your elbows are near your sides and maybe slightly behind the plane of your back.
Great exercises for back width are pulldowns with a wide or narrow grip, chin-ups (curl grip), and pull-ups (pronated, or palms-forward grip).
The other back attribute you need to target is thickness, which comes primarily from your trapezius, rhomboids, and rear delts. Developing these muscles will give your back that bumpy, mountainous look you see with accomplished bodybuilders, and it will add depth to your physique when viewed from the side.
Good thickness exercises include bent-over barbell rows, seated cable rows, dumbbell rows, shrugs, and t-bar rows.
For some lifters, it’s really hard to feel and isolate your back muscles. When this happens, your biceps can take over on many back movements.
Not only does this shift focus from your back to your arms, it also limits the weight you can use since biceps are much smaller and weaker than your back.
To combat this, try the pre-exhaustion technique where your do an isolation movement for your back, followed by a compound movement that involves both biceps and back.
While this won’t immediately boost your training poundages, it WILL help you feel your back muscles more on both the simple and complex movements.
Good examples of pre-exhaustion cycles for back include dumbbell pullovers followed by pulldowns (lats), forward-lean shrugs followed by bent rows (mid back), and straight-arm pulldowns followed by negative chins (lats).
If you want complete back development, you can’t neglect your lumbar region, or the lower back. In truth, this area will get a lot of stimulation from your bent-over rows, squats, and other heavy compound movements, but more direct work once a week or so can be beneficial.
Lower back exercises include deadlifts, good mornings, and hyperextensions. Even more so than with other muscles, it’s vital that you maintain perfect form when training the lower back and find exercises that fit your physique.
You’ll never build a great back if you just slog weights around, so you need to learn and utilize impeccable form when training back.
In general terms, you need to keep a slight arch in your back throughout each movement and avoid bending your spine forward or backwards during the set. All that should be moving are your arms and the back muscles themselves.
Don’t overextend at the end of a rep to the point that your shoulders dislocate even a smidge, and DO squeeze your shoulder blades together when you reach the fully contracted position.
Keep your reps slow and controlled at all times.
Back training is complex, and you should consult with a fitness professional when you’re starting out to make sure you get your form in check. Since back training is so demanding, you also need to get clearance from your doctor before digging in.
Finally, you need to pay close attention to recovery when training your back intensely. Take each set to positive failure to ensure that you’re getting the most out of each move, but limit yourself to just a couple (or three) moves per workout.
Don’t train back more than once or twice a week, and get plenty of rest in between.
If you train with intensity and attention to detail and then give your body the chance to recover, you can buck the trend and make your back a strong point!
If you want to learn ALL about high-intensity training to figure out if it’s the right approach for you, be sure to check out HITMAN: High Intensity Training Manual.