The Benefits of Sculpting A Bigger Back, & 6 Exercises To Get You There
Add these exercises to your workout to sculpt a bigger, stronger back
By Tony Gentilcore
I want you to answer a question for me, and I want you to answer it truthfully. Do you spend nearly as much time working your back as you do your chest? If you’re like most men, the answer is probably no. But I’m here to change that. Sculpting a bigger back comes with a long list of benefits. For one, you’ll stand taller. Training your back targets common weak spots that lead to poor posture. Say goodbye to your caveman hunch.
And doing back exercises helps you bench press more weight. The muscles in your upper- and mid-back help stabilize your shoulder joints. The stronger and more stable your shoulders, the more weight you can lift in just about every upper-body exercise.
Your arms will grow bigger, too. The reason: Back exercises are also great for targeting your arm muscles. So whenever you bend your elbows to lift a weight—during a row or a pullup, for instance—you’re training your biceps.
You’ll also rev your metabolism when you concentrate on your back. That’s because your posterior chain contains big muscle groups. And the more muscles you train, the more calories you burn. And, finally, my favourite reason: Ladies love men with V-shaped torsos. Studies have shown that women are most drawn to muscular men whose shoulders measure 1.6 times the size of their waist. The only way to chisel a ripped torso that’s wide on top and narrow at the bottom is to do back exercises.
Now are you ready to work your back more? Get started with some of my favourite exercises that work your entire back.
PULLUP OR CHINUP VARIATIONS
If you want a V-shaped torso, you must do pullups and chinups. They build width because they target your latissimus dorsi (a.k.a. lats), the large back muscles that wrap around the sides of the upper body just below the arms. These muscles are the ones that give the torso a wider, flared shape, and can make you appear slimmer even if you haven’t lost an inch around your middle.
Below is a list of variations of this classic back exercise from easiest to hardest. As you pull your chest to the bar during each rep, think about pulling your shoulder blades toward your back pockets. This will force you to use your upper-back muscles—as opposed to your biceps—to perform the move.
For each rep of this back exercise, you’ll start in a dead hang and then pull your chest to the bar.
CHINUP: Grab the bar with a shoulder-width underhand grip.
NEUTRAL-GRIP PULLUP: Grab the parallel handles of a chinup station so that your palms are facings each other.
MIXED GRIP CHINUP: Placing your hands shoulder-width apart, use an underhand grip with one hand and an overhand grip with the other.
PULLUP: This is the same movement as a chinup except that you grab the bar with an overhand grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder width.
START-AND-STOP PULLUP: Perform a pullup, and then slowly lower halfway down to a dead hang. Pause, then pull your chest to the bar again. Pause, now lower all the way down to a dead hang. That’s 1 rep.
ISO PULLUP: Perform a pullup, but hold your chin above the bar for 10 to 15 seconds. You can do this for several reps or on the last rep of your last set of pullups.
TOWEL PULLUP: Find your hand positions for a chinup, then drape a towel over each of those spots on the bar. Grab the ends of the towels so that your palms are facing each other. Grasping the towels engages more of your forearm muscles, improving your grip strength and endurance.
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While you can’t beat the chinup as a back exercise, the lat pulldown is also great for increasing muscle. In fact, bodybuilders swear by it. Get the most out of the move by performing the exercise at a slow, controlled tempo. You should “feel” your lats working each rep. Do 8 to 12 reps like this, making sure your upper body remains in nearly the same position from start to finish.
DO THIS: Sit down at a lat pulldown station and grab the bar with an overhand grip that’s just beyond shoulder width. Without moving your torso, pull your shoulders back and down, and bring the bar down to your chest. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.
When it’s done right, the deadlift is an excellent back exercise. As you pick up and put down the weight, your upper-back muscles—including your rhomboids, traps, erector spinae, rear deltoids, and lats—must fire on all cylinders to keep your torso straight and your lower back from rounding. It’s when you fail to engage these muscles that injuries can occur.
DO THIS: Load a barbell and roll it against your shins. Bend at your hips and knees and grab the bar with an overhand grip, your hands just beyond shoulder width. Keeping your lower back naturally arched, pull your torso up and thrust your hips forward as you stand up with the barbell. Lower the bar to the floor and repeat.
BENT-OVER UNDERHAND BARBELL ROW
Compared to other variations of the row—like the single-arm dumbbell row—the barbell version allows you to use more weight. Rowing with heavier loads elicits more muscle growth in your middle and lower traps, rhomboid major, rhomboid minor, upper traps, rear deltoids, and rotator cuff muscles. Use an underhand grip to target your rhomboids, the small muscles that start at your spine and attach to your shoulder blades. They assist your traps with pulling your shoulder blades together. These muscles tend to be weak due to the long amount of time we spend sitting at desks, in cars, or on couches every day.
DO THIS: Grab a barbell with an underhand grip that’s just beyond shoulder width, and hold it at arm’s length. Lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor, and bend at your hips and knees. Let the bar hang at arm’s length. Pull the bar to your upper abs as you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pause, and slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.
You probably didn’t expect to see a squat variation on the best back exercises list, but front squats are an excellent way to build the upper back. Because the barbell is placed in front of your body, your back muscles must work overtime to keep your torso upright so you don’t tip forward. As you lower down into the squat, keep strict form. Maintain a tall chest and keep your upper arms parallel to the floor throughout the entire movement.
DO THIS: Grab a barbell with a shoulder-width grip and place it in front of you across the tops of your shoulders. Now raise your upper arms until they’re parallel to the floor, allowing the bar to roll back onto your fingertips. Without letting your elbows drop, lower your body by pushing your hips back and bending your knees until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Push your body back to the starting position.
SEATED CABLE ROW W/ PAUSE
Seated cable rows are a traditional upper-back exercise. Adding a pause for three seconds when the bar gets to your torso, however, can increase your gains. The pause keeps your scapular retractors working longer. Strengthening these muscles is important because a weakness can lead to unstable shoulders—and that limits your strength and muscle gains in nearly every upper-body exercise, including the bench press and arm curl. When you start this movement, pull your shoulders down and back. Otherwise, you’ll keep your shoulders elevated, which stresses the shoulder joint. Over time, this can cause your joint to become unstable, which often leads to injury.
DO THIS: Attach a straight bar to a cable station and position yourself with your feet braced. Grab the bar using an overhand, shoulder-width grip, and sit upright. Pull the bar to your upper abs. Pause for three seconds, then slowly lower your body back to the starting position. Your torso should remain straight and motionless throughout the movement. Don’t lean forward and backward to perform the exercise.
Originally published on menshealth.com