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“BACK” IN THE GYM!

A Hypertrophy Guide To Training Your Back! (Muscle Gain)

Posted by Whisper - December 5th, 2013

WHY SHOULD YOU TRAIN YOUR BACK?


The real question is, why wouldn’t you train your back?


Believe it or not, quite a few people ignore back training or simply don’t dedicate their max efforts to it. Some of the most common excuses I have found are:

“It’s behind me so I can’t see it anyways.”    

      “I’m just interested in chest and arms.”

      “My back hurts so I shouldn’t train it.”


Just for the record, let’s take a closer look at these “excuses” as I dispute them for those of you who may be in agreement with them.

  1. It is behind me so I cannot see it…

    • Others can! Short and simple.

  2. I am just interested in chest and arms…

    • You will never have a big chest or big arms without a big thick strong back! Why is that? The answer is because your back is the foundation to all your upper body lifts. Your legs & core play a big role as well, but that’s an entirely different article. Without a strong back, it would be very difficult for you to continue to grow muscle when benching, shoulder pressing and even performing exercises like bicep curls. The reason is because the alignment of your spine plays a crucial role to all of those lifts and is why “thoracic extension” is so important. Thoracic extension is quite simply when you arch your back and pull your shoulder blades down and together thus sticking your chest out. Most people cannot do this or do not possess the muscle control to be able to do this, resulting in poor results in most compound lifts like the ones mentioned above.

  3. My back hurts so I shouldn’t train it…

    • The reason your back hurts could very well be BECAUSE you’re not training it, which would result in overtraining your push-pattern (pressing) exercises and not balancing them out with the pull-pattern exercises. Also keep in mind that if your back is weak, you may develop postural problems in the future as your spine will not have the needed support to stay straight/aligned.


BASIC BACK ANATOMY:

Your back is divided into many muscle groups. I do not wish to make things too complicated so I will just mention the larger muscle groups.

  1. Lats (IMAGE 1)
    The lats are those huge muscles located underneath your armpit. They are actually the longest muscles in your body, starting from your shoulder and extending all the way down to your lower back. They are your “wings”.

    Image title

  2. Traps (IMAGE 2)
    People seem to think only the muscles to the sides of their neck are their traps but, in actuality, the traps extend down to your mid back. The part of the muscle at the sides of the neck is just the upper trapezius but there are also the mid trapezius and lower trapezius.

    Image title

  3. Rhomboids (IMAGE 3)
    You cannot see the rhomboids. They are located underneath your traps at the mid back area. However, they play a key role in the thickness of your back.

    Image title

  4. Lower Back (IMAGE 4)
    The muscle groups in the lower back include stabilizers and spinal support muscles. They surround your lower back and help provide stability to your core.
    Image title

  5. Rear Delts (IMAGE 5)
    Yes, they are a part of your back thickness and are very important for shoulder health.

    Image title

BEST BACK EXERCISES FOR HYPERTROPHY

There are many back exercises to choose from. I would like to take a minute and discuss my personal favorites, why they are my favorites, which muscles they target and how to perform them with proper form.

  1. Shoulder-Width Grip Overhand Pull-Up (VIDEO 1)
    The pull-up is possibly the best back exercise you can perform. They focus mainly on your upper lats as well as rhomboids, rear delts and lower traps. Your biceps and forearms work as secondary muscles in the exercise, especially as you begin to add weight to your bodyweight.



  2. Barbell Row (VIDEO 2)
    You can do these with either an overhand or underhand grip. The overhand grip will target more of your upper back (upper lats, rhomboids, the whole trapezius, rear delts). Underhand grip will focus more on the lower lats, biceps and lower trapezius.  Be sure to alternate between these two grips, either by set or training session. Maybe even superset them together. They will help give you the back thickness you desire.





  3. T-Bar Row (My all-time favorite) (VIDEO 3)
    The T-bar row is an excellent exercise for targeting your lower lats so that your wings look huge not only from the back, but from the front as well. They target your rhomboids and traps in a unique way and also utilize your lower back stabilizers to hold your upper body in place throughout the exercise. One of my favorite methods to incorporate this exercise into my workout is with drops sets.  Start by using only 25lb plates (as many as you can), and remove one plate for each drop until you strip the bar of 25s. Your back will be screaming! The use of 25lb plates is preferred over the 45s because they provide a bigger range of motion.



  4. Neutral Grip Lat Pulldown (Palms Facing In) (VIDEO 4)
    The best way to hit your lats is to fully shorten and stretch them.  This exercise enables you to do that since you can bring your wrists all the way down to your chest thus driving your elbows down as far as possible.  I would say that this is the ultimate lat exercise for width. If your gym does not have a parallel grip bar attachment you can do the underhand grip variation instead.



  5. Face Pull (VIDEO 5)
    Believe it or not, many gym goers avoid this exercises. I believe it’s because most people fail to perform it with proper form and are unable to realize the true potential of the movement.  Face pulls will not only balance your push/pull pattern we talked about earlier, but will also fire up your upper back muscles like no other exercise ever will. This exercise is amazing for rear delts  as well which will in time give you that “mountains and valleys” look in your back.



Although most of these exercises will stimulate your lower back, as it stabilizes the lifts, you should also choose an exercise to target it more efficiently. Deadlifts and superman hyperextension are great choices.

Try both and stick with what suits you better, I will prove links below.

  1. Superman Hyperextension (VIDEO 6)



  2. Deadlift Fundamentals by Scott Herman



HOW TO TRAIN YOUR BACK FOR HYPERTROPHY

The best way to achieve hypertrophy to any muscle group with HIGH VOLUME and a PROGRESSIVE OVERLOAD. That means a lot of sets and reps, but how many? You want to complete enough sets and reps to ensure that you are making progress each week. No more than that. More is not always better.


The back is not like the arms or legs or shoulders. It’s easy to just lift weights for those parts and expect them to grow, because the tension travels almost directly into those muscles. But the story is different with your back and chest. You have to make sure you are stretching the muscle as much as possible and you are contracting it as much as possible. That means two things. First, go through a full range of motion (ROM) with every exercise.  This way you ensure that you are stimulating as much muscle fiber as possible. Secondly, whatever back exercise you choose, make sure you are maintaining a thoracic extension. This is the only way to fully shorten (contract) your back muscles (and to prevent spinal injuries).


Lastly, when performing compound lifts, such as all of the above, make sure you are keeping your entire body tight. That means tight abs, tight back, tight quads and tight glutes.  Flexing those muscles while you perform your back exercises will help prevent “energy leaks” from your body. You can also move more weight if you are standing on a stable platform. This way all your energy will be moved into the muscle you are trying to work. Look at it like this: when performing a pull-up, most people complain they cannot do more than 4 - 5 or even less. One of the reasons why is they are carrying “dead weight”. That means their feet are dangling, their whole lower body is shaking and moving back and forth.  Try contracting all your lower body muscles next time you perform the pullups, keeping your body stiff. I guarantee that you will push out extra repetitions!


CONCLUSION

Now, I could go on and tell you how many reps, how many sets, how much weight, how much rest intervals between sets. But I will not. What you have to understand is that bodybuilding is not only science. It is an art. You have to become one with your body. You have to build your mind-muscle connections. Everybody can flex their bicep. You probably can too. But almost nobody seems to be able to flex their rhomboids or their lats. Keep practicing that between sets. We are natural bodybuilders. Don’t try to mimic those people that are moving extremely high weights and think that you should do that too.


The key to any muscle hypertrophy and especially back hypertrophy is a mixture of:

  • Time Under Tension (TUT)

  • Hitting the muscle from different angles

  • Small rest intervals

  • Moderate weight, lots of repetitions

  • Sleep, recovery and nutrition

  • Mental concentration, patience and love for what you are doing

Common mistakes would be the following:

  • Not arching your back

  • Round of the lower back (flexion)

  • Not maintaining proper form throughout the whole exercise

  • Going way too fast on the repetitions

  • Taking too much of a break between sets

  • Not doing enough rowing exercises

  • Not using the back muscles when performing back exercises (example: momentum)

There you go! I hope this article helps and inspires a lot of people. So go in the gym and do some back! Have fun with it.  It’s a fun muscle group! But then again...which muscle group isn’t? #HermanitesTrainHarder



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posted by Whisper
Find me on:

MS Content Manager

Bachelors in Biochemistry
Strength Athlete & Aikido Practitioner

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MEMBER COMMENTS

Fox84

Awesome article @whisper , im gonna share this on facebook cause everyone usually only focuses on the front and not the back, me included, the only trouble im still having right now is my right shoulder, its always popping Alot! and there is a slight pain each time, and thats with no weights

matt42van

When I first started in the gym after high school...I did chest and arms.....I thought I was killing it.  only years after did I start to do all the muscle groups including back.  But years of only training chest and not back....led to a major imbalance, where the tight chest muscles were pulling my shoulders forward over time.  And again over time this lead to terrible posture and now after frequest trips to physio and massages I realize MY BACK IS F'D!!!!!!!!!!!    Any time I move my shoulders or back all you can hear is tendons poping in and out of place, my middle and upper back is litterally one big knot, where is literally hurts to work.  Im only 30.  All this because my first few years of working out I was stupid and didnt see why you needed to work every muscle...just do the ones that people see.  Wow, was I young and stupid, and I'm paying for it now...BIG TIME!  WORK OUT YOUR BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Scott_Herman

We all went through this phase bro!  But the good thing is that with training anything can be fixed! #HTH

Idris

Good to have you back. I notice you haven't losst sense of humor!

jonahsaller

Well written. You made some great points.

Whisper

Thanx! And thanx for checking it out :)

Scott_Herman

I agree @jonahsaller, @whisper does a great job with these articles!

nboleto

Awesome article man. The back is very often overlooked, but it's my personal favorite to train. In my opinion there is no more impressive part of your body than a thick, wide back. It shows true dedication because it's sometimes hard to motivate yourself to train a body part that you can't even see.

Whisper

Thanx man. Yea I agree, if you have a really well developed back, it reflects amazing to your physique. Even if your chest is not particularly developed, you re still going to look amazing. Furthermore, studies has shown that most women prefer big backs than big chests, so it doesnt matter if you can see it , because they can, and they love it. :D

ohawkey

I train at home. My back workout only has pull ups/chin ups, dumbbell rows, and resistance band rows. There's nothing I can do to train my lower back. Dumbbells aren't heavy enough to deadlift with. What can I do?

ohawkey

is there a video tutorial on floor hyperextensions?

Whisper

yea man this video demonstrates it alright : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0cRlX0dGUU

Mds5150

This is probably the best back explanation and advice I've read. defiantly gonna be useful.


 


Im looking to mix up my routines and really focus on my back which has been my worst routine to date. This has given my a great addition to my schedule. I like the look of superman hyperextention but not sure my gym has that.

Mds5150

What an awesome workout. couldn't get a physio ball so hit some dead lifts.


 


How often do you do your back a week, I really enjoyed that. That T bar made me sweet for sure!

Whisper

I either do this workout ( which is about 16-20 sets) once a week OR I cut the volume in half ( about 5-10 sets) and do back every 2 days. Its all about frequency vs volume. For the majority of people, it would be optimal to do this routine 2 times per week. But it all depends on your recovery time. :)

Mds5150

twice a week for me I reckon. Back equipment is usually free - probably because of the many reasons you've listed.


great job mate. Thanks so much.

kevinkoprol

Great article! Back day is definitely my favorite day! I totally agree with the best back exercises you chose, in the same order.And about excuse nr. 1, if you can't see your back, it clearly isn't big enough! There's nothing like big flaring lats!

Gagysha

Or Traps bro,amazing trapezius is my favorited muscles,lats too,but traps is muscle for monster training!! :) Hit them all brotha!!

Whisper

Thanx for the kind words dudes! And yes..an impressive back equals an impressive physique!

Gagysha

Great text bro'!!You're very nice explain to people this!!


Go Back to gym and work on your Back man!! :) I love this!! #HTH

Scott_Herman

I agree! Kostas did a great job! I was very impressed!

Gymdude

Awesome arrival...gunna read this through again. I do train my back but will be adding some of the new exercises in there

Scott_Herman

Love it man!! You are going to make some AMAZING GAINS! #HTH

Gymdude

AWESOME man!!!! Will report back for sure!

Declan

This article is great! Wish there was a favourites section. I've bookmarked it for now haha Nice going #HTH

Whisper

Yea man I hear that excuse a lot too. I m writing an article right now about something extremely controversial. Training frequency vs volume training. And yes, I am a huge fan of the Hodgetwins. They always make my day. :D

Declan

Really looking forward to reading that article AND the comment section haha You might start a very heated debate lol #HTH

aishwarya

face pull vdo

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