Want a big, strong back? Well, with the right back workouts and exercises, you can build one faster than you think.
Although many guys focus on building the “beach muscles” (every day is Chest Day), I think a big, thick, wide back is awesome.
It doesn’t come easily though. It takes a lot of proper training to really make it stand out.
In this article, I’m going to share with you my favorite back exercises and how I like to program my back workouts. If you follow my advice, and eat properly, your back will grow in both size and strength.
So, let’s first look at the anatomy of the back so we can better understand what we’re trying to achieve with our training.
The Back Muscles We Want to Focus on Building
The four muscles that make up the bulk of the back, and that need to be well developed, are the trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, and erector spinae. Here’s how they look:
(The erector spinae aren’t shown on the above chart, but they are the lower back muscles that occupy the gray area at the bottom.)
There are a few smaller bundles of muscle that matter as well, such as the teres major and minor, and the infraspinatus. You can see them here:
Now, here’s the goal in terms of overall back development:
- Large, but not overdeveloped, traps that establish the upper back
- Wide lats that extend low down the torso, creating that pleasing V-taper
- Bulky rhomboids that create “valleys” when flexed
- Clear development and separation in the teres muscles and infraspinatus
- A thick, “Christmas tree” structure in the lower back
My back is a work in progress, but here’s what I’ve been able to achieve so far:
Unfortunately I don’t have any older “before” shots of my back (every day was Chest Day), but my back has come come very far in the last few years. The breakthrough occurred when I changed my workouts to what I’m going to share with you in this article.
So, let’s start with some basic principles of back training, and then we’ll get to the best back exercises and a sample back workout.
Back Training 101
Here are the two most common back training mistakes that I see:
- Focusing on the wrong exercises (usually boiling down to focusing too much on the lats)
- Focusing too much on high-rep training
The result is a weak-looking back that has a V-taper but nothing else–nothing to show for in the middle, and small erector spinae. Here’s a good example of this type of back:
Crappy looking, but I bet he can do a lot of standing lat pushdowns.
A proper back workout trains the lats, but blasts the other major muscles. And fortunately the best back exercises do both–they build depth, thickness, and width.
There’s another very important point that needs to be made regarding back training:
Like all major muscle groups in the body, the back responds best to heavy, compound weightlifting. (Click here to tweet this!)
You need to pack on quite a bit of size to develop a great back, and when you want to maximize muscle growth, you need to focus on lifting heavy free weights.
What do I mean by this, exactly?
Your workouts should be comprised mainly of sets performed in the 4 – 6 or 5 – 7 rep range (80 – 85% of your one-rep max). You’re not going to build a big, strong back by drop- and super-setting the pulldown machine.
Training volume and frequency is also important.
Like “ideal” rep ranges, optimal training frequency is a hotly debated subject. The bottom line is it boils down to workout intensity and volume.
The lighter the weights and fewer the sets, the more often you can train the muscle group. And, as a corollary, the heavier the weights and greater the sets, the less often you can train the muscle group.
I’ve tried many different splits and frequency schemes, and what I’ve found works best is in line with an extensive review on the subject conducted by researchers at Goteborg University:
When training with the proper intensity (focusing on lifting heavy weights), optimal frequency seems to be about 40 – 60 reps performed every 5 – 7 days. (Click here to tweet this!)
This not only applies to the back but to every other major muscle group as well. If you’re an advanced weightlifter (3+ years of proper training under your belt), you can probably push this up to the 70 – 80 rep range, but any more than that and you will be risking over training.
So, we have our marching orders for building a big, strong back:
- Focus on heavy, compound weightlifting
- Perform about 60 reps every 5 – 7 days.