BACK for Days
Plan the attack or get left in the pack
Photography by Jason Breeze
Have you ever wondered or argued with your friends about which body part is the most decisive for winning the big competitions? What body part makes or breaks a bodybuilder as he climbs up the competition ladder? Or what body part really stands out at the beach, on the street or in the gym. If you said the big guns…put those away and stand back! The Back is the true equalizer at any contest for first place; it’s what separates a true bodybuilder from a wannabe. As the saying goes “The contest is won from the back”.
What makes an impressive back? It’s more than just the pairing of mass with intricate details that makes the best backs such crowd favorites. It’s their unpredictability. As opposed to pecs and delts, the contours of which seldom vary greatly from one bodybuilder to the next, when someone unleashes a lat spread or locks in a rear double biceps, the potential is vast, as a melange of muscles big and small jockey for attention. Just look at some of today’s big names like Phil Heath, Kai Greene and Jay Cutler, and you’ll see that they all share one thing in common- back for days!
We met up with IFBB Pro Chris White to get his take on back training and find out how one of Canada’s most symmetrical bodybuilders attacks his back!
“I have always found back training to be something of a paradox. The back, being a large and complex as it is, presents a special problem for most bodybuilders. To hit all the areas of the back sufficiently, it requires due diligence. You need to do the power exercises such as deadlifts, exercises for width such as chin-ups and pulldowns, and finally exercise for thickness and density such as bent over rows and cable rows. I have found my best results by splitting my back training into two separate workouts that helps me to focus and emphasize the needs of each particular muscle group. This strategy has worked wonders for my back development and refinement. Ok it’s time to get to work- tighten your weight belt, put your straps on, and let’s do the nasty!
3 Primary Muscle Groups for the Back:
> the trapezius muscles in the upper back
> the latissimus dorsi muscles in the mid-back
>the erector spinae muscles in the lower back.
There are several other smaller muscles in the back, all of which will be developed by performing exercises that work the three main back muscles.
Getting down to business
Chin Ups / Pull Ups
WORKS: (same muscles as the lat pulldown) lats, rear deltoids, biceps, forearms
* Chin ups are an advanced exercise because you have to be able to lift your entire bodyweight.
Grab a chin up bar with your hands a bit wider then shoulder width apart. Bend your legs so that your body is hanging from the chin up bar.
Straighten your arms and let your lats stretch. Hold this position for a second. Arch your back slightly and pull yourself up to the bar until your chin is over the bar. Hold this position for a second to maximize the peak contraction. Slowly lower yourself to the starting position. Repeat.
Tips – you can vary your grip to work your back from different angles. (i.e. wide grip, narrow grip, overhand, underhand, etc.).
WORKS: lats, spinal erectors, traps, rear deltoids, biceps, forearms.
Stand with your legs on each side of the T-bar. Grab the handle with both hands. Slightly bend your knees to take the stress off the lower back. Keep your upper body at a 45-degree angle with the floor. Let your arms hang down in front.
Use your lats and arm strength to pull the T-bar up and row it into your abdomen. Arch your back and squeeze your lats together to maximize the peak contraction in the back muscles. Lower the T-bar back to the starting position. Repeat.
Tip – for variety you can do this exercise with a reverse grip to hit the back muscles from a different angle.
One Arm Dumbbell Row
WORKS: latissimus dorsi, trapezius, biceps, forearms.
Kneel on a flat exercise bench with one knee, place the other foot on the floor beside the bench. Support your upper body by placing your hand on the end of the bench. With your other hand grab a dumbbell. Keep your back flat and let the dumbbell hang down at arm’s length.
Keeping your elbow close to your side, pull the dumbbell directly upwards until it touches the side of your torso. Squeeze your back muscles for a second to maximize the peak contraction. Lower the dumbbell back to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps. Do the same for your other side.
Seated Pulley Rows
WORKS: latissimus dorsi, spinal erectors, trapezius, biceps, forearms.
Attach a narrow handle to a low cable pulley. Sit in front of the machine and grab the handle with both hands. Brace your feet and keep your knees slightly bent.
Lean forward and straighten your arms to stretch your lats completely. Hold this stretched position for a second. Then pull the handle into your stomach and sit up straight. Arch your back and squeeze your back muscles, hold this position for a second to maximize the peak contraction. Repeat.
Tip – you can use different handles and grips to work the back muscles from different angles. (i.e. overhand grip, underhand grip, etc.)
WORKS: lats, rear deltoids, biceps, forearms.
Attach a straight bar to a high pulley. Grab the bar a bit wider then shoulder width. Sit down at the machine and place your knees under the knee pad.
Straighten your arms and let your lats stretch. Hold this position for a second. Arch your back and pull the bar down in front, try to touch the bar to your chest. Hold this position for a second to maximize the peak contraction. Straighten your arms to the starting position. Repeat.
Tips – you can vary your grip to work your back from different angles. (i.e. wide grip, narrow grip, overhand, underhand, etc.)
Trouble shooting your form:
When doing any back movement such as chin ups, pull downs, or cable rows, stick your chest out, arch your back slightly, and squeeze the shoulder blades together as hard as possible while pulling the arms as far back or down (depending on the movement) as you can. Developing the mind and muscle connection for back training is key to your development. Using strict form may mean reducing the weight a bit at the beginning but the payoff will come as you watch your muscle mass and development sky rocket. If you can check your ego at the door, you may find it hard to get through the doorway because of the size of your back.