Everybody can appreciate a well-chiselled back. Over the last couple of years it would appear there has been an increase in the amount of people who weight-lift for “aesthetics,” which would usually prompt people to imagine broad shoulders, a shredded set of abs and just all around leanness. However, one crucial feature on these admirable physiques is a thick back with wide lats which are visible from both behind and in-front, simply bringing the upper part of the body look almost 3D.
Moreover, what about from the back? After all, it is called your back for a reason! Anyone training their back strives to achieve the HUGE V-tapered look. That tiny waist-to-shoulder ratio is what I’m talking about.
Apart from making great gains, training your back optimally provides a number of other benefits. Think about squatting; if you’re hitting heavy weight and you don’t have the thickness and width to activate your lats enough to carry that crazy heavy barbell over your traps and balance the weight correctly, you’re going to do damage to yourself – and that’s the last thing you want.
So, how can we train our back effectively and efficiently?
Sure, we could do pull-ups all day every day, and we may experience a bit of growth, but we aren’t going to be challenging easyJet any time soon with those wings; you may as well go to Nando’s and ask them for some chicken wings instead. Note: you may want to ask for some of the little flags they use that say *HOT* with your lemon and herb seasoning to make yourself feel better too. The trick is to gain THICKNESS, and that isn’t done by simply doing a few pull-ups and dumbbell rows.
One exercise in particular stunted an awful lot of muscle growth, personally, and that was the deadlift. I’m sure you’re familiar with it, but let me just touch-base on why you should actually include them into your routine.
The deadlift is a compound movement, which means the exercise incorporates multiple muscles, and compound movements due to the multiple muscles they activate are well known to increase testosterone, which increases muscle protein synthesis and in turn builds muscle mass. So, the more muscles you’re activating in one movement, the more testosterone you are likely to release due to the metabolic stress you are placing on your body.
You must remember, the body doesn’t know you want to increase your muscle mass and create an incredible back… your body just wants to survive. A way you can effectively increase your ability to gain muscle is by shocking your body, and deadlifts are one exercise which do just that.
How to prepare for a killer deadlift session
I believe that pumping a lot of blood into the back is essential for stunting growth and activating as many muscle fibres as possible, so I’d suggest you started with a couple of strict-form sets of 12-15 repetitions, stopping at the bottom and waiting for a second before starting the lift again.
It’s called a deadlift for a reason… bouncing the weight off the floor will only result in a loss of potential gains. Using a weight-lifting belt will aid better control and (hopefully) prevent the temptation to do this.
The Importance of warming-up
When you work your muscles your body must transport oxygenated blood to them in order to aid in dealing with the weight you are lifting and supply you with the nutrients that are essential for sustaining muscle contraction. By using two high-volume sets as a warm-up, all of the muscles which need to be activated are engaged in the exercise for a sustained amount of time which allows the back to become “pumped”.
Once you’ve got your form nailed and your lats are flared from your warm up sets, your back is filled with oxygenated blood which is the prime time to train hard and effectively. Of course, there’s more to training back than just deadlifts, so here’s an example of a full back day, accompanied with step-by-step guides on how to perform each exercise effectively:
✓ Remove shoes or wear flat foot wear for a sturdier base
✓ Liquid chalk and/or wrist strips can improve grip
1) Standing facing a loaded barbell, position feet shoulder width apart and, keeping your back straight, place bar against shins and bend your knees. Reach and grasp bar with a a shoulder-width, overhand grip (alternate grip to make it easier.)
3) Drive up through your heels, keeping the weight central and close to your body, facing forward, keeping your head in that same position throughout the lift – lock out at the top, keep lats tensed.
4) On the way back down, keep head in the same position, and the bar as close – allow the bar to brush off the top of your leg to keep weight centred and hold control.
5) Once the weight hits the ground, pause and complete next rep.
DO NOT arch your back. If you’re forced to arch your back while deadlifting, you’re using too much weight.
|Warm up:||2 x 15 reps|
|Set 1:||Up to 9 reps|
|Set 2:||Progress weight; perform up to 8 reps|
|Set 3:||Progress weight; perform up to 6 reps|
|Set 4:||Progress weight; perform 5-6 reps|
Rest between sets: between 45 and 90 seconds to keep up intensity.
Exercise #2: Lat-pull-downs
1) Sit as far forward as you can and tuck your legs under the pads of the machine, push your chest out and arch backwards while reaching up to hold the bar.
2) Pull the bar down towards your chest, keeping your form locked in with an arched back.
3) On the eccentric part of the lift, gradually begin to un-arch your back and return to a straight position.
4) Allow your lats to stretch at the top of the eccentric movement, but still keep tension.
Repeat the rest of the repetitions the same.
|Set 1:||15 reps|
|Set 2:||Progress weight; perform 8-10 reps|
|Set 3:||Progress weight; perform up to 8 reps|
|Set 4:||Progress weight; perform 6-8 reps|
Exercise #3: Single-arm Cable Row
(Can be performed on bench or floor – this variation is floor)
a) Begin by placing weight plates next to the machine and attach the D-handle to a low pulley – choose your desired weight.
b) Sit firmly into the floor and rest feet on the plates for extra stability and tightness.
c) Face forward and pull the handle with your performing arm as far back as you can and squeeze at the contraction.
d) On the eccentric, control the weight and let the lat be stretched out fully by allowing the weight to stop dead at the starting position before you start again.
|Sets 1-3||10 reps|
|Set 4:||Triple-Drop-Set: 8 reps, 8 reps, reps to failure.|
Note: On my final set for the triple-drop-set, I typically decrease weight by 25%, then 33% and perform to failure.
Exercise #4: Cable Pullovers
1) Attach an EZ/straight bar to the highest point on any multi-gym and grab with over-hand grip.
2) Bend your knees slightly and arch your back so that your chest is still facing forwards (Imagine an early squatting position)
3) Hold the bar comfortably and pull backwards until the bar reaches your body, squeezing your shoulder blades together, core tight.
4) On the eccentric, allow the bar to return to a position in line with your head before performing the second repetition.
|Set 1:||15 reps|
|Set 2:||Progress weight, 12 reps|
|Set 3:||Progress weight, 10 reps|
|Set 4:||Reset weight to first set and perform to failure|
Exercise #5: Close-grip lat-pulldowns
This exercise is extremely similar to lat pulldowns (see exercise 2) – this image displays a grip slightly wider than your shoulder width, whereas this exercise requires your hands to be positioned just short of your shoulder width to enable more concentration on your lower lats.
|Set 1:||12 reps|
|Set 2:||Progress weight; perform 10 reps|
|Set 3:||Progress weight; perform 8 reps|
|Set 4:||8 reps then drop by 25% to failure.|
Step-by-step: (See exercise 2)