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Back Training 101: How To Build A Wide Back

Back is one of the biggest muscles of your body. And while it does not get as much attention as the chest and arms from most people, it is a deal breaker in your physique development, without a wide and thick back you will never get that powerful v taper look, think about Henry Cavill in Superman.

Back Anatomy

Before we start talking about back training let’s first get a look at the back muscles anatomy, I know that as bodybuilders we are not very attracted to the geeky side of things. But understanding the different components and functions of your Back muscles is a key element for growth. And here at the fitness coach, we don’t want to just give you workouts. We want to educate you so you can make your own workouts.

So, bear with me for a little and let’s take a look at the anatomy of the back muscles:

The First and biggest muscle of the back is the latissimus dorsi, the large triangular muscles that extend from under the shoulders down to the small o the back on both sides. These are the largest muscles of the upper body. its basic function is to pull the shoulders downward and to the back.

The second muscles are the spinal erectors, they are several muscles in the lower back that guards nerve channels and help keep the spine erect. note that the spinal erectors are also the slowest muscles in the body to recuperate from heavy exercise. their basic function is simply to hold the spine erect.

The third muscle is the trapezius, the flat, triangular muscle that extends out and down from the neck and down between the shoulder blades. and while most people train the trapezius with shoulders it is a muscle of the back.

the last muscle is the rear delts, which again besides being associated with shoulders they are still an important element for a fullback development, especially for advanced trainees who seek that hard defined look.

Now, how do we grow an amazing back musculature?

Well because of it relatively a big muscle and composed of multiple muscles, achieving a full back development is not an easy ride, to do so you need to adequately target all back muscles with enough work so you grow a big yet balanced back.

Essentially to fully develop your  back you need:

-The thickness and muscularity of the upper and middle back

-The sweep and width of the back

-the development of lower lats and lower back.

Now, how do we achieve that? it simply comes down to nailing a few keys in your back training routine:

Key 1: Work every muscle of your back:

that is the most basic rule. for instance, without a proper trapezius development, you won’t be able to achieve a thick upper back. So it is essential to work on your traps if you want a thick back. Same goes for rear delts who are often neglected by most trainees, while their visual impact is tremendous.

Key 2: emphasize your lats for a wider muscular look:

let’ face it back development is primarily about the width. and while thickness is a vital component of back development, most people associate a big back with a wide back.

I mean we all want that wide V taper look that signals strength and power. Fully developed lat will show even from the front and they will give you a very powerful and aesthetic look.

Now, luckily lat development is easily achieved by performing any pulldown exercise, things like Pull ups, Lat pulldown, Chin ups all works great in working your lats and giving you that V taper look. However, it is safe to say that the Chin up would be a superior option due to the fact that it involves way more muscles than say a pulldown. However, if you don’t have enough strength to perform Chin-ups, pulldowns will do the trick.

Another thing to keep in mind is to vary your grip width( wide grip, close grip, shoulder width grip and underhand grip all can be included) and positioning constantly in any of your pulldown exercises to attack your lats from a variety of angles for an optimal growth.

Key 3: don’t neglect your middle back muscles:

It is true that a muscular back is often associated with a wide back, however, a lot of width without some middle back thickness will result in a “weak” look. That is why it is vital to make sure to work both on width and thickness adequately.

To develop your middle back thickness you need to include rowing exercises in your routine, exercises like Bent over barbell rows, T-bar rows and seated cable rows all work great in that regard. Now, make sure that you execute those perfectly otherwise you won’t get much out of them. In any rowing exercise, always make sure you keep your back straight and your legs stable, don’t just bounce the weight with your legs, that will do nothing for your back growth.

Again, varying your grip width and positioning is essential to emphasize all the muscle fibers of your middle back, for instance, legendary bodybuilder Dorian Yates who happens to have the best back ever in bodybuilding history attributes his massive back development to Yates row, which is simply an underhand grip barbell rows with somewhat narrower than shoulder width grip. A simple change in hand positioning resulted in that much of a difference, I guess you can see why it is so important to constantly vary your grip and positioning. It is also great for finding which grip works best for you because we are all different individuals. So what works for me might not work for you.

Key 4: Don’t ignore your lower back:

Now, this is a very common mistake that will not only limit your growth, but it will lead to a weaker back and makes you very prone to injuries.

A strong well developed lower back will not only aid you in achieving a better overall back development, but it will also assist you in most of the heavy exercises like the standing Military press, Heavy rows, and deadlifts.

For optimal hypertrophy and strength, I find the Deadlift to be the most complete exercise for the lower back. It will not only grow your lower back muscles, but it will also grow strong lower back muscles that will assist greatly in keeping you injury free. Other options include Good Mornings, Hyperextensions and Rack Pulls.

Key 5: Train Your Back Twice a Week

By now you already know that I am a huge proponent of high-frequency is simply superior then once a week training especially if you are a natural trainee. But hight frequency training is even better when applied to Back training, Especially if your Back is a lagging body part.

You will overcome that by simply working your back twice a week, one day you will focus on lat development and performing several pulldown variations. and on the second day, you will work on your back thickness by performing a selection of rowing exercises.  Ronnie Coleman was one of the people who used this philosophy and I think that we all can argue that he had a monstrous complete Back. So give this idea a try and even you will be surprised.

Putting it all together:

Ok, now enough with explanations let’s put together a great back routine that will target every last fiber of your back and ensure optimal growth.

Note: This a very high volume and a demanding workout designed to be done once every 5 days at max, make sure to eat properly and rest adequately for optimal results.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Notes
1-Lat Pulldown 2 15 45 sec – hold peak contraction for 2 sec

-Use lighter weights

2-Pull Ups 5 5 90 sec -Add weight if possible
3-T-Bar Rows 3 8-10 90 sec  
4-Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown 3 10-12 60 sec -Use slightly wider than shoulder width grip
5-Straight Lat Pulldown 3 12-15 45 sec  

6A-Face Pulls

6B-Reverse Pec Deck

3 15 45 sec 6A and 6B are done as a superset with no rest in between.
7-Deadlift 3 10 60 sec Use moderately light weights. Don’t max out

Now you should be feeling like you are about to throw up, suck it, drink your post workout shake and get ready to grow.

Again this workout is to be done only once every 5 or 7 days, it is very high volume and performing it again during the week will lead to overtraining.

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