In this article I will not make any false promises, I cannot promise you that if you follow my routine your back will swell to Coleman-esque proportions in only six weeks. What I can promise you is that if you follow my suggestions, eat plenty of protein and carbohydrates to fuel yourself and give each training session your full focus, your back will have no choice in the matter; it will have to grow.
Your back is not what they call a ‘make or break’ bodypart like shoulders are; in physique judging some bodybuilders can get by with less than stellar shoulders, but back? No, you have to have a wide, thick back if you want to get taken seriously. Even if you have no intention of competing, a well developed back is an essential part of looking good from an aesthetic point of view.
Along with legs, back is a bodypart that will elevate your physique far above anything your standard ‘Bicep Boy’ could ever hope to achieve. Therefore making you look far more impressive than if you had a hulking chest and arms but no taper to your physique that a wide back will give you.
Not only is your back critical to the overall appearance of your physique but it is the key to having a strong and functional body, any strength you build here will enable you to handle more weight in other exercises such as clean and presses and various others.
A note on your workout split, your back workout should be very taxing (equally as tough as any leg thrash) and as such should be trained alone. However I do recommend following up your back routine with an ab workout. A back specialisation split could look like this:
- Monday – Back and abs
- Tuesday – Chest and triceps
- Wednesday – OFF
- Thursday – Legs
- Friday – Shoulders and biceps
- Weekend – OFF
This split enables you to work back at the start of the week after you have rested and motivation for training is at a high point. Also it separates your back and leg workouts, which are the two most demanding workouts of the week if done correctly.
Okay, let’s look at the back. In essence there are three key parts to it, the lats at the sides, the trapezius that span the shoulder blades and the spinal erectors at the bottom of your back that when well developed resemble a ‘Christmas tree’. Of course, there are other muscles in your back but these three should be your primary concern when back day rolls around, the other smaller muscles will get adequate stimulation if you train the three main parts properly.
Now let’s get to the routine. Your lats have both a pulldown and a pull back function and as such should be worked with both a rowing and a pulldown or chinning movement. All varieties of deadlifts will work your spinal erectors and also a whole host of other back muscles. If there is such a thing as a ‘Magic Exercise’ for back then Deadlifts are it.
The best movement for your traps is the shrug, either with a barbell or dumbbells; personally I prefer dumbbell shrugs for the greater range of motion and I like to lean forward ever so slightly. My reasoning is that your traps are mostly behind you and simply shrugging up and down only really hits the part of the traps that is on top of your shoulders.
A word of warning to you, I am willing to bet that your grip will be so exhausted at the end of a thorough back routine that you will not be able to hold the heavy weights needed to properly work your traps. For this reason I suggest training traps after shoulders on the Friday in the split above.
Your back is (or will be after a good few months of hard training) a large bodypart and can handle both a lot of weight and a lot of volume, so here is my suggested routine. This is a basic ‘No Frills’ routine which is ideal for the intermediate to advanced trainer. If you are a beginner and wish to follow this routine I would add 2 to 4 reps to the rep count suggested and take off 1 or 2 sets from each exercise.
2 work sets of 4-6 reps.
The tried and tested, basic off the floor deadlift is up first. This is the most compound back exercise and should be performed first when you are at your strongest. On each exercise strive to add weight when you can, do not go silly and try to slap another 20 kilos on each side every week, you will just injure yourself, what I mean is add the smallest weight increments available to you (even a couple of pairs of spring collars if you want) and assess your tolerance.
This is the safest way to progress, you do not want to get taken out of training by injury, trust me. Ensure you are thoroughly warmed up and then give these two sets your all. You can rest up to 5 minutes between sets of heavy deadlifts.
3 to 5 sets to failure, depending on experience.
Get at least 6 reps each set, if you are strong enough to complete 10 or more reps every set then add some weight by using a dipping belt and plates. If you are not yet strong enough to do pull ups then get to the pulldown machine and make yourself stronger in the 6-8 rep range. Pull-ups are a fantastic exercise yet are often underused due to their difficulty.
Bent over row
4 sets of 8-10 reps.
I like to use an underhand grip for a stronger lat contraction. These should be as heavy as you can manage in good form. I try to imagine I am pushing my elbows back as this lessens the involvement of the biceps.
3 sets of 10-12 reps.
These are another under used classic. If you have no pullover machine in your gym then I recommend you do your pullovers on the decline bench but go no steeper than 30 odd degrees. It is down to you whether you use a bar or dumbbell.
Also do not forget to add shrugs to your shoulder workout, do 3-4 sets of anywhere from 10-15 reps.
After all this your back should be thoroughly pumped and primed for growth. If you suffer from very bad soreness or DOMS it would be an idea to do one or two very light sets for 20-30 reps of seated rows after you have finished your ab routine. Ideally these sets should be done at least 20 minutes after you complete the back workout so it might be a good idea to do your abs and then a little bit of cardio. This should flush out some of the fatigue products that cause the soreness that can interfere with your other activities the next day or, even worse, the day after.
Now get yourself home and EAT!