by Maik Weidenbach
Its a fact: a truly impressive back is about as rare as 5 foot NBA center or one hour of TV without the Kardashians. Why is that?
For one reason, it seems that Monday is worldwide chest and biceps day in any gym on this planet. Motivation then quickly falls apart, the scheduled back day on Wednesday is often skipped in favor of the breaking bad marathon and don’t remind me about legs on Friday.
But then there are people who do train their back and still do not have much to show for. It is for those I sacrificed my Sunday afternoon and wrote this piece.
Here is your eight-point guide to build a massive back:
POINT #1: REALIZE YOUR BACK MAKES UP ABOUT ONE-THIRD OF YOUR BODY’S MUSCLE MASS
This means you need to do twice, maybe even three times as many sets of pulling than pressing. There are also way more muscles in the back (56) than in the chest (2). And yet the ratio of bench press vs. pull-ups is most likely around 8 – 1, which explains the many forward-hunched Neanderthal physiques you see in gyms all over the country. This imbalance is also the cause of most shoulder injuries as the bicepital tendon on being pulled into an unfavorable position.
POINT #2: FORGET WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT PULLING
Most people’s back workout is actually a really heavy biceps day, not so much a back day. Here are some pointers for on the proper way to pull:
a. Every rep starts from the shoulder blades; they go back and downwards before the arm even bends.
b. If possible, use an overhanded grip to exclude the biceps from the motion. If you do an underhanded pull, make sure to get a good 2 inches of movement from the shoulder blades, before involving the arms.
c. Focus on your elbow going toward the ribcage, not the wrist. Focusing on the wrist will make the pull much more forearm/biceps oriented.
d. Use a light grip. Most trainees grip the bar/ dumbbell extremely tight when pulling, which again leads to an overemphasis on the forearms and biceps. I would recommend using very light 3 fingers hold for the first sets. This will enable you to establish a proper mind- muscle connection for the exercise. For the heavy sets, you might still grab the bar for all that’s worth.
POINT #3: SPLIT YOUR BACK
Not literally with an ax, but you should consider having one full day for training your back and one partial during the day where your train your strongest body part. I for one find it tough to do heavy rows and deadlifts during the same day, but maybe I’m just wimpy.
POINT #4: PULL ON PRESS DAYS
This point somewhat overlaps with the previous one, but one easy way to add more volume for the back is simply to perform one set of pulls after each sets of presses. This will enable you to grow your back more and keep your shoulders happy and healthy. My personal favorite combos are: incline bench and pull-ups and military press with face pulls or low rope rows.
POINT #5: DEADLIFT
I shouldn’t even have to write this but just to be clear: in order to build an impressive back ( or physique for that matter) you must pick up heavy stuff from the floor. It even works with the current craze of ” functional training”, since improving your ability to move heavy items off the ground is about as functional as it gets (or at least a close second to the overhead press).
POINT #6: TO STRAP OR NOT TO STRAP
You can sneer at me for this one but I do think that straps have a place in training for bodybuilding. It is simple: your forearms are smaller than your lats, so they will give out earlier. This does not mean you should use straps all the time or even wear them on the treadmill, but they can be helpful during the heaviest sets or toward the end of a back workout. Straps, used properly, will enable you to focus entirely on the back and not having to worry about your forearms failing.
POINT #7: DO PULL-UPS EVERY DAY
Yes, you heard me. Some of my biggest gains came when I started each workout with 50 pull-ups. I would vary my grip either each set or each day. In addition, I was training in different gyms at the time so each one had a different set up.
In short, there is nothing better for lats, biceps, forearms, and rear delts, even abs than the good old fashioned pull up. I was also around 245 pounds around that time, so that was fun. Do not do one of these horrible muscle ups, keep your form. Rather take more sets that blowing out your elbows or rotator cuffs. Limit that practice to six weeks, then take four days off and see what happens.
POINT #8: DO STRAIGHT ARM PULLDOWNS – THE RIGHT WAY
The straight-arm pull down can be used as a finish movement to fully exhaust the lats or in the beginning of the workout to establish a proper mind- muscle connection. I prefer to use two of the triceps press down ropes , hooked to the top pulley. This way I ‘ll get the maximum range of motion.
Stand about with your feet about shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent. Grip the ropes lightly and keep a slight bend in your elbows. Pull the ropes all the way to your hips, keeping the same bend in your elbows throughout the entire movement and keep your head in a neutral position. Do 3 sets of 12-15 to finish your workout!