The muscles in the back are largely ignored by beginner bodybuilders. This is mostly because the muscles in the arms and chest are seen as more glorious and are then given a disproportation training focus.
While it is true that big biceps and bulging pectorals have a certain “wow factor” about them, having well developed back muscles can also have a similar effect and will make a huge difference in your physical appearance.
Have you ever seen someone with a broad and muscular back and thought, “Boy, they sure do not look very strong.”
I highlyly doubt it.
Even though the back is not given as much attention as other muscle groups, nothing screams power and strength like wide lats, a thick lower lumbar region and bulging traps.
Technicalities of Training the Back Muscles
One reason bodybuilders decide to place the back muscles way down on their list of training priorities is the fact that they do not see the same degree of results as they do when training their arms, chest or legs.
It's important to remember that the back muscles have the same capability to grow and develop as every other muscle group on your body. The problem of lagging back muscles typically stems from lack of training frequency and from not effectively targeting the back muscles while training them.
For instance, when doing one-armed dumbbell rows, most people end up giving their biceps more of a workout than their lats because they're curling up with their arm instead of pulling back with their elbows.
With just about every exercise that intends to target the back muscles, if they are not done properly the intensity of the movement will be transferred to somewhere other than the back.
Let's look at the best exercises for fully developing the back and how to perform them for maximum muscle building effectiveness.
If you ask a random guy at any gym if they know how to do a proper pull up, they'll look at you like that's one of the dumbest questions they've ever asked. Ironically, most would get under the bar and do it completely wrong.
The biggest mistake people make when performing pull ups is by hanging directly under the bar and maintaining a straight up and down torso through the entire range of the movement.
This shifts the emphasis from the back to the biceps.
The way to avoid this is by puffing the chest forward as much as possible and concurring the lower back inward by “leaving back” with your upper body.
Then, the act of pulling yourself up should be done by pulling your elbows downwards and squeezing in on your shoulder blades.
This is how you perform a proper pull up.
Pull ups are one of the most effective exercises for developing the lats and forming the “V” shape that bodybuilders strive for. But they must be done correctly.
You can also use varying grip widths when doing pull ups as a means of training a greater cross sectional area of the lat muscles than if you only used a single grip width on all of your sets.
Barbell shrags are not very technical per se, but they're the absolute best lift for developing large trap (trapezius) muscles. The trap muscles are located between the neck and shoulders and extend to about a third of the way down the middle of the back.
A set of highly developed traps gives an appearance of power and intimidation.
The reason barbell shrags are so good at developing the traps is because it enables you to use more weight than other lifts that target the traps would allow, so placing maximum intensity on the trap muscles.
The key to performing barbell shrugs is to keep your arms fully extended and lift the bar upwards by rounding your shoulders back and upwards. You'll also want to be conscious about not going too heavy on the weight and limiting your range of motion.
Placing too much weight on the bar will prevent you from bringing the bar upwards as high as possible, which can hinder your trap growth and development.
In other words, be sure to use a manageable weight with a full range of motion.
Bent Over Barbell Rows
Like pull ups, bent over barbell rows is another exercise that targets the lat muscles. While pull ups predominately target the upper lat muscles, bent over barbell rows target the middle and lower regions.
You'll start this exercise by bending over the bar and gripping it with your hands about shoulder width apart. You will then lift the bar off the ground until you're standing straight up and down.
While bending your knees, you will lean forward until reaching a 45 degree angle, with your chest out and your lower back concaved inward. At this point the bar will be handing at about knee level.
You'll then perform the movement by pulling up with your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Just like when doing shrugs, you want to start with a manageable weight and be careful not to overload the bar too soon when doing bent over barbell rows.
Putting too much weight on the bar can cause lower back injuries, compromise your form, and will take away from the back-building effectiveness of this lift.
Do not Ignore Your Back Muscles
This is by no means an exhaustive list of back exercises, but the exercises we've covered in this article will have the greatest impact in terms of building out your back muscles as fast as possible.
If you want a physique that exudes symmetry, power and strength, having a developed back is absolutely essential.
The only way to make that happen is by treating the muscles of your back like any other muscle group by training them often and training them with proper form.