How to sculpt a legendary back
If your goal is to build more muscle, having an impressive back should be at the top of your list. Having a strong back not only helps with things such as posture, but it also instantly signifies power and takes your physique to the next level.
So how do you go about building a legendary back? Below are six of the best moves to building a wide, thick back that will turn heads wherever you go.
Before diving into the actual exercises, it’s important to have the right goals in place first. When it comes to back training, you should have two main objectives. One of your goals should be to work on making your back thicker and more dense. This is what helps turn guys into true mass monsters. The second goal should be to make your back as wide as possible. This is why some guys will refer to their lats as “wings,” because as they get wider and wider people often compare them to wings.
Since there are two different but equally important objectives when it comes to training back, you’ll want to make sure you are training for each one accordingly. With that said, it is also important that you adjust your training regiment to fit your specific needs.
For instance, if you already have good width but lack thickness, you may want to focus on exercises that will help increase thickness for a certain period of time or vice versa. In general, however, I always recommend that people use exercises that focus on both width and thickness in each workout to help keep yourself balanced.
Now let’s jump into the exercises that will help you accomplish both objectives.
Pull-ups are one of the greatest staples of growing a wide back. I recommend using a wide overhand grip when you perform pull-ups. This is the hardest of the pull-up variations, but it is also the most effective in growing your lats and creating greater width.
Pull-ups are also very easy to do incorrectly. It’s important to make sure your technique is correct so that you make each rep as effective as possible and don’t waste your time.
When doing a pull-up, you’ll want to keep your core tight, avoid using your legs for momentum, and focus on pulling your chest up to the bar. As you pull, you want to imagine pulling from your elbows rather than your wrists. The reason for this is because when you focus on trying to pull from your elbows, you naturally isolate your back better and your biceps become less involved which is exactly what you want.
As you perform each rep, you should mentally focus on squeezing your back. Since you are unable to see the muscles being trained on your back, it’s even more important to enhance your mind-muscle connection. That will help you better target them and avoid using secondary muscles like your biceps.
The bent-over row is another compound exercise that is great for developing a nice thick back. One of the biggest mistakes guys make in the gym with this movement is they use way too much weight. This movement does allow you to lift more weight than other exercises, but that is not an excuse to use subpar form to boost your ego.
While this is an extremely effective back exercise, if it is done incorrectly it can also cause injury. Therefore, it’s important to keep a few key points in mind as you perform this movement.
First, you want to keep your core tight, your legs slightly bent, and your upper body bent at the hips. Make sure to keep you back straight at all times and under no circumstances let yourself curl forward. If you are unable to maintain a straight back throughout the reps, you need to decrease the weight.
You may use either an underhand or overhand grip. I suggest alternating each workout. An underhand grip will put more emphasis on your lower lats and an overhand grip will emphasize your upper back. If one area is weaker than the other, you can adjust accordingly.
As you start performing reps, focus on pulling from the elbows just like with pull-ups, and pull the bar to your abdominals. You should feel your lats contracting as you pull the weight. You’ll also want to focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the rep. This further isolates yours back muscles and helps make sure you are getting the most out of each rep.
Always lower the weight so your arms are extended. If you find yourself not able to fully lower the weight, fully pull the weight to your abdominals or you’re unable to perform the reps without using momentum from the rest of your body, you should decrease the weight.
Despite this being a compound movement, your technique still trumps the amount of weight you’re moving.
Close Grip Pull Downs (Neutral Grip)
This exercise is great for developing your Latissimus Dorsi. I prefer to use a neutral grip handle on these as it helps me to get the best contractions.
To perform this movement, sit on the machine and grip the handle. You should start with your arms fully extended and with a good stretch at your shoulders (or scapula).
As you pull the handle from your elbows, bring it to the top of your chest as your upper back leans slightly backwards and you retract your scapula.
Leaning back slightly with your upper back is not an issue during this movement, but your lower back should stay completely still. If you find yourself swaying or needing momentum to complete more than the last 1 or 2 reps of a set, you should decrease the weight.
Once the handle reaches the top of your chest, focus on squeezing your back muscles for 1-2 seconds and then slowly bring the handle back up.
One-Arm Dumbbell Rows
One-arm dumbbell rows are one of my favorite exercises for training the back because it allows you to isolate the lats and focus all of your energy on one specific area at a time.
There are many ways to perform this movement, but I always prefer to rest one knee on a bench with the opposite leg slightly bent standing on the ground. Put one arm on the bench as well to help counter-balance your body and hold the dumbbell in the opposite hand. Always keep your core tight and back straight.
To begin, start with your arm fully extended and the dumbbell stretched towards the floor. Focus on squeezing your lat and pulling from your elbow to row the dumbbell up and back toward your hip. This will help you isolate the lower lat as well during the movement.
Try to raise the weight up next to your torso and slightly above it if possible. Hold it and squeeze your lat for 1-2 seconds before slowly lowering the weight and stretching out your lat.
Using this full range of motion on each rep will help build your lats like no other move will because only focusing on one side at a time allows for further isolation. Again though, if you find yourself using your shoulders, traps or any type of momentum from the rest of your body to row the weight, you are defeating the purpose of the move and should decrease the weight.
Close Grip Cable Row
This can be done with a variety of handles depending on your goal. You can use astraight bar or a v-grip bar to focus more on thickness.
Whichever you choose, start with sitting on the bench so your legs are slightly bent at the knees. If your machine has foot rests, use them. If not, keep your feet flat on the floor.
Grab the handle and start with your upper back slightly stretched forward, as if you are reaching to grab the handle while keeping your butt on the bench.
From that position, retract your scapula and pull through your elbows to bring the handle straight back to your abdominals. As you move the weight, straighten your back so it is perpendicular to the floor and keep your chest high.
Always make sure to keep your lower back stationary throughout the movement and don’t lean back at the top of the rep. You may see guys using a ton of weight on this move. They may also be swaying too far forward and leaning far back on each rep. That is a very ineffective and dangerous way to perform this exercise as it makes your lower back vulnerable to injury.
Instead, keep the reps slow and controlled on each set. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together and holding the top of the rep for 1-2 seconds.
Straight Arm Pulldowns
These are great as a finisher to an intense back workout. The important part here, as with every other exercise, is to make sure that you are isolating the target muscle area. In this case, you want to make the lats do the work and minimize any involvement from your triceps.
You can do that by slightly bending your arms and keeping your elbows fixed in that position throughout the movement. If you start bending your arms during the reps, you’ll turn the movement into a subpar tricep exercise instead of an effective back finisher.
To begin, use a rope or straight bar attached to a cable. Step back from the machine and bend forward slightly at the hips. With your feet shoulder width apart and your legs and arms slightly bent, squeeze your lats to pull the weight down towards your hips. Remember to keep your arms bent in a fixed position.
Hold the weight at your waist for 1-2 seconds as you squeeze the lats and then slowly raise the weight back up.
These are great for higher reps and lighter weight to really burn out your back at the end of a workout. It can, however, also be done in the beginning of your workout to help establish your mind-muscle connection and pre-exhaust your back before hitting bigger movements.
Quality Of Reps
Your back can often be one of the more difficult muscle groups to isolate and train properly. Since it’s also one of the biggest muscle groups you have, it’s important that you train it correctly. In order to do so, use these techniques to perform each rep.
Keep It Slow
Being able to isolate your back is great, but the longer you can keep it isolated the better. Obviously the goal is to be able to lift heavy weight, but when the goal is adding muscle, time under tension is a huge asset. So worry less about the amount of weight and focus more on contracting each rep.
Use A Full Range Of Motion
Getting a good stretch at the bottom of a movement, on say, pull-ups or rows for example, and then fully retracting your scapula at the top of the movement will help build substantially more muscle than if you were to half-ass your form and use shorter ranges of motion.
I cannot emphasize this component enough. Especially with back training, where you cannot really see the muscles being worked, keeping your mind focused on the muscles you are targeting can make the difference between a descent back and a spectacular back. If you struggle with connecting your mind and feeling your back during training, try using moves like straight arm pull downs and cable rows with light weights at the beginning of your workout to squeeze your back muscles. This can help you hone in on the target area before hitting bigger compound movements where it’s harder to isolate parts of your back.
Having big arms and broad shoulders is great, but no physique is ever complete without a strong back. Your back is what gives you that “legendary” look and by growing your back, it will help you develop other muscle groups as well, like your rear deltoids. Plus, a strong back will also help you stay safer while working out and decrease the chance of hurting yourself.
Your back should be one of your top priorities when it comes to building muscle. By using the techniques in this article, you will be able to train with a purpose and sculpt a legendary back!