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The back consists of a number of interconnected, powerful muscles, like the latissimus dorsi, teres major, rhomboids and trapezius. While specific isolation exercises target each of these, creating a thick, massive back requires multijoint moves designed to hit all of these muscles. Pull-ups, lat pulldowns and cable rows are part of a complete back program, but here are four exercises I believe to be the most effective for building back mass and thickness.
Deadlifts work a number of different muscles, including the back, lower back and legs, and they’re highly effective in creating a strong, thick physique. Here’s how to do this exercise: Stand in front of a loaded Olympic bar with your feet about hipwidth apart. Then squat down with your back at about a 45-degree angle to the floor and grasp the bar with an alternating grip, slightly wider than shoulder width. Keeping your abs pulled in tight, pull the weight upward by pressing down with your legs; continue the lift until you’re standing upright, the bar at arms’ length in front of you. With a controlled movement, reverse the motion and lower the weight back down to the floor, using your legs as much as possible.
Unlike deadlifts, this exercise focuses almost entirely on the back. To perform it, grasp a barbell with an overhand, wider-than-shoulderwidth grip and bend at the waist until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor. Keep your knees slightly bent and the bar at arms’ length. Moving only your arms, pull with your lats to bring the bar to your abdominals (not your chest), squeezing your muscles hard for a count at the top, then lower.
Not enough bodybuilders do this exercise these days, but it was always one of my favorites. Stand with your knees slightly bent and grasp the handles of a T-bar machine. Position your torso at about 45 degrees to the floor with the weight at arms’ length. Without moving your upper body, bring the weight up to touch your chest and hold for a moment at the top, then lower it under control to the start.
This exercise allows you to work each side of the back independently. Put one knee on a bench, lean forward and brace yourself with the same-side arm; hold a dumbbell at arm’s length in the other. Keep your body steady as you lift the dumbbell to your hip, then lower.
To emphasize thickness and size, do this routine of power movements every second or third back workout.
*While used primarily as a back widening exercise, the pulldown also helps add thickness to the back.