The back, in my opinion, is the most complex muscle group in the entire body and thus the most challenging to maximally develop. There are a lot of muscles to think about when approaching back training: the lats, the teres, the rhomboids, the posterior delts, the mid/upper traps, the erectors, and yes the muscles that lie deep within the back (not readily visible to us).

It is also (in my opinion as a bodybuilder, fan, and judge) the most impressive to view when body fat is the low single digits, and all of those “gnarly” bumps and grooves are standing out in bold relief.

With it’s vast complexity, the entire back musculature carries with it the indisputable need to utilize many different exercises, angles, and grips in order to create true “completeness.” While it is certainly cool to have a wide, nicely “V’d” back, and awesome to achieve that “thick as a brick” look, when someone comes along that combines width, thickness, and detail, it is literally a jaw-dropping sight to behold—especially for those of us who truly appreciate the outer limits of physical development.

The way I approach my own back training, as well as that of my many clients, is to try and effectively stimulate every portion of the back during each workout, and to do so without over-training or spending several hours in the gym. This means NOT trying to perform every exercise in existence at every back workout, but rather utiilizing a unique grouping of movements at each session.

The following page offers a basic overview of how I recommend every serious lifter approach their back workouts. This formula has literally transformed my back over the last few years from a medicore muscle group to one that now garners serious attention from bodybuilding judges and photographers alike:

3 Basic Angles of Pull:

  • One vertical pulling movement (pull-ups, pull downs).
  • One horizontal pulling movement (seated row, hammer row, machine row).
  • One bent over movement (bent row, dumbbell row, T-bar row).

1 “Upper Lat” Isolator:

  • Stiff arm pull downs or DB/BB/cable/machine pullovers.

1 Upper Trap/1 Mid-trap Movement:

  • Upper: barbell shrug, dumbbell shrug, machine shrug, or Smith shrug.
  • Mid: upright row (BB, cable, DB) or behind the back shrug/upright row hybrid (BB or Smith)

1 Lower Back Movement:

  • Hyperextensions, deadlifts, partial rack dead lifts, or good mornings (I’m partial to partial deads).

3 Types of Grips for Pulling Exercises:

  • One with close-grip v-handle (palms facing).
  • One with a wide and overhand grip.
  • One medium (about shoulder width) and underhand.

*(I suggest varying which exercise/pulling angle gets which grip each time you train your back).

To clarify, a typical day of back might look like this:

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Sample Workout

  • Machine Pullover – 2 x 16-20
  • Wide Grip Overhand Pull-down – 2 x 13-15
  • Close Grip Seated Row – 2 x 10-12
  • Underhand Grip Barbell Bent Row – 2 x 7-9
  • Rack Deadlifts – 3 x 4-6
  • Superset: Dumbbell Shrug/Barbell Upright Row – 2 x 7-9 each

*Rear delts, which are definitely needed for a complete back, can be included on shoulder day for part of the year and back day for part of the year depending on your needs and preferences

I hope the above tips help you improve upon your own back musculature. It certainly made all the difference for me when I put this strategy together several years ago. 

Muscular bodybuilder doing a back workout using the back exercise the pullup

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