You can always tell if a lifters’ workout routine is serious based on how they look from the back.
Lifters and trainees who do not have a true back workout routine tend to have what is called cardboard back.
Cardboard back is a condition in which your back has the thickness and density of a cheap cardboard box which is zero.
Another condition of avoiding real back work is what’s called air lats.
I know you have seen the meatheads at the gym who walk around with their arms flared out to their sides. They are desperately trying to manufacture some lats as they walk around the gym.
The truth is that there are no visible lats under their arms. The only things that reside under their arms is pure air and sometimes a horrific funk.
Not training your back is an example of fake hustle. It’s unfortunate, but many men still subscribe to the theory that all you need to train is chest and biceps.
The back is a fundamental part of your physique development. Without a good back workout routine, you are leaving an absurd amount of meat on the bone in terms of building your body.
This also applies to women. I have seen women lose all the color in their face when you mention the word “pull-up” to them.
The lame theories and thought processes out here that insinuate women cannot do pull-ups are totally bogus.
I’ve had clients ranging from young female athletes to older female trainees banging out sets of pull-ups with no assistance bands and with weight added to the chinning belt.
Ladies, when you want to show out and wear those string tank tops, y-back tanks, or the dresses with the back out, it starts and ends with great back development.
The Man With No Lats
At my first bodybuilding competition in 2011 (pictured above), I had no lats.
When I went to my front and rear lat poses there was zero evidence of any signs of lat development under those arms.
I knew I had to change the way I trained my back or I would never achieve the thickness and width that my genetics would allow.
At my second competition in 2012, there was a vast improvement. At the time of my competitions in 2014 (pictured above), I had developed a significantly better V-taper.
With that said, many lifters in the iron game struggle to build a respectable back because they waste time with movements and techniques like:
• Lean back lat pulldowns
• Alligator arm chin-ups
• Poorly executed deadlifts
Utilizing these movements as your go-to moves will not allow you to ever get to the bigger back promised land.
The worst technique for building a wider and thicker back is the usage of alligator arm pull-ups.
Alligator arm pull-ups are a cheap, half-rep version of a real pull-up.
It is a blasphemous way to do pull-ups and I cannot believe that some lifters have the temerity to actually do them!
You see alligators have short arms because they are alligators. That is how they are designed.
Humans have much longer arms than alligators. What could possibly be a lifters’ excuse for short-arming chin-ups?
The two most common reasons are:
1) Most lifters know they cannot do a full pull-up and do not want to face the embarrasment.
2) Some lifters have created a phony, online persona of being a hardcore lifter and do not want to be exposed.
I’m Too Heavy Bro
Some lifters use the fake hustle excuse that they are too heavy to perform pull-ups.
That is funny because most of my training partners on The Fit Team are over 200lbs and are doing pull-ups (and weighted pull-ups) every week.
The fact that some lifters cannot do a pull-up has nothing to do with them weighing more than 200lbs. The two reasons why most lifters cannot do pull-ups is because:
1) Most lifters avoid doing pull-ups like the plague and therefore are painfully weak in the movement.
2) Most of that 200lbs (25-35 percent) is body fat and not muscle.
The pull-up is the ultimate bodyfat test because as you get leaner and stronger, pull-ups will get easier.
Who cares if you look weak on day 1 of your workout routine? Virtually everybody does.
Getting stronger is not easy, but nothing in life worth anything is. Every strong lifter was once weak.
Leave your ego at the front door and accept the fact that success requires struggle.
The Top 3 Exercises To Build A Bigger Back
When it comes to building your back we want to build the ideal blend of width and thickness.
Back width refers to how wide your back is while back thickness refers to how thick and dense your back is.
It’s possible to have a wide back that lacks thickness and a thick back that lacks width. Training in the correct fashion is how you can develop real width and thickness.
There are 3 movements that will guarantee you get the correct blend.
1) Pull-Ups or Chin-Ups
The big difference between pull-ups and chin-ups is the grip.
Pull-ups use a pronated (overhand) grip and demand more effort from the back and less from the arms.
Chin-ups use a supinated (underhand) grip and demand more effort from the arms especially the biceps. Both movements will target your back like no other movement can.
Chin-ups are typically easier to perform because you have more help from the biceps during the movement. But regardless of which version you use you can still become dangerously strong in both variations.
Pull-ups or chin-ups are the main movements that will allow you to build the width that you need in order to achieve a V-taper physique.
This is why if there was only one movement that you could do for your back workout the pull-up or chin-up would be it.
Outside of aesthetics, it is also extremely impressive when you slap 30-50lbs on a chinning belt and start pumping out clean, full-range reps.
Now when I used to train at commercial gyms, the pull-up bars would be empty like a losing professional sports teams’ stadium.
You would see men and women use the combination dip/chin stations to perform a random ab workout routine and try to reveal a 6-pack.
The truth of the matter is that if you are fat, no amount of abdominal exercises will reveal your abs.
But if you follow the right diet and consistently performed the pull-ups every week your abs would automatically get stronger and eventually become visible.
To execute proper pull-ups follow these steps:
• Grab the chinning bar and get into a flexed hang to get to the start position.
• You can use a pronated (overhand), supinated (underhand), or neutral grip (hands facing each other) based on the type of chinning bar you use.
• Initiate the movement by drawing your elbows into your body.
• As you ascend up, think about pulling the bar to your chest as this will mentally make you feel stronger.
• Your chin must clear the bar for the rep to count. If your chin does not clear the bar, the repetition does not count, you cheated yourself, and you are officially an alligator.
Check out how to perform proper chin-ups below:
2) Rows (barbell or dumbbell)
While pull-ups take the title of the greatest back exercise of all time, you cannot build a complete back without rowing.
Barbell and dumbbell rows allow you to build thickness in your back. Consistently doing rows will allow you to sport a frame that looks 3-D versus one that looks as if it has been ironed flat.
Barbell bent over rows have been a staple in the bodybuilding game for decades.
Many championship backs (Schwarzenegger, Haney, Yates, and Coleman) have been built and developed with the barbell bent over row and the T-Bar row.
Modern gyms have tried to replace both moves with rowing machines in the gym, but the machines always fall way short like an undersized point guard.
You also can use dumbbell rows. Dumbbell bent over rows will not be performed with as much weight as barbell rows, but they offer you the ability to use a bigger range of motion.
The neutral grip is the standard grip but having the ability to rotate your wrist at the bottom of the movement makes the exercise harder.
You can also perform dumbbell rows with one-arm at a time which allows you to use much more weight than you would with standard two-arm rows.
If you are consistent with rowing you will build a bigger and thicker back.
Check out how to perform barbell rows below:
So no workout routine for the back is complete without the deadlift.
When we think about some of the greatest backs in bodybuilding history we can attribute their success to the deadlift. Franco Columbo, Dorian Yates, and Ronnie Coleman all come to mind.
But can you build a legendary back without using the deadlift? Ask Serge Nubret or any gymnast.
But unless you are them, I would advise that the deadlift be a consistent part of your training program.
If your goal is to build a muscular, dense back, nothing is better than pulling heavy weights.
While conventional deadlifting is great, the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is just as good if not better for great back development.
Conventional deadlifts allow you to pull more weight. But RDLs put your back under tension for an extended time which also leads to amazing gains in muscle growth.
When it comes to placement, I have always trained my deadlifts and RDLs on my lower body days. Because the legs are involved to such a large degree, training them on lower body days always felt more natural.
The bonus of doing this is that you get an extra day to get some back work in on your lower body days.
Don’t worry about any muscular overtraining as your back is very resilient and will adapt with more growth.
As a result, both deadlifts rotated through multiple training cycles will allow you to look fearsome from the back.
Check out how to perform RDL’s below.
Workout Routine To Build An Incredible Back
So the big key to building a phenomenal physique is balance.
For that reason we will train our upper body as its own day instead of using a full body split. This will allow us to train the muscles with a higher focus during the session.
I have provided a sample 3 week workout routine below.
If you want a longer program than that you will have to show me the money like Jerry Maguire. It’s a joke but I’m serious!
Refer to my RP-21 Training System article so that you can learn about how to properly execute RP-21.
Mesocycle A (RP-21)
1) Chin-Ups SS Dips 7 × 3
2) Chin-Ups SS Dips 6 x 5
3) Dips and Chins 1 set to failure on each movement. Rest 2 minutes between movements.
1) Deadlift SS Glute-Ham Raise 7 × 3
2) RDL SS Dumbbell Reverse Lunges 6 x 5 (10 lunges)
3) Standing Calf Raises 3 x 12
1) Pull-Ups SS Incline Barbell Press 7 × 3
2) Flat Dumbbell Press SS Dumbbell Rows 4 x 8
3) Neutral Grip Chin-Up Ladder to max reps.
* For the chin-up ladder, start with 1 rep and add 1 rep each set until you reach 10 reps or until you can no longer hit the number of reps.
* The pyramid ends when you can no longer advance. You also have the option to bowl a spare (fail at a number, rest 15-20 seconds and then try to complete the set)
* If you cannot get to at least 3 reps on the chinning ladder, you need to use a band to assist you. Even strong lifters might need the band, as chin-ups are one the fastest dying moves in the game.
* Rest 15-90 seconds between sets.
* A strong lifter will typically finish up between 4-6 sets (10-21 reps) in this ladder due to the prior fatigue of the workout. If you reach 8-10 sets (36-55 reps) you are exceptional.
1) Heels Elevated Squat SS Glute-Ham Raise 7 × 3
2) Barbell Hip Thrust SS Barbell Hip Extension 4 x 8
3) Seated Calf Raises 3 x 12
* For the 4 x 8 sets rest 30 seconds between moves and then 60-90 seconds between sets.
* For the 3 x 12 calves sets rest 30-45 seconds between sets.
Stay consistent with the workout routine and the tank tops you wear during the summer will not resemble a XXL smock.
I’ll holla at you next time.
The People’s Trainer,