You can always tell if a trainee is serious about their training based on how they appear from the back.
Trainees who avoid true back work always 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 air lats. You have seen the meatheads who walk around with their arms out to their sides to try to manufacture lats as they walk around the gym.
The only thing that resides under their arms is pure air. And sometimes a horrific funk.
Even though not training your back is pure fake hustle, 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 back development, you are leaving an absurd amount of meat on the bone.
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 that women cannot do pull-ups are totally bogus. I’ve had clients ranging from young female athletes to older female trainees bang out sets of pull-ups with no assistance bands and with a weight added to the the chinning belt.
Ladies, when you want to wear those string tank tops, y-back tanks, or the dresses with the back out with confidence, it starts and ends with great back development.
The Man With No Lats
At my first bodybuilding competition, 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 final competitions in 2014, I had developed the elusive V-taper.
With that said, many trainees 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 Super Bowl of back-building. Heck, with that selection you will not even be a .500 team.
The worst technique for building a wider and thicker back is the usage of alligator arm chin-ups. It is absolutely blasphemous!
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 your excuse for short-arming your chin-ups?
Are you scared that you will not be able to perform the full rep? Will that destroy your fabricated online persona as being a true lifter?
Some lifters use the excuse that they are too heavy to perform pull-ups. That is funny because a few of my training partners are 230lb plus and are doing pull-ups with added weight every week.
It isn’t that you cannot do pull-ups because you weigh over 200lbs. You cannot do them because 25-40 percent of that 200lbs is pure fat. The pull-up is the ultimate bodyfat test because as you get leaner and stronger, pull-ups will get easier.
Don’t be afraid to get stronger as every expert was once a beginner. Who cares if you look weak on day 1? Everybody does.
Leave your ego at the front door and accept the fact that success requires struggle.
Top 3 Exercises For Building Your Back
When it comes to building your back we want to build the ideal blend of 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 the pull-up and chin-up is the grip.
Pull-ups use a pronated grip and demand more effort from the back and less from the arms. Chin-ups use a supinated 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 you can still become dangerously strong in both variations.
Pull-ups are the main movement 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 do for your back for the rest of your life, 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 to pump out reps.
You would think that with all of the benefits that pull-ups bring to the table, more trainees would be performing them. You would also think that with all of the benefits that vigorous exercise brings more folks would do it. Yet, our country is in horrendous shape as a whole.
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 random ab exercises to try to build a 6-pack.
The truth of the matter is that if you are fat, no amount of abdominal exercises will reveal your abs. Meanwhile, if you ate correctly 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 bars 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 mentally this will 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 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, you cannot build a complete back without rowing.
Barbell and dumbbell rows will allow you to build thickness in your back. This 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 a been a staple in the bodybuilding games 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. They have tried to replace it with rowing machines in the gym, but the machines always fall way short.
Dumbbell bent over rows will not be performed as much weight as barbell bent over rows, but they offer you the ability to get more range of motion. Also, the ability to rotate your wrist at the bottom of the movement makes the exercise harder and therefore able to stimulate the muscles even more.
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.
Regardless of if you are using a barbell or dumbbells to perform bent over rows, if you are consistent with the rows you will build a bigger and thicker back.
Check out how to perform barbell bent over rows below:
No article for training 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.
Can you build a great back without the deadlift? Ask Lee Haney and Serge Nubret.
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 develop a muscular, dense back, nothing is better than pulling heavy weights.
While conventional deadlifting is great, I feel that the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is just as good if not better for great back development.
Conventional deadlifts allow you to pull more weight, but RDL’s allow you more time under tension which also leads to amazing gains in muscle growth.
When it comes to placement, I have always trained my deadlifts and RDL’s 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.
Both deadlifts rotated through multiple mesocycles will allow you to look fearsome from the back. Check out how to perform RDL’s below.
Workouts To Build An Incredible Back
The key to great 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 more frequently.
Upper Body Workouts
(Note: These upper body workouts should be separated by about 72 hours of rest for optimal performance.)
Workout A: RP-21 Balanced Press and Pull
Chin-Ups SS Overhead Press 7×3
Flat Dumbbell Press SS Barbell Bent Over Row 6×5
Dips and Chins 1 set to failure on each movement. Rest 2 minutes between movements.
Workout B: RP-21 Pull and Press (Back Finisher)
Pull-Ups SS Close Grip Bench Press 7×3
Incline Dumbbell Press and Dumbbell Rows 5×10
Neutral Grip Chin-Up Ladder to 10 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 15-75 seconds between sets.
Workout C: RP-21 High Volume
Incline Barbell Press and Chin-Ups 7×3
Barbell Neck Press and T-Bar Rows 8×8
Push-Ups/Chin-Up 100 Reps/50 reps
-use as many sets as needed to reach 100 reps in the push-up and 50 reps in the chin-up.
-add accountability by setting a predetermined amount of sets to get the job done.
-If it takes you 10 sets week 1, make your goal to get to 100 in at least 9 sets the following week.
Lower Body Workouts
(Note: These lower body workouts should be separated by about 72 hours of rest for optimal performance.)
Workout A: RP-21
Deadlift SS Glute-Ham Raise 7×3
RDL SS Dumbbell Reverse Lunges 6×5 (10 lunges)
Workout B: 5×5 plus low volume assistance
RDL SS Barbell Hip Thrust 2×8
-rest 90-120 second between 5×5 sets
-rest 120-180 seconds between 2×8 sets
Workout C: 3×3 plus moderate volume assistance
RDL SS Dumbbell Walking Lunges 5×10
-rest 180-240 second between 3×3 sets
-rest 30-60 seconds between 5×10 sets
-rest 90 seconds between rounds
Use these workouts for 3 training cycles, (3 weeks on and a 1-week deload) and you will witness the big-time changes with your back. You will wear tank tops that will not look like you are wearing a smock this summer.
I’ll holla at you next time.
The People’s Trainer,