Pro Tips: Building Your Best Back

In all of my years of bodybuilding the BACK has been the one body part that I have seen most commonly trained incorrectly. We do not have eyes behind our heads to see the back working, and the

disciplines that should be developed early on, such as the mind-muscle connection, is often

overlooked. This is what separates a good physique from an impressive physique.

Below are a number of tips to help you build an impressive and strong back!

#1 Connect to feel it.

  • Mind-Muscle connection is ESSENTIAL. Leave the ego at the door and lighten the weight. This applies especially for the beginners who are starting their fitness journey. Develop the proper mind muscle connections in the beginning so you when you increase your weights you have proper form and continue to use the target muscles.

  • Use the “pump” as a good indicator that you are targeting the proper area. Your back is a big muscle group that can be targeted from several angles and unlike your chest or your biceps; you cannot always “see” your back as you are training. It requires you to visualize what it is that you are doing. The pump in that area is a good indicator that you are effectively targeting the desired muscles.

  • Play the angels as much as possible. We are all structurally different from one another; play with different grips and angles to target different areas of the back. What works for one individual may not necessarily work for another.

#2 Neglecting the lower back.

Training your back is taxing on your whole body because it is such a large muscle group. Overall development is not just for cosmetic purposes. Having a strong lower back and core area will help you in other areas of training and also to avoid injury.

  • Do deadlifts at least every other back workout. Dead’s work your spinal erectors in conjunction with numerous other muscles. This movement is key to allowing your body to grow as a whole.

  • Perform deadlifts at the beginning of your routine. Warmup with a standing or seated pullover movement to get blood into the area. Properly warmup your back and deadlift as a second movement in your routine. Keep in mind that your lower back may be too fatigued to perform other standing back movements following intense deadlifting . Carefully map out your routine so that you can effectively train your back.

#3 Make use of straps.

Typically, your hands are the weak link in the chain and if your grip gives out first, you won’t be able to maximally stimulate your back, no matter how strong all the other links are.

  • An underhand grip involves the biceps more and can place you in a stronger position, allowing you to use more weight. Incorporate both underhand and overhand grips into your back routine.

  • Whether overhand or underhand, always wear training straps for any row, chin, or pulldown. In research performed by the Weider Research Group, trained bodybuilders using straps during a typical back workout increased the number of reps they were able to complete by one or two on every set of every exercise compared to when they did the same back workout with bare hands.

  • We recommend bodybuilders use straps during deadlifts, but if you want to increase strapless dead strength for powerlifting or other sports, alternate your grip by using what is known as a staggered grip (one hand underhand, one hand overhand) to better secure the bar in your grasp. A study presented at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the National Strength and Conditioning Association by researchers from the Weider Research Group found that trained lifters using a staggered grip significantly increased their strength on the deadlift compared to an overhand grip with both hands.

#4 Overusing secondary muscles

Bodybuilders who have trouble isolating their latissimus dorsi muscles tend to go too heavy and have sloppy form. Momentum now becomes an issue, biceps and/or rear delt muscles become overly engaged, and a full stretch or contraction of their lats becomes impossible. Because you cannot watch your back work while you are training, it is especially crucial to master proper form by feeling stretches and contractions during rows, pulldown, and other posterior lifts.

  • It is all in the shoulder blades. We are training BACK and not biceps. While your bicep muscles becomes engaged when training your back I cannot emphasize how many times I’ve seen individuals doing nothing more than training their bicep muscles. Your shoulder blades allow you to expand and contract your back muscles. Make believe your arms are like hooks, minimize lower back movement, and squeeze your back in the concentric part of the movement.

  • Control is key. We are not moving weight from point to point aimlessly. Use control and get the most out of every movement and range of motion.

  • Work the weight, don’t let it work you. Use a weight you can comfortably handle with strict form. There are times when you want to “cheat” with your form a little bit, especially when breaking a plateau, just do not let it become habit in your training.

  • Pull with your elbows, bringing them back and/or down as far as possible.

  • Focus on the targeted area of your back. Do not focus on the weight or the path of the movement.

Lessons Learned

  • Target a specific area during every back exercise.

  • At the end of each back workout, do isolation work for your spinal erectors.

  • Use training straps to secure your grip.

  • Include free-weight and bodyweight basics in every back workout.

  • Minimize momentum and feel the targeted area working throughout every rep.

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