A broad, thick back is the epitome of strength. Sure, big arms are cool and all, but can you curl 300Lbs? Nope, didn’t think so, but you can deadlift that weight, can’t you? So many times we get caught up trying to improve and maximize the development of our “ego muscles” that we neglect to put in the same amount of work for the muscles that we can’t see when standing in front of a mirror.
And so, you’ll see guys in the gym with overly developed arms, shoulders, maybe chest, and quads, but nada development in their back, hamstrings, and calves. But that’s okay because today I’ll reveal to you the best back exercises for pure, unadulterated mass!
You had to believe that this exercise would be on the list of ultimate back gain exercises. After all, what is a thick back without deadlifts? A flat back, to be honest. Many take the deadlift for granted or believe that this monster of an exercise is unhealthy for your back and will cause back issues in the long run. Personally, I’ve only seen hip problems in older people who would deadlift ridiculous amounts of weight in their younger years. But who needs hips, anyways, right?
Without a doubt, one of the most important factors to consider when doing deadlifts is to maintain a straight back. If your back is all bent—no matter the weight on the bar—you’ll be jumping on the express train to snap back city. *Snap-snap. That’s the sound of a very expensive hospital bill.
There are a few stances to consider when performing the deadlift:
This is performed by keeping your feet within the range of hip width. Typically, one is isn’t capable of lifting stupid amounts of weight with this stance, but there have been a few lifters over the years who have shown tremendous strength by going traditional, two such great examples are Ronnie Coleman and Ed Coan.
This is where things get interesting. Personally, I’m not a fan of sumo deadlifts, purely because I’m stronger in the traditional stance and am untrained in the sumo. But that doesn’t mean you should brush it off. Sumo deadlifts are when your hands are closer to each other on the bar and feet are farther than shoulder width apart. If you do become well-trained in this stance, your lifts might just become the heaviest you’ve ever seen.
As a side bonus to doing deadlifts, your forearms grow tremendously strong and thick. You can’t have a good set of guns with forearms that are unable to match them, now can you?
2. Bent-Over Barbell Rows
A personal favourite of 6-time Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates. When I first started lifting, I would perform barbell rows with my upper body parallel to the floor and use an overhand grip. I was able to see some back gains but nothing awe-inspiring. Earlier this year I watched Yates’ Blood and Guts training video and saw that he incorporated an underhand grip with barbell rows while keeping his upper body at a 45-degree angle — the total opposite of what I knew to be the way to perform this exercise.
Suffice it to say, that when I began doing my barbell rows like this, the gains in my lats were sent into overdrive.
Another trick that I would use is when I pull the weight up to my body I would squeeze my scapulae together. By doing this you not only increase the development of your trapezius muscles, but you also contract more of the muscle fibers in the upper part of the inner lat area.
Remember this, your lats originate from your spinal area and insert onto your humerus. So, whenever performing a pulling movement always pull from your elbows, not your hands.
3. Dumbbell Rows
Not as effective as the barbell row, but still a powerful exercise to use in your efforts to growing a bigger back. There are various ways to perform the exercise, so I suggest you mix it up to shock your back.
First, you get the option of various hand grips; the overhand, underhand, and neutral grip — all of which will affect the development of your back. The underhand grip will place more emphasis on the lats, while the neutral and overhand grips will incorporate muscles from the upper back.
This exercise can also be performed with two hands instead of the traditional one-arm row. When performing the two-handed variation, don’t keep your upper body parallel to the floor, instead, lift your chest ever so slightly. If you want, this exercise can also be performed on a bench. Either you could adjust the bench to a 45-degree angle (or less) or you could lie face first on a flat bench. The great thing about doing dumbbell rows this way is that it eliminates the movement of the upper body. So, the muscles of the upper back are isolated to an extent.
4. T-Bar Rows
If there’s an exercise that you absolutely should be doing on back day, it’s the T-bar row. If you take a look back at some of the greatest backs in bodybuilding history, you’ll see that they all performed T-bar rows; Arnold, Ronnie, Franco, Dorian, etc. I think that goes to show that this is an exercise that works.
A couple years ago I incorporated this exercise into my back day regime (along with heavy deadlifts) and had the thickest back I’ve had to-date. For some reason, I stopped doing those two exercises and quickly saw my back fade into a shadow of its former glory. However, I have in recent months been doing these two exercises again in the same workout. Safe to say that my back is coming back bigger and stronger.