If you came here expecting a workout routine, you’re going to be disappointed.
This training article is about how you build a stronger, thicker, wider back without all that heavy weight lifting; light weights are just as effective.
You’ll learn how you can achieve muscular development in your back regardless which exercises you choose.
Knowledge is power. What you’ll learn in the next 8 minutes will enable you to create your own back workout routine.
That’s right: you don’t need heavy weight to build a bigger back. This university study proved that light weights can build muscle just as effectively as heavy weight.
When it comes to the back, I find heavy weight lifting to be the riskiest. An injury to your back can put you out of commission for months. I’m all for heavy bench and shoulder presses, but the back? No way.
This is good news because it shows how effective pull-ups and chin-ups are for building muscles in your back.
You ready to learn? Then let’s dive in.
You Don’t Need A Dedicated Back Day
The problem with most bodybuilding workout routines is the fact that they’re tailored for advanced lifters who are already big and strong.
This is why they usually have a lot of high rep hypertrophy work. You’re given a list of 5-6 exercises with 5 sets each. By the time you’re done with the workout, you’ve performed hundreds of reps.
These “ultimate back workout routines” are nothing more than a waste of time if you don’t already have a strong, thick back to begin with.
Plus, you’ll be in the gym for 2 or more hours with the goal of blasting your back muscles. It’s overkill for 95% of lifters. You don’t need to lift this much to develop a nice back. That’s just the plain truth.
You don’t need a dedicated “back day” in your training.
So what you should do instead? How can you build a strong, thick, wide back without a dedicated day for it?
It’s true that a big back makes wider. But, you don’t need a ton of work to get wide. All you need are a few select exercises that target the lats and build width.
Knowing this truth, all you need is to work in some back exercises throughout your week when you hit the gym to train.
It doesn’t matter what type of routine you have. You could even perform some back exercises on your leg day if you wish.
For me, I hit my back every 2-3 days with 5-8 sets. The exercises will vary depending on how I feel for that day.
As long as you’re focused on progressive overload, you will build a bigger back. And, because the back is easy to workout, you can hit these back muscles on chest day, shoulder day, upper body day or leg day. The choice is up to you.
Train your back for maximum muscle growth. As long as you’re eating right, you will get stronger and thicker in the back with just a few exercises per week.
What Are The Best Back Exercises For Muscle Growth?
The reason I like to train my back this way is that it allows me to stay flexible with my training.
Having a dedicated back day would force you to be in the gym at least 4-5 days per week. If you live a busy life, getting in the gym 5 times a week is tough!
Perhaps you only have time to hit the gym 3 days per week. Knowing this, you would have no choice but to mix back workouts with other muscle groups.
For me, I like to keep my training flexible. Because muscle growth is largely dependent on diet, I know that training my back won’t matter if I’m not eating right.
When you get your diet right, you will build muscle and size as long as you’re training with progressive overload in mind.
Knowing this, the exercises you choose for your back don’t have to be complex. You don’t need a ton of sets or high reps to build thickness.
For example, one day I may feel like doing some heavy weighted pull-ups or chin-ups. As long as I’m pulling more weight than last time, I am making progress (even if I add only 1-2 pounds to the weight belt).
Or, if I can’t add anymore weight, I just need to do an extra rep or two. This is still progress.
As long as you’re progressing your back exercises both vertically and horizontally every week, you’ll continue to build size and strength.
Vertical exercises hit your back with pull-ups, chin-ups, lat pull-downs, etc.
Horizontal exercises are the rowing exercises. There are a number of these that use the barbell, dumbbells, machines or cables.
Incorporate a few vertical and horizontal exercises into your back workouts. Don’t do one over the other; do both. Hit your back with some weighted chin-ups followed by some barbell rows. You could then do some lat pull-downs followed by cable rows.
As long as your focus in on progressive overload and getting stronger over a period of time, you’ll get that stronger, thicker back you’ve always wanted.
For me, I’ve been enjoying T-Bar Rows and weighted pull-ups for the past several months. Every week, I’m able to row a little bit more weight than last week. This has resulted in a thicker, wider back for me.
I highly recommend you have a barbell exercise in your back work. It’s very important for overall progress over a period of time. Barbells and dumbbells are much more effective than a machine.
The goal is to consistently get a little bit stronger week after week. Choose back exercises that are safe for you, that you enjoy, and that you can progress in.
Keep your form tight and start with a light enough weight so that you’re only using your back muscles to perform the pull.
If you have to compensate and bring activate other muscles to finish a rep, you are using too much weight. Keep your ego in check and use less weight so all of you reps are completed with good form.
Three Important Tips for Building a Bigger Back
I quickly want to go over a couple of tips which I consider to be the most important for back development.
As long as you’re consciously aware of these tips, your lifts will be much more efficient. You’ll get the results that you seek.
1) Training The Back With Correct Form
Training your back can be tough because it’s easy to overcompensate and bring other muscles into the lift, particularly your arms and lower back.
This isn’t what you want when you’re trying to grow your lats, traps and rhomboids.
It’s for this very reason that you should be training with lighter weights to start. You want to make sure you’re only using your back muscles for the lift.
I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen people jerking the lat bar around, using momentum in their lifts, using their entire upper body to pull that bar into their chest, swinging the weight around, etc.
This is so tempting to do when you work the back muscles because it’s so easy. Put your whole upper body into a row and you can move very heavy weight.
However, this will never develop your back like you want, and it can cause injuries. My brother recently injured his back due to lifting heavy weight with incorrect form. Don’t make this mistake.
The only back exercise I can think of where you can heave and ho would be pull-ups and chin-ups.
Because this is a body weight exercise, it uses multiple muscle groups to pull your chin to the bar. You can do these fast or slow depending on how you feel. You’ll get a good workout either way.
All other back exercises should be performed in a slow, controlled manner. This is to keep you from bringing other muscles, especially your biceps, into the lift.
Yes, you’ll still use a little bit of bicep no matter what…
But, as long as you use the right amount of weight and slow down the rep speed, you will hit the right muscles in the back.
When you use too much weight, your form suffers. You see this all the time in the gym. There’s always guys who are tiny trying to lift weight that’s much too heavy for them.
As a result, their entire body is being used to complete the rep. They’re jerking the weight around and using momentum. They take advantage of gravity to lower the weight instead of using their muscles.
It’s painful to watch at times. But, it’s always amusing to watch guys with 12-inch arms doing heavy tricep exercises.
Training this way might feed your precious egos and make you feel “strong”, but it definitely isn’t building any muscle.
I always find it even more amusing when I get a guy training correctly. They’re shocked at how little they can actually lift. It’s a humbling experience that must be done.
The solution? Leave your ego at the door. You’re not impressing anyone. Drop the weight. Correct form is more important than how heavy you can lift.
This is especially true for the back due to how easy it is to injure yourself lifting incorrectly.
2) The Mind-Muscle Connection Builds Your Back
The reason it’s so important to learn lifts with light weight is to get the feel for the movement.
What this means is that you need to actually feel your back muscles during each rep. If it feels like your biceps are getting more of a workout than your back, then you need to focus on the basics.
The basics being the mind-muscle connection. This is especially important for the back because it can be tough to actually feel the back muscles work.
Plus, it’s really tempting to pull that weight with all of your upper body. This is much different than pushing exercises like bench presses and shoulder presses.
To make sure your back muscles are being used effectively in your lifts, you need to understand the correct position and posture.
Most importantly, your back should be straight with a small arch in your lower back. Do not curve your lower back.
Curving the lower back is a very common error people make during rows and deadlifts. Keep that back straight. Use the mirrors in your gym to check your posture.
The next thing to fix is the position of your shoulders. Most people who work desk jobs have shoulders that are rolled forward. This position is constantly stretching your back muscles. It creates knots/trigger points that can take years to resolve.
Consciously pull your shoulder back throughout the day. This is the position that you’ll want to be in when you perform your back exercises.
Plus, this corrects your posture and gets rid of the rolled shoulders issue that plagues millions of men and women.
When pulling the weight, focus on pulling those shoulder blades in your back together. Go ahead and practice this form where you’re sitting right now. You don’t need anything to practice this movement.
If you bring your shoulders back and focus on the pulling motion, you should feel your back muscles doing the movement. Feel them flex and tighten up. That’s the feeling you want when you hit the weights.
It’s hard to explain this feeling in words. All I can say is that you’ll know when you do it right. You’ll feel your back muscles squeezing together instead of your hands, elbows or biceps.
A good visual analogy I heard years ago is to imagine that there’s an egg in the middle of your upper back. When you perform the row, imagine that you’re using those shoulder blades to break that egg.
That’s the feeling you should have. You’re pulling your shoulder blades together in the middle of your back.
Again, practice getting the form down with light weight. There’s no rush to building a strong, thick back so start light. Increase the weight slowly week after week with a focus on form.
3) Squeeze At The Top
The final tip for building a strong, thick back is to hold and squeeze at the top of the rep. This is another reason why you want to start with light weight.
If you’re lifting too heavy of a weight, you won’t be able to hold and squeeze the rep. You’ll immediately lose the battle to gravity and lower the weight.
This is not how you correctly perform back exercises. Gravity should never take over.
The best way to actually feel your back muscles in the exercise is to see if you can hold the rep for 3 seconds at the top of the rep.
So, go ahead and pull that bar or dumbbell towards your body. Once you’ve done so, can you hold it there for a few seconds?
If not, then the weight is too heavy. Drop the weight and try again. Keep lowering the weight until you’re able to hold a rep for 3 seconds.
This is the weight that you’re supposed to be at if you want to effectively work your back muscles.
Go ahead and perform 8-12 reps and hold the rep for a solid 1 second before lowering the weight again slowly. Be sure that gravity isn’t lowering the weight for you.
Remember, you’re trying to crack that imaginary egg in the middle of your back. Bring those shoulder blades together and hold for a second so that the egg is shattered.
What About Heavy Lifting For A Bigger Back?
Here’s the thing when it comes to lifting heavy for the back:
I’m very hesitant to recommend heavy weights because I’ve seen too many people injure their spine and pop discs.
It’s just not worth it in my opinion. You can build a great back using body weight and light weight pulls.
Stick to a minimum of 8 reps per lift. Make sure you can hold each rep for at least 1 second or else you risk injury due to the weight being too heavy.
It gets risky when you start doing heavy barbell rows for 4-5 reps. It’s too easy to start bending your back and using your lower back. This causes injuries.
Find a weight where you can keep your back straight the whole time.
If you start bending your back on the 8th rep, stop the exercise. Your form is broken and the set is over. Lower the weight by 15% for your next set.
And that does it for this very important article. It’s really all about preventing back injuries and getting your form perfected. Master the fundamentals before lifting anything remotely heavy.
What’s your thoughts on building a stronger, thicker back? Let me know in the comments below.