One of the most impressive sets of muscles on the human body, and one that is unfortunately neglected by many young trainees. Make no mistake, if you are hoping to build yourself a stare worthy physique, a decent back is definitely a must. Don’t know where to start? Let’s take a look at the back as a whole, then break down the best exercises to bring it up to scratch.
The Anatomy Of The Back
In total there are 77 muscles in your back. But don’t worry, you don’t need to learn 77 different isolation movements to work them all. There are several main sections of the back that we are going to concern ourselves with. We will cover the function and location of these muscles, and then discuss how to properly stimulate them.
The trapezius, commonly know as the traps is a set of three muscles going from the base of your head, to the middle of your back. You can see them on a diagram here:
The functions of the trapezius muscles, “are to move the scapulae and support the arm.”. They have a varied job, they help the scapulae rotate and retract. They can be felt to be working during rowing exercises, as they assist with pulling the scapulae back. They also assist with stability if you are doing a bench or overhead press.
How To Train Them
Most people, when they think of trap training, think of picking up the two biggest dumbbells available and shrugging them a few inches up and down. While this can stimulate the traps for some specific hypertrophy work, there are other movements that can be used to create full growth in these muscles.
• Dumbbell Shrugs. As mentioned are a good way to get some hypertrophy in the traps. However, shrugs should be done either with a dumbbell or a trap bar. A barbell held in front will not give sufficient scapulae retraction to fully stimulate the trap muscles.
• Power cleans. This full body power movement recruits the traps in an explosive movement where they go through a full range of motion. A lot of weight is put through the muscle, making a great builder.
• High Pulls and upright rows. High pulls are similar to power cleans, but they are more focused on hitting the upper back. Upright rows are bodybuilding staple, and have been used for years. A warning with these is that they have been linked with injuries in many trainees.
• Inverted Y press this is a very healthy lower trap builder. It is often recommended as a rehab and prehab exercise as it builds up the often neglected lower traps.
Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
The biggest set of muscles on your back, and the set that are most commonly trained. These are the muscles that give you that look when you walk around as if you have basketballs under your armpits. And they made Bruce Lee look like he had wings.
The function of these is, “extension, adduction, transverse extension also known as horizontal abduction, flexion from an extended position, and (medial) internal rotation of the shoulder joint.”. In easy terms, they help to extend the arm for pulling and reaching.
The lats are huge muscles are sweep from the bottom of your back to right under your triceps. You are probably already training the lats, but are there some ways that you can recruit them better? Let’s take a look.
How You Train Them
There are the traditional lat builders that you will hopefully already be doing, but there are also a few that perhaps you could add to your routine.
• Pullups/Pulldowns. These are standard powerful back builders that everybody should be doing. However, to fully hit the lats the optimal hand placement would be an underhand roughly shoulder width grip. This allows for the maximum stretch at the top of the movement, and a very strong contraction at the bottom.
• Dumbbell Rows. With the correct form (with the weight starting out in front of you, and coming close to your hip, elbows in, with a squeeze)this is a very effective movement. Many people in the gym will hurl up very heavy dumbbells that are essentially stimulating with rear deltoids and not their lats.
• Yates Row. This is a barbell row with a slight twist. You angle your body at 70 degrees, and being the weight in to your hips, almost tracking along your thighs during the movement. You will feel your lats working overtime in this position, triggering big gains.
Teres Major and Rotator Cuff
Although these two muscle groups are being put into one section, it doesn’t mean you should feel they are not significant, the perform important roles! The Teres Major is attached to the Lats, and is a rotator and adductor. The rotator cuff does what it says, it rotates! It is an extremely important set of muscles for keeping smooth shoulder and back rotation. The Teres minor is a muscle within the rotator cuff.
How to Train them
• The Teres Major can be worked by manipulating your hand placement on the lat pulldown/pullup. The wider the grip, the more this muscle will be stimulated. So that means that throwing in some wide grip pullups and pulldowns can be very beneficial for growing a well developed back.
• Dumbbell Pullovers/Straight arm pushdowns. These will stimulate this muscle very nicely. Infact, these movements have been used by the pros to pre-fatigue the back for years. Many bodybuilders swear by hitting these muscles regularly.
• The L -Flye can help to strengthen your rotator cuff. While this may not result in stacks of muscle popping out of your back, this movement will help you in the long run. By keeping your rotator cuffs strong and healthy, you will risk hurting them a lot less. Less injuries equals more training, equals more muscle.
As shown on the diagram above, the rhomboids are split into major and minor. Their function is quite simple, they help to being the shoulder blade towards the spine. This, as you can imagine is an extremely important job in healthy back function. The upside of this is that the rhomboids, when stimulated properly in training, can lead to a powerful looking physique.
How To Train Them
Basically most types of rows are said to hit the rhomboids. However, the problem that a lot of people have is the form with which they are rowing. If you are not rowing with a controlled tempo, with a focus on the contraction at the top of the movement, your rhomboids are not getting the love they deserve.
• T-Bar Rows. These might be easier to engage your rhomboids than a traditional barbell row. This is because the way the weight it positioned puts less stress on the legs and lower back. This will allow you to concentrate on the contraction of the muscles.
• Cable rows. Similar to the above reason, if you are stable in this position then retraction of the shoulder blade is possible and proper rhomboid stimulation can occur.
• Face Pulls. These should be done all the time for your back and shoulder health, but they are also a good way of hitting the rhomboids.
Lower Back and Spinal Erectors
The name lower back tells you a lot of what you need to know about these muscles. The lower back functions as part of your core, keeping everything in place, and assisting with bending, rotating and extending. Your spinal erectors are what support your vertabrae when they are moving.
How To Train Them
• Deadlifts. This is potentially the most powerful exercise for your back, hips, hamstrings and many other things! This movement is not to be overlooked for it’s strengthening of the spinal erectors and the lower back. Keep your form in check, and you will experience a huge increase in back thickness.
• Squatting and Good mornings. These movements will put sufficient strain through you body so as to tighten up your lower back and erectors. Essentially we are talking about strengthening your “core” muscles.
• Hyper extensions. This focuses on the lower back, caused hypertrophy and the coveted “christmas tree” effect.
So we have covered the different parts of the back, and listed the best exercises to stimulate these. Include these into your training, and you will definitely see much better results in your back growth that before!