A strong thick back is what separates the amateurs from the pros.
If you want a thick, strong back, there’s really no need to do a dozen or so exercises. Just five basic ones will give you the physique and thickness you need, while at the same time broadening the shoulders and giving you that masculine inverted “V” shape.
Of course, keep in mind that the back is one of the most sensitive body parts. Behind the muscle holds the spine, a critical part of our body that we need for the simplest of tasks. For this reason, we need to be cautious with form, as improper execution can result in tremendous pain or worse – permanent damage to the body.
With that all said and done, let’s take a look at the top 5 back exercises that add thickness and break down the steps on every one of them to minimise injury while maximising results.
1. Barbell Row
Also dubbed as the bent-over barbell row, this particular exercise focuses on the middle back, lats, biceps, and traps. Over the years, the barbell row has gained an excellent reputation with popular faces such as Arnold Schwarzenegger advocating the perks of the exercise.
[one_whole boxed=”true” centered_text=”true”] “With the exceptional of deadlifts, the barbell row is arguably the king of all back exercises.” [/one_whole]
- With a barbell of your preferred weight, place your feet shoulder-width wide (can be narrower). Your toes should line up with the barbell.
- Bend at your knees slightly, meanwhile bend at the waist so that your back is almost parallel to the ground.
- Your arm placement can vary. Bear in mind different hand placements will emphasise different muscles.
- Keep your elbows close to your body and pull the barbell towards your abs. Hold it at the top of the movement for one or two seconds and contract your back muscles.
- A wide grip with your elbows flared out will focus your upper back.
- A narrow grip with your elbows to your sides coupled with a supinated grip emphasises your lats.
- Make sure you pull with your elbows!
2. One-Arm Dumbbell Row
The one-arm dumbbell row works extremely well for building back thickness especially around your mid to upper back. Additionally, like many back exercises the one-arm dumbbell row also stimulates the biceps, shoulders, core muscles and particularly the rotator cuffs quite well.
Essentially, it is one of the most versatile upper body movements you can perform, given that you execute it correctly. Furthermore, by working each side of your back separately, this is one of the few exercises that allows you to improve any muscular imbalances.
- Find a flat bench and place a dumbbell on each side.
- While holding the top of bench (or side), rest your right knee on the bench and bend your torso forward so that your upper body is almost parallel to the ground. Your left leg will be placed on the floor to provide stability for the movement (this is assuming you are working your left side).
- When picking up the dumbbell make sure you pull your chest up and your wrist is straight.
- Pull the dumbbell with your elbow to your armpits while making sure you contract at the top of the movement. When you bring the dumbbell down in a controlled manner stretch your lats and conjoining muscles.
- Once your lats are fully lengthened pull the weight back. Make sure to completely stretch your lats so that you perform the full range of motion.
- Switch to the other side and perform the exact steps.
- Keep the core muscles tight during each rep.
- Remember, this is a back exercise. Power should be pulled from the muscles beneath your shoulders instead of your arms. Feel the stretch and pull with your back muscles with each movement.
- Keep your neck straight and your eyes facing forward with your head up.
- Make sure you’re using a bench of appropriate height.
- If you are unsure about your form. Have a spotter touch or press on your lats and rhomboids so that you distinctively know which muscles you need to contract.
3. Cable Row
Depending on the bar used, the cable row can focus a wide range of muscles. Most the time though, given that you are pulling the bar towards your abs. The cable row is your best bet to emphasise your mid-back and lats.
- Start by sitting on the bench and placing your feet on the foot rest.
- As you lean forward to grab the close grip bar with your palms facing inward. Maintain a slight bend in your knees with a neutral spine.
- Before you pull the weight. Make sure your shoulders are down, your chest is out while maintaining a slight arch in your back. This will allow you the isolate the intended back muscles.
- Pull the bar in a control manner towards your abs and squeeze your back muscles (focus on your elbows pulling back). As you allow the weight to fall, stretch your back muscles by leaning forward with the weight.
- Every time you pull the cable towards you, squeeze the back muscles for 1 or 2 seconds before repeating the exercise. What’s great about a pause is that it prevents you from using momentum to move forward and then backward again like a pendulum. Each repetition must be felt along back muscles instead of the thighs.
- There should be very little to no movement done by the legs while your torso should be at a complete halt. Do not swing!
4. T-Bar Row
Ever since the golden era, the T-bar has always been considered a primary movement for back thickness. Although similar to the dumbbell and bent-over barbell row, the T-bar row has a big advantage over the other two. Biomechanically, the T-bar row allows you to pull the weight at the strongest point, thus providing you the opportunity to add more weight. With that said, do not sacrifice your form!
- Assume a shoulder width stance and bend the knees slightly. Meanwhile bend your torso at the waist so that your back is almost parallel to the ground (20-30 degrees higher can be sufficient). Make sure your lower back is not rounded!
- While pushing your chest out and your hips back, pull the barbell towards your abs and you squeeze at the top of the movement to ensure you contract the intended muscles (focus on moving your elbows).
- With every pull, the shoulder blades should squeeze together. All the power should be coming from the back muscles right below the shoulder blades.
- After you have contracted your back muscles, slowly return to the starting position.
- Keep your head straight and look forward.
- Don’t forget to breathe normally, tucking in the stomach muscles and keeping the soles of the feet flat on the ground.
- Do not jerk the weight and make sure use a weight you can pull all the way to your abdomen.
- Do NOT have a rounded back!
We are saving the best for last. Dubbed the king of workouts, the deadlift doesn’t just target the back muscles, but practically every other body part. As a result, it is a movement every weightlifter needs to perform for optimal hypertrophy (given you have no back issues).
There are very few exercises that incorporate the entire body to pick up an object. Therefore, this makes the deadlift a unique exercise not just for muscle growth, but to expend calories as well. Not to mention, most weightlifters use this exercise to make a statement to their peers – especially when you lift heavier than your mate did.
- Start by choosing your preferred Olympic bar weight and squat in front of it in preparation for a lift. Your feet should be shoulder width apart, while your shins should be fairly close to the bar.
- Your hand placement needs to be shoulder width wide or slightly wider. You can use a overhand grip or a under/over grip.
- At the starting position push your butt out, keep your chest up, pull your shoulders back and look forward with your head while making sure your lower back is straight and not arched.
- When you pull the weight, drive from your heels while maintaining all the actions in step 3. When your lift the weight pass your knees, pull your shoulder blades together as you aggressively pull the bar up while simultaneously driving your hips towards the bar.
- Once you’re completely straight, as mentioned previously, contract at the top of the movement before lowering the bar down guiding it to the floor by bending at the hips.
[one_whole boxed=”true” centered_text=”true”] “Seems simple enough? But when done incorrectly, this exercise has the ability to damage the spine.” [/one_whole]
- Keep your eyes forward with every lift and don’t forget to breathe.
- Deadlift targets several muscles but if you want to play close attention to your back, then make sure that the shoulders feel each repetition thoroughly.
- Contract the back with each lift to experience better muscle development.
- Ensure that you pull with your legs when lifting the weight and not your back.
- Always maintain a straight back. This exercise is extremely dangerous if your back is rounded at any point of the movement.
- For the advanced lifters, shock your system the Arnold Schwarzenegger way by starting off heavy and then lowering the weight.
In A Nutshell
All these exercises take time and dedication to master. Remember, you should always have someone there to help you, especially when tackling heavy weights and complicated exercises. Although it can be tough to spot for free-weight back exercises. Your spotter however will always have to opportunity to provide feedback on your form and tell you when you are performing the lift incorrectly. Mind you this happens quite often, especially when lifting heavy.