Your back is important.
For your aesthetics it’ll provide you with the coveted V-taper, making your waist appear small and your shoulders broad and strong. It’s the classic power look, reminiscent of the golden age of Arnold, Lou and Franco.
It’s the timeless look of male strength.
It’s improve your physique massively both in and out of clothes!
But your back is also hugely important for the health of your shoulders.
In the pursuit of awe inspiring pecs and delts I’m sure you do plenty of bench pressing, overhead pressing and dips (if you don’t, what are you doing?!). These are all tried and true exercises for adding slabs of muscle to the front of your body.
But what you need to do is think of your body like a set of scales.
Your pushing strength and size (i.e your bench presses and overhead presses) sit on one side of the scale and your back strength and size on the other. Very often it’s our pushing strength that’s weighing down the scale.
Through a combination of lifting and a modern lifestyle that involves a lot of sitting (which tightens and shortens muscles like your pecs) our shoulders are very often rolled forward and rotated inward as the muscles on the front of the body are stronger and shorter. This not only impedes strength but also puts you at a greater risk for injury.
This is where back training becomes even more important than just acquiring a V-taper.
(although, getting your shoulders into their neutral, natural position will also make your shoulders look wider- so it’s a win for aesthetics too!)
The muscles in your back need to be strong enough to resist the pull of the tight and short muscles in the front of your body to stop your shoulder rolling forward. So how do we make them strong enough?
We train them. Hard.
A two to one ratio of back training to chest training is necessary to keep your shoulders safe and create a solid, strong and powerful posture. So for every set of chest or shoulders that you do, you need to do two sets for back.
It sounds like a lot of back work, but your back needs it! The muscles in your back are traditionally resistant to hypertrophy so they need extra volume to keep up with the muscles on the front of your torso.
Not all of the sets need to be absolute balls-to-the-wall, high intensity sets either. Simply including more sets of exercises like face-pulls can go a long way to helping build a strong, great looking upper back that’ll also keep your shoulders healthy.
To give your back training a boost, here’s some exercises and ideas to take your back to the next level-
Pull-ups: If you’re not doing pull-ups, why aren’t you?
They’re a staple for a strong back. They become truly epic when you’re strong enough to do them weighted! There are few things more impressive in the gym than heavy, weighted pull-ups! (I consider them to be like squats for the upper body)
If you’re going to include pull-ups in your training (and why wouldn’t you?!) then you should be aiming to add weight once you can do 12 or more bodyweight pull-ups. Alternate between doing lighter sets of 8-10 and heavier sets of 3-5 either every training day or every other week.
It's also a good idea to mix up your grip. So rotate between wide grip, neutral and chin-ups grips every 6 weeks or so.
(p.s doing lat pulldown doesn’t count as doing pull-ups!)
Another exercise that you just don’t see done very often! Many people want to train their backs using machines, but you just can’t beat some good old dumbbells for freakish back development and strength.
Make sure you’re not letting your hips lift the weight for you and keep your core engaged- your body shouldn’t be rotating whilst you’re doing rows!
I like two different loading schemes for rows-
The 40 rep method is simple. Pick a weight you can get 8 reps with and do 40 reps per arm with it. You can do as many sets as you need, but get the 40 reps. Next time aim to do it in less sets.
6’s is another method that is proven to get you strong as a bull and earn you that turtle shell. Pick a weight that’s challenging to complete for 8 reps. You’re going to do 3 or 4 sets of 6 reps with it per arm then on your last set go for as many reps as possible using the rest-pause method. Stop when your form breaks down, but push yourself. You should aim to steadily beat this number over time.
Incline Bench Shrugs:
You all want big traps, but did you know that your traps run right down to the middle of your back? You want to be training these lower fibres for complete back development. The Incline bench shrug is perfect for this!
Lie face down on an incline bench with dumbbells in your hands and pull your shoulder blades together in a shrug motion. You’ll feel this one in the middle of your back, in your lower traps.
Go for 3 or more sets of 12-15, going for feel and mind-muscle connection more than weight.
These also work as a great primer before bench press.
You should be doing these if you’re not already.
Including a few sets in your warm-ups is a great way to sneak in some extra volume for your back. I also like ending workouts with face-pulls too just to creep the volume in.
Doing them for 3 or more sets in the warm-up and 3 or more sets at the end of a workout for 8-12 reps goes a long way to making your shoulders a lot happier.
(as a little bonus, if you superset face-pulls with lateral raises then you’re in for a crazy shoulder pump!)
Include these four exercises in your back routine and aim to improve them month by month. You’ll see new found gains in both back size and strength!
You can thank me later.
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