Back training is tantamount to maximum upper body size. It is also the vital upper structure that is the prime support in lifting as well as prime motivator for arm and shoulder movements.
A good lower back will keep a competitive athlete on the roster for more years and will support a heavier load, longer. A muscular upper back enables the boxer to keep his guard up, yet deliver knockout blows while NOT planted firmly on both feet. Broad, muscular lats that tie into well-developed "inner back" muscles (Infraspinatus, Rhomboidal and Teres groups) enable all types of rope climbers to reach higher and pull down harder and faster.
Wide backs add inches to one's overall reach and are tremendous aids to football quarterbacks, baseball pitchers and outfielders (throwing arm), mystics, yogis and seers is search of vision.
The above are some of the facts dealing with the bare necessities. Now we come to the how's and why's regarding the bodybuilder's need for complete and ultimate back development.
The beginner needs basic back strength to handle the entire work load each training session. The beginner also needs steady growth in the back regions for added size: most of your upper body bulk will be determined by the amount of back work you did the first five years of training and the amount of work you are now doing to correct the weak areas; to say the least of furthering your progress.
Yes, it's that heavy and I'm merely trying to make a point of its importance.
Symmetrical development of the back is not just important for appearance sake and strength -- it will greatly affect the symmetry of your entire upper body. Back development improves and matures along with the rest of the physique, however, if you don't keep working it the maturity of its appearance will fade and smooth away.
I would like to outline several approaches to developing all of the back muscles and take it from the beginner's outlook to advanced man.
For The Beginner
The neophyte to lifting is usually pattered away at with the important message of not doing too many exercises for each body part (at first). Back development demands that you do. Let me explain why this is the exception to the rule: You must map out a battle plan to hit the "rivers, bridges and tributaries" of the back muscles. The beginner must concentrate on strengthening his Erector Spinae and lumbar muscles for upper body sturdiness under stress; posture also becoming an obvious factor.
Deadlifts, Prone Hyperextensions, and Good Mornings are best as specific exercises. Roman Chair Situps and Squats also work the lower back somewhat, as do various forms of leg raises.
Working the latissimus dorsi muscles properly will also work the rear deltoid sections and some of the inner back muscles near the spine and in mid back. It must be noted that the upper lat and mid and lower lat must be worked for total development -- even for the beginner.
For the upper lats and rear deltoids I would suggest Bentover BB Rowing, Rowing while lying face down on a high bench (in both cases pulling bar up toward chest), Wide Grip Chins (front and back), and Wide Grip Pulldowns on lat machine. I would suggest the Don Howorth-Richard Kee method (give it a name. Kee-Howorth Pulldowns?) of doing pulldowns on a 45-degree incline bench. Face the incline away from the pulley and anchor it with a heavy dumbbell or something so it won't slide. Pull bar down (at angle) only to top of chest.
To work the middle, meaty portion and the lower insertion that provides the tail to the "sweep" of the lats I would try one of the following if you are a beginner: One Arm DB Row, One Arm Pulley Row (can be done from lat machine at a downward angle or done standing using a floor or low pulley), Close Grip Pulldowns, and Chins to the upper part of stomach; leaning back as you pull, 2-DB Rowing, bent over with head braced on a bench, Seated Low Pulley Rows or one of the very best for thicker and wider middle and lower lats -- Bentover BB Row with a "curl-type" grip (underhand) instead of the regular, overhand grip. Pull bar up to the gut while bending the knees just a little. Use a close grip for 2 sets, medium grip for 2 sets, and finish off with 2-3 sets with a moderately wide grip. This'll bring lats out on a pier piling!
The upper back will always get its share of work two ways: (A) as supporting muscles for all back and shoulder work and, (B) unfortunately it gets more than its share when you are learning other exercises and you are weak in the movements. You begin to cheat unconsciously and the upper back region takes over due to its consummate strength and versatility. The upper back assists in shoulder rotation, pulling in and out of the Scapulae, flexion, extension and the whole ball of wax.
Beginners try this tip we follow here at the gym -- if you are just starting out, work the upper back itself only once a week for the first two months. This will enable you to get into the more difficult Deltoid and Latissimus work ahead without dominating it.
After 3 months, reassess your present development. If you are getting wide, but not thick enough, then choose one upper back exercise and do it each back workout. If you are going to play football or wrestle, then I would suggest selecting two upper back exercises and one of them should be of the "pulling variety" (i.e., upright rowing, cleans, shrugs, or high pulls). Those of you who merely seek more width and muscularity, but have the thickness, work your upper back only once or twice a week -- believe me!
Here's a list of some good upper back exercises in the order of true value. The muscles being developed here are primarily the upper and lower Trapezius which is the prime mover of the upper back muscles and a great stabilizer for the neck in sports, the Rhomboids and Teres (both major and minor in each case) -- Upright BB Rows, BB High Pulls (pay close attention to elbow lift), Low Pulley Upright Rowing, Dumbbell Shrugs and Rotations, BB Hang Cleans or repetitions Power Cleans, Repetitions DB Cleans and Presses, Cheating Upright Row from floor with BB, DB Bentover Laterals, BB Jerks from Behind Neck, and Stiff Arm Lat Pulldowns on Lat Machine.
I won't have the space here to delve into each movement, yet I will strive to describe several of the less known variety and more useful ones. For now I would like to outline some suggested routines for the beginner, the intermediate, and the advanced.
First, the BEGINNER:
Routine A -- 3-4 times a week.
1) Wide Grip Chins, 6 x 6-8. If chins are difficult at first, try using a lat machine to build chinning strength, or do half chins and hold the top of each rep for a 2 count.
2) Bentover BB Rowing, 3 x 8-10. Add a little weight to the bar each set and brace head on bench.
3) Repetition Deadlifts, 3 x 10. This will really work the lower back and low lats. Bend knees slightly until you come fully erect. Pull shoulders back at the top of each rep.
1) Wide Grip Chins Behind Neck, 5 x 6-8
tri-setted with ->
2) One Arm DB Rowing, 5 x 8-10
tri-setted with ->
3) Reverse Grip Bentover BB Rowing, 5 x 6-8
4) BB Upright Rowing, 3 x 10. This one is done by itself.
For the INTERMEDIATE:
Warm up with 3 x 10-12 reps in the Good Morning or Prone Hyperextensions.
1) Wide Grip Chins, 6 x 8-10
2) Straight Arm Pullovers with BB, 6 x 8-10
3) Finish off with Power Cleans, 3-4 x 6
1) Reverse Grip Bentover Row, 8 x 8
2) Long Pulley Row, 6 x 8-10
supersetted with ->
3) Wide Grip Deadlift and Shoulder Shrug done Reeves style, 3-4 x 6-8
Add weight each set. You must use larger plates with an outer lip so you can grasp the lip with the fingers and thumb only. Thus further "extends' the pull on the scapulae downwards and out. Proper work on this will develop the cartilage and bone structure as well as muscle tissue thickening. This exercise WILL make you wider and broaden the muscle attachment structures. You'll probably need 35, 45 or 50 pound plates to get the rim big enough to grasp. Start with just one of these plates on each side until you master the movement. Bend forward at the waist as you would do in a regular deadlift; arms fully extended and grasping the rims of the plates only. Don't use your arms at all. The old adage of back work in having the trainee imagine his arms to be "cables" and the hands "hooks" illustrates best. Come erect with the weight using the torso only. Lift your rib cage and shoulders up and roll them back while keeping the arms at a dead hang throughout. Be sure to lift the rib cage as you lift your shoulders up and back. Shrug the shoulders and mentally spread the shoulder blades (Scapulae) slightly downward and out. The bar should end up against the thighs, arms hanging. Try doing 3 shrugs and spreads per repetition.
For the ADVANCED:
Warm up with abdominal work: 2 exercises, supersetted 3-4 times.
1) Prone Hyperextensions, 4 x 10-12. Weight may be held behind the head when it starts to get too easy.
2) Wide Grip Chins to Chest, 6 x 6-8
tri-setted with ->
3) Reverse Grip BB Bentover Row, 6 x 6-8
tri-setted with ->
4) Straight Arm Lat Pulldowns, 6 x 10-12
5) Finish off with One Arm Rowing with DB or Cable, 3 x 10-12
The above routine will widen and thicken the lats, mostly, but will work all sectors and is very strenuous. We've gotten excellent results with this one. Do it for 8 weeks working it 3 times weekly. At the end of the 8-week period, cut back to only 2 back workouts per week for a period of 2 weeks. Then take some photos and measure your upper body -- you'll be more than pleased.
Warm up with a tri-set for Abs:
Hanging Leg Raises ->
Lying Leg Raises on Bench.
4-5 tri-sets, work up to 15-20 reps per exercise (go with 10-12 reps on the hanging leg raises).
1) Front Pulldowns or Chins
superset with -> Cable Row (2 arm), 4-5 supersets
2) Bentover Rowing with 2 DBs, head braced on bench, 5 x 8-10
ALTERNATE with ->
Close Grip chin or Pulldowns for lower lats and serratus, 5 x 8-10
3) Progressive Load Increase on Reverse Grip Bentover BB Row
5 x 10-8-6-6-2 or 3 rep max
Drop weight back down and finish off with 10 reps in very strict form. Be sure to add a LITTLE weight to each set as you drop the reps. This exercise, done this way and at this point in the routine, is the real KEY FACTOR in this routine.
4) The 3rd and 4th exercises are done by themselves and with up to a minute's rest between sets. This is the only exception to the rule; otherwise rest as little as possible between supersets.
The last exercise is your choice; if you need additional width throw in a superset of Bent Arm Pullovers and Reeves Extended Deadlifts.
In the event that more thickness and muscularity is needed now, try alternating either repetition DB Clean and Presses with DB Pullovers (one dumbbell or two; straight arm style for more rib box and less lats), or Power Cleans supered with Cable Rowing (hi or low pulley, but do them seated).
Hope these hints help.
Enjoy Your Lifting!