Breaking Down the Back and Building a Stronger One – Back Workouts
The back is sometimes overlooked by many a weightlifter, and it’s unfortunate that they do this since there is so much that a strong back has to offer to its owner. But, more importantly, having a disproportionately weak back can have some rather drastic consequences.
A weak and unbalanced back can lead to some major problems with posture (although that should be obvious enough really), and it should go without saying that chronically bad posture can not only affect your social image but will also build up over time to translate into back pain.
Nobody wants that right?
Anyway, before we get to the part of this article where I tell you about some awesome back-building workouts to help strengthen your posture and pull strength let’s first ‘break things down’ a bit and educate you on ‘back basics’. Because this muscle group isn’t simple at all.
The Components of the Back
So your back is essentially composed of four major sub-groups, and they are:
- Lower Back (Trapezius)
- Middle Back (Rhomboids)
- Lats (Latissimus Dorsi)
- Traps (Trapezius)
They’re actually easy enough to explain and understand.
Your Lower Back is pretty much just the muscles surrounding the Lumbar region of your spine. Otherwise, known simply as the lower spine.
Your Middle Back region can be roughly thought of as the region between your shoulder blades. At least from a horizontal standpoint that is. Perhaps a better way of describing it via text would be to say that the middle back is the area where you can draw a rough circle that fits in both the shoulder blades. This is a very approximate and informal method of describing something much more complex, but it should point you in the right direction.
Your Lats are the nice, big muscles on your sides essentially. Basically, feel the area right below where the your arms connect to your torso. Now notice that it’s just simply one giant muscle that goes quite a ways down. The end of your Lats should reach relatively at the same height as your upper Lumbar region.
And finally, we have the Traps…who are the muscles between the actual ‘ball-and-socket’ joint of your shoulder and your neck.
So hopefully this clarifies some things for you.
Now let’s get to the goods.
Our workouts will be largely ones that actually isolate each individual sub group themselves. So let’s start with the Lower Back-Centric Routine.
- Stiff-Legged Deadlift – 3x sets of 10 reps
- Good Mornings – 3x sets of 10 reps
- Hyperextensions – 3x sets of 10 reps
A simple enough routine; although I’d personally hesitate to call it ‘easy’ since Deadlifts and Good Mornings are hardly considered easy. You can read our detailed guide on how to master the art of Deadlifts here.
Next, we have our Mid Back-Focused Program.
- Bent Over Barbell Rows – 3x sets of 10 reps
- Bent Over Dumbbell Rows – 3x sets of 10 reps
- Seated Cable Rows – 3x sets of 10 reps
- One-Arm Dumbbell Rows (Lawn Mowers) – 3x sets of 10 reps
So we have a little bit more volume here since the Mid Back is bigger and able to take on more strain and it needs to be challenged more anyway than compared to the Lower Back. You would need fitness equipments such as weight bench or something similar in order to get things rolling.
But now let’s get to the Lats Workout
- Wide Grip Lat Pulldown – 3x sets of 10 reps
- Full Range-Of-Motion Lat Pulldown – 3x sets of 10 reps
- Underhand Cable Pulldowns – 3x sets of 10 reps
- V-Bar Pulldowns – 3x sets of 10 reps
- Pull ups – 3x sets of MAX effort/to failure
Even more volume here, but that’s OK because the Lats require that sort of stimulation. They are a very large muscle after all.
And finally we have the Traps Day
- Upright Barbell Rows – 3x sets of 10 reps
- Barbell Shrug – 3x sets of 10 reps
- Barbell Behind-the-Back Shrug – 3x sets of 10 reps
- Dumbbell Shrug – 3x sets of 10 reps
Some of you may consider this to be a little bit ‘heavy’ on the volume side for the Traps…which are generally considered to be a ‘small’ muscle group.
And you’d actually be right, however, the rule of thumb with all back muscles is to favor extra volume. So we’ll be sticking to that routine.
Now before we move on to our next section, the ‘pointers and tips’ part, I want to mention that these workouts are not necessarily completely 100% independent and/or individual workouts all by themselves.
That is to say that you can combine multiple workouts together!
For example, typically you would not work on just Traps or just Lower Back. Those are not exactly huge muscle groups per se, and so spending an entire workout focused on them specifically but then not working anything else seems almost like a waste of a day. It’d be like working on forearms only or calves only when you should be incorporating more movements and muscle groups into them.
So the solution to this would be to combine say the Traps workout with the Lats workout, or the Lower back workout with the Mid back workout.
NOTE: That technically the presence of Deadlifts and Good Mornings actually make this exact specific Lower Back workout almost like a full workout…really my idea here is to get you to not just stick to one small muscle group.
Alright, let’s move on.
Tips and Pointers About Your Back
When doing back workouts there are some things that you should keep in mind due to the nature of ‘pulling’ motions.
- Do not grab the bar too hard or else you will engage your forearm and bicep muscles to help you with the motion, and that will take some of the workload off of your back obviously. You want to work the back more, not those smaller muscles.
- During exercises where this applies always drive the elbows back as far as they can go and focus on pinching your shoulder blades together.
And that’s really it.
Those two pointers are really the major ones that are important.
Follow them well and you will be rewarded well for your efforts.
OK now PULL!