The Best Exercises for Developing Your Back Muscles

The muscles in the back are largely ignored by beginner bodybuilders. This is mostly because the muscles in the arms and chest are seen as more glorious and are given a greater focus when training.

While it is true that big biceps and bulging pectorals have a certain "wow factor" about them, having well an impressively developed back can have a similar affect and will make a huge difference in your over all appearance!

Have you ever seen someone with a broad, muscular back and thought, "Boy, they sure don't look very strong."

I highly doubt it.

Even though the back isn't given as much attention as other muscle groups, nothing screams power and strength like wide lats, a thick lower lumbar region and bulging traps.

Technicalities of Training the Back Muscles

One reason bodybuilders decide to place the back muscles way down on their list of training priorities is the fact that they don't see the results as easily as they do when training their arms, chest or legs.

It's important to remember that the back muscles have the same capability to grow and develop as every other muscle group on your body. The problem of lagging back muscles typically stems from lack of training frequency and from not effectively targeting the back muscles while training them.

For instance, when doing one-armed dumbbell rows, most people end up giving their biceps more of a workout than their lats because they're curling up with their arm instead of pulling back with their elbows.

With just about every exercise that targets the back muscles, if they aren't done properly, the intensity of the movement will be transferred to somewhere other than the back.

Let's look at the best exercises for fully developing the back and how to perform them for maximum muscle building effectiveness.

Pull Ups

If you ask a random guy at any gym if they know how to do a proper pull up, they'll look at you like that's one of the dumbest questions they've ever been asked. Ironically, most would get under the bar and do it completely wrong.

A common mistake people make when performing pull ups is hanging directly under the bar and maintaining a straight up and down torso throughout the entire range of the movement. Thus shifting the emphasis from the back, to the biceps.

The way to avoid this is by puffing the chest upward as much as possible and concaving the lower back inward by "leaning back" with your upper body.

Then, the act of pulling yourself upwards should be done by pulling your elbows downward and squeezing in on your shoulder blades.

This is how you perform a proper pull up.

Pull ups are one of the most effective exercises for developing the lats and forming the "V" shape that bodybuilders strive for. But they must be done correctly.

You can also use varying grip widths when doing pull ups as a means of training a more complete range of muscle across the back. 

Barbell Shrugs

Barbell shrugs aren't very technical per se, but they're the absolute best lift for developing large trap (trapezius) muscles. The trap muscles are located between the neck and shoulders and extend to about a third of the way down the middle of the back.

A thick set of highly developed traps gives an appearance of power and intimidation.

The reason barbell shrugs are so good at developing the traps is because they enable you to use more weight than other lifts that target the traps would allow, thus placing maximum intensity on the trap muscles.

The key to performing barbell shrugs is to keep your arms fully extended and lift the bar upwards by rounding your shoulders back and upwards. Squeezing your traps as if trying to touch them to your ears. You'll also want to be conscious about not going too heavy on the weight and limiting your range of motion.

Placing too much weight on the bar will prevent you from bringing the bar upwards as high as possible, which can hinder your trap growth and development.

In other words, be sure to use a manageable weight with a full range of motion.

Bent Over Barbell Rows

Like pull ups, bent over barbell rows are another exercise that targets the lat muscles. While pull ups predominantly target the upper lat muscles, bent over barbell rows target the middle and lower regions.

You'll start this exercise by bending over the bar and gripping it with your hands about shoulder width apart. You will then lift the bar off the ground until you're standing straight up and down.

While bending your knees, you will lean forward until reaching a 45 degree angle, with your chest out and your lower back arching slight inward. Bracing your core to avoid excess strain on your lower lumbar. At this point the bar will be handing at about knee level.

You'll then perform the movement by pulling upwards with your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Keeping your elbows on a straight path, close to your body. 

Just like when doing shrugs, you want to start with a manageable weight and be careful not to overload the bar too soon when doing bent over barbell rows. 

As with all exercises, focus more on contracting and squeezing the muscle, than just on moving the weight and you'll get a better reaction. 

Putting too much weight on the bar can cause lower back injuries, compromise your form, and can take make this lift less effective.

Don't Ignore Your Back Muscles

This is by no means an exhaustive list of back exercises, but the exercises we've covered in this article will have the greatest impact in building and developing your back muscles as effectively as possible.

If you want a physique that exudes symmetry, power and strength, having a developed back is absolutely essential.

The only way to make that happen is by treating the muscles of your back like any other muscle group by training them often and training them with proper form.

Kennedy, Robert; Greenwood-Robinson, Maggie (1987). "Wide Grip Chins". Built! The New Bodybuilding for Everyone!. New York: The Putnam Publishing Group. pp. 75–76. ISBN 0-399-51380-9.

Leslie, Kelly. L. M.; Comfort, Paul (1 February 2013). "The Effect of Grip Width and Hand Orientation on Muscle Activity During Pull-ups and the Lat Pull-down". Strength and Conditioning Journal. 35 (1): 75–78. doi:10.1519/SSC.0b013e318282120e

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