Bodybuilding Training Principles For Creating Back Routines

BuildAThickBack

Through the years I have gotten many compliments on my back development. I’ve also gotten many questions regarding how to achieve a wide and thick back. In this article, I discuss back training and the principles that I’ve used to design good back training routines for myself and many others. By using this information, I guarantee you that you too will get a wide and thick looking back.

The Importance Of Having A Well Developed Back

A good back not only gives your physique a wide and powerful look, which immediately identifies you as a bodybuilder, but it also gives you the illusion of having a smaller waist. It’s sad that some recreational bodybuilders neglect their back training simply because they cannot see the body part, and thus, focus solely on training the chest instead. However, they do not have any idea of the big disservice that they are doing to themselves. The best bodybuilders in the world have a phenomenal back.

Back Anatomy

Before I discuss my principles for creating a great back, let’s cover some basic anatomy first.

The back muscles are located on the posterior part of the torso and their function is to draw the arms back and downward. It is composed of four main muscle groups:

The Latissimus Dorsi, which are located right under the armpits and stretch down attaching to the waist. Their function is to bring the arms down and backward.

The Teres Major/Minor And Rhomboids, which attach to the lats around the shoulder blade region and are involved in moving and stabilizing the shoulder blades, as well as helping the lats move the arms.

The Trapezius, which are located on the base of the neck and extend themselves down to the center of the back. Lifting and rotating the shoulders is their main function.

The Spinal Erectors, which are located at the back of the waist at the lumbar region and are attached to the vertebrae, the ribs and the pelvis. Their function is to provide posture and support to the spine.

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Principles To Achieving A Wide And Powerfully Thick Back

In order for your back to be wide and thick you need to develop its four muscle groups. This is accomplished by using a variety of the right exercises that target each muscle group and by understanding which ones emphasize width and which ones emphasize thickness of the mid-back. The following discussion talks about the different exercises for width and thickness and the muscle groups that they target.

Good Back Exercises 

Like any other list of bodybuilding exercises, back exercises are divided in compound, multi-jointed movements and isolation movements. The compound movements will activate all heads of the muscle emphasizing a particular head depending on the type of movement. Pull-up and pull-down motions will mainly accentuate width while providig thickness as a secondary effect. Rowing motions, on the other hand, emphasize thickness of the midback with width being a secondary effect.

As I mention in my article Choosing The Right Exercises for Maximum Results, compound movements performed with the torso moving through space (such as wide grip pull-ups, underhand chin-ups, and deadlifts) will give you the most stimulation than compound movements performed on a machine (like the pulldowns, t-bar rows or the low pulley rows). Isolation movements like the stiff arm pulldown then come in 3rd place in regards to stimulation.

Latissimus Dorsi Emphasis (Emphasis on width but also help with thickness)

These exercises emphasize the latissimus dorsi section of the back with secondary stimulation of the midback exercises.

246771_203655656342593_5471030_nFree Weight Basic Exercises (Highest Stimulation)

  • Wide, Medium or Close Grip Pull-ups to Front
  • Wide or Medium Grip Pull-ups to Back (Note: not good for those who suffer from shoulder pain or who are susceptible to rotator cuff injury).
  • Neutral Grip Pull-ups (using either parallel bars or a v-bar)

(Note: If you are not strong enough to perform pull-up exercises, simply either use a spotter to help you or a chin assist machine such as the “Gravitron”, as even when using this machine the movement is superior to doing a pulldown)

1525305_634044686637019_282676203_nMachine Based Basic Exercises (Less Stimulation But Good For Beginners)

  • Wide, Medium or Close Grip Pull-downs to Front
  • Wide or Medium Grip Pull-downs to Back (Note: not good for those who suffer from shoulder pain or who are susceptible to rotator cuff injury).
  • Neutral Grip Pull-downs (using either parallel bars or a v-bar)

Isolation Exercises (Free Weights and Machine Based)

  • E-Z Bar Pullovers Performed On A Decline Bench
  • Stiff Arm Pulldowns Using Straight Bar
  • Stiff Arm Pulldowns Using A Rope
  • Machine Pullovers

Teres Major/Minor And Rhomboids (These are midback muscles so these exercises emphasize midback thickness but they also help with width as the lats are stimulated as well)

These exercises emphasize the midback muscles and thus provide the back with a thick and powerful look.


Free Weight Basic Exercises
(Highest Stimulation)

  • Dumbbell Rows
  • Barbell Rows (medium shoulder width grip or slightly wider grip)
  • Underhand Grip Barbell Rows (underhand medium shoulder width grip or slightly wider grip)
  • T-Bar Rows (performed with a barbell and a v-bar on it; not on a t-bar machine)

249462_207154262659399_5958736_nMachine Basic Exercises (Less stimulation but good for beginners and advanced bodybuilders alike as they provide a different feel to the exercises and thus are good for detail work)

  • Low Pulley Rows (using V-Bar)
  • One Arm Pulley Rows (with high or low pulley)
  • Low Pulley Barbell Rows (underhand medium shoulder width grip or slightly wider grip)
  • T-Bar Row Machine

Isolation Exercises (Free Weights and Machine Based)

  • External Rotations Using Dumbbells or Pulleys
  • Rear Delt Machine (Has secondary emphasis on midback as well)

Traps

These exercises emphasize the traps as well as the delts. Therefore they can be trained either on back day or on shoulder day.

Free Weight Basic Exercises (Highest Stimulation)

  • Close Grip Barbell Upright Rows
  • Medium Grip Barbell Upright Rows
  • Upright Rows With Dumbbells Held Together
  • Upright Rows With Dumbbells Held 5-6 Inches Apart

250468_207154835992675_5233209_nMachine Basic Exercises

  • Close Grip Straight Bar Low Pulley Upright Rows
  • Medium Grip Straight Bar Low Pulley Upright Rows


Isolation Exercises
(Free Weights and Machine Based)

  • Barbell Shrugs To Front (Can use barbell or smith machine)
  • Barbell Shrugs To Front (Can use barbell or smith machine)
  • Dumbbell Shrugs
  • Shrug Machine

Spinal Erectors Emphasis

These exercises emphasize the spinal erectors with secondary emphasis on the teres major/minor, rhomboids, and lats (as in the case of the bent knee deadlift).

Extreme attention needs to be paid to exercise form and the weight used should always be kept under control. Do not sacrifice form in the name of adding weight as doing so can result in serious lower back injury.

Free Weight Basic Exercises (Highest Stimulation)

  • Barbell Bent Knee Deadlifts
  • Dumbbell Bent Knee Deadlifts

Isolation Exercises (Free Weights and Machine Based)

  • Good Mornings
  • Hyperextensions
  • Lower Back Machine

Now that we have presented several exercises for the back, lets take a look at some effective bodybuilding routines for the back.

Beginning Bodybuilding Back Routine

For those who are just starting out in bodybuilding, I always recommend a full body routine practiced 3 times a week that uses mostly basic exercises to target each muscle group. As a result, a back routine for the beginning bodybuilder may consist of just a couple of exercises that cover all of the back muscles.

  • One Arm Dumbbell Rows 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Pulldown To Front 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)

How to Progress:
After 4 weeks of performing 2 sets of each exercise for 10-12 reps, move up to 3 sets per exercise. Keep the rest to 1 minute in between sets.

Intermediate Bodybuilding Back Routine

After 12 weeks in the beginning bodybuilding schedule, it is time to graduate to an intermediate routine in order to keep progressing. In this routine, the body is split in two separate days; chest, back and arms on day 1, and shoulders, legs and abs on day 2.

  • Wide Grip Pull-up to Front (alternate with Reverse Close Grip Pull-ups on the next workout) 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • T-Bar Row Machine (alternate with One Arm Rows on the next workout) 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Bent Knee Deadlifts 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)

How to Progress:
After 4 weeks of performing 2 sets of each exercise for 10-12 reps, move up to 3 sets per exercise. Keep the rest to 1 minute in between sets.

Note: Use either a spotter or a chin assist machine to help you perform the pull-up movements. Only use the pulldown machine at this stage in case that none of these options are available.

Advanced Bodybuilding Back Routine

After 12-16 weeks on an Intermediate Program, it is time to graduate into more Advanced Bodybuilding Routines. This does not necessarily mean more time in the gym, though for those few of you whose ultimate goal is bodybuilding competition, then more time in the gym will be the case.

The main difference between Advanced Training and Intermediate Training is that in Advanced Training, you’ll need to change your program every 3 weeks to keep the gains coming. Therefore, the use of periodization is key, which is the orderly manipulation of sets, repetitions and rest in between sets. If competition is your goal, then you may need to increase your weight training days to 6 in order to accommodate a larger number of exercises.

There are many splits that one can use as an advanced athlete:

  1. Bodybuilding Antagonistic Muscles Workout Split: In this bodybuilding workout split, the body is divided over three or four days and antagonistic muscles (opposing muscle groups), are paired together in each bodybuilding workout.
  2. One Major Muscle With Two Smaller Muscle Groups Bodybuilding Workout Split: In this bodybuilding workout split, the body is divided over three days and one major muscle group (such as the chest, thighs and back) is paired together with two smaller muscle groups (such as biceps, triceps, hamstrings, calves, abs and shoulders) in each bodybuilding workout.
  3. One Major Muscle Group Per Day Advanced Bodybuilding Workout Split: In this bodybuilding workout split, the body is divided over six days and one major muscle group is targeted in each bodybuilding workout.

Now that you have an idea of the training splits that can be used at this level, here are some sample periodized advanced bodybuilding workout routines for the back:

Back Workout #1 (Weeks 1-3)

  • Wide Grip Pull-ups to Front 4 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Close Grip Reverse Chin-ups 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Low Pulley Rows 4 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Dumbbell Shrugs 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Hyperextensions 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)

Back Workout #2 (Weeks 4-6)

Modified Giant-set

  • Medium Grip Pull-ups To Front 3 sets of 10, 8, 6 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • T-Bar Rows 3 sets of 10, 8, 6 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Neutral Grip Pull-ups 3 sets of 10, 8, 6 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)
  • Bent-Knee Deadlifts 3 sets of 15, 13, 10 repetitions (Rest: 1 minute)

Note: In a modified giant-set you get to perform an exercise, rest for the prescribed period of time, go to the next one rest, and continue to the next one up until all exercises have been performed for the required amount of sets. In the case above, the weight needs to be increased on each subsequent set.

Competitive Bodybuilding Back Routine

For competitive bodybuilding, the goal is to stimulate the muscle from multiple angles in order to ensure full development. At this stage of the game, not only will you be using compound basic movements to keep stimulating growth but also a variety of isolation movements to really target the muscle in specific areas.

comp-600

The back routine below is an example of how a competitive bodybuilding back routine may look like. At this stage of the game, the bodybuilder should know what their weak points are and thus change exercise order and choice accordingly. For instance, if width needs to be developed more, then more exercises for the lats need to be incorporated. On the other hand, if midback thickness is lacking then rowing motions need to be emphasized.

Also, the use of set extension techniques, such as drop sets and supersets is encouraged.

Bent Knee Deadlifts 3 sets x 10,8,6 reps (90 seconds)

10448700_728059677235519_8756218429700218768_oSuperset #1:
Wide Grip Pull-ups To Front 4 sets of 10-12 reps (no rest)
Close Reverse Grip Chin-ups 4 sets of 10-12 reps (1 minute rest)

Superset #2:
Bent Over Rows 4 sets of 10-12 reps (no rest)
High Pulley One Arm Rows 4 sets of 10-12 reps (1 minute rest)

Superset #3:
Neutral Grip Chin-ups 4 sets of 12-15 reps (no rest)
Low Pulley Rows 4 sets of 12-15 reps (no rest)

Superset #4:
Stiff Arm Pulldowns With Rope 3 sets of 13-15 reps (no rest)
Dumbbell Shrugs 3 sets of 15-20 reps (no rest)
Hyperextensions 3 sets of 15-20 reps (1 minute rest)

Conclusion

Now that you know what my principles for back development are, it’s time to go to the gym and put them to the test. I guarantee you that when combined with the right bodybuilding diet, supplements and rest, the results you will achieve may require you to get a new wardrobe.

About the Author

Hugo Rivera is an International best selling fitness author certified in personal training and nutrition with a computer engineering degree from the University of South Florida. Hugo is owner of www.hugorivera.net, an informational, free fitness and nutrition website. He is author of over 10 fitness books (with over a million copies sold) including his best sellers: Body Re-Engineering, The Body Sculpting Bible for Men, The Body Sculpting Bible for Women, the Weight Training Diary, and the Hardgainers Handbook of Bodybuilding. Today via his website HugoRivera.net, numerous articles, book publications, TV and radio appearances Hugo continues to educate the public on how to achieve the body of their dreams via the use of weight training exercise, good nutrition and correct supplementation.  You can follow Hugo at his:

YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/hugoriverafitness

Facebook: www.facebook.com/hugorivera.net

Google Plus: www.google.com/+HugoriveraNetnaturalbodybuilding

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One Response for Bodybuilding Training Principles For Creating Back Routines

  1. January 5, 2011 2:40 pm

    This is a great workout plan, Hugo. I’m no competitive body builder but I do know the importance of keeping your back, glutes, and back of legs super strong to prevent injury and get stronger in our athletic performances!

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