The weight training equipment and machines you see in major gyms and health clubs today have never been more sophisticated. Machines are also considered safer to use and quite frankly take less overall effort to use than free weights. With all of that in mind, you can see why so many lifters out there opt to use the fancy machines to help them make progress when it comes to muscles from the rear.
However, there’s a reason that free weights have been around for decades and still reside in gyms today. They’re the best options when it comes to building raw strength and solid muscle in the back – or any other muscle group for that matter. By now, you’ve probably figured out what the biggest mistake is that I see people make when it comes to their back training.
Not Using Enough Basic Free Weight Movements
There are several great free weight movements that will help you develop your back as well or even better than any machine. I’ll go through a few different popular back machine exercises and replace them with a free weight movement to prove my point.
• Seated or Iso Row
The advantage of a machine is the fact that it is in a controlled path so all you have to do is grab the handle and pull. While it’s true that you’re less likely to suffer an injury on a machine, the down side is there are stabilizers in those muscles that aren’t affected since they don’t have to control the object as they would with a free weight movement.
• The Better Option: One Arm Dumbbell Row
There are several benefits to this exercise. First, you can still brace yourself against a sturdy object like you would be braced with a machine. Second, you can get a deeper stretch and better contraction with a dumbbell since you can lower the weight as far as you can instead of until the weight touches the stack as well as pull in further when you bring the weight up. Third, since it’s a free weight movement, the stabilizers will be in play and the result will be better developed and more powerful lats.
• Any Version of the Lat Pull-down
You can attach different handles to target the lats in different ways and on most machines, you’re positioned so your legs are underneath knee pads so you’re “locked in” to the seat so to speak.
• The Better Option: Any Version of the Pull-up
Your body is hanging only by your arms, you have to control yourself throughout the entire movement, and if you can do pull-ups then you will notice a very visible difference in the detail and hardness of your muscles from the rear. I know you’re asking “what if I can’t do my bodyweight?” You can have someone assist you by holding your feet as you pull up and lower your bodyweight under control. If you have a pull-up station at your gym with different handles then you can target the lats from different angles just as you would with the pull-downs. Another advantage to pull-ups is once your bodyweight gets too easy, you can add weight to a belt and keep challenging yourself. With a machine, you max out with whatever is on the stack.
• Low Back Extension
These are great for seniors and people with major lower back issues because they isolate the lower back safely but if you’re looking to get big and strong then this machine isn’t going to serve you very well. You probably know the exercise that I plan on including here.
• The Better Option: Dead-lift
It’s the king of kings when it comes to lifts and it’s the most basic exercise there is. You pick it up and you put it down. There is also no better exercise for packing on muscle in the back, legs, and even shoulders and traps. So why are so many people reluctant to do it? It’s challenging, taxing on the body, and if you’re not very strong, can affect the ego. What you should know the only way you’re going to get stronger is if you keep pulling. If you need an alternative because of back or leg issues, you can do rack dead-lifts instead. Even this exercise would still be better than a low back machine.
• Bonus Exercise: Dumbbell Pullover
These used to be as popular back in the Golden Era as benching was. It was the upper body version of the squat. It fell out of popularity with a lot of people because it’s not a simple exercise to perform when done correctly but I always recommend it when it comes to building an awesome back. Some people don’t like it because they have to lie across a bench instead of on it traditionally but this is because the shoulders won’t be on the bench and you can get a deeper stretch when taking the weight behind your head. Your back will also be arched so you can maximize the contraction in the lats when bringing the weight back up. If you have lower back trouble, you can lay on the bench as you normally would and still see benefits but keep in mind the best version of the exercise requires you to lay across the bench instead.
About the Author
Roger “ROCK” Lockridge is a writer whose work has been seen all over the world. He is most known as a writer for Iron Man Magazine and Bodybuilding.com. In 2009, he was named Bodybuilding.com Male Writer of the Year which along with the Female award is the highest award for writers in the bodybuilding/fitness world. Roger is also known for his work against child abuse and domestic violence and he was featured as a part of the domestic violence documentary “30” as the only child survivor and the only male survivor in the film.