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The back is the second largest muscle group, next to legs. There are 3 main areas to develop, which are the Traps, the Latismus Dorsi (Lats), and the Lower Back. The traps are in the upper center of the back and can be seen from the front below the neck when well developed. Their function is to lift the shoulder girdle and assist the lats in pulling. Well developed lats will give you an impressive "V" taper from shoulders to waist. Their function is to pull down and back. The lower back muscles (spinal erectors) serve to stabilize the body and to straighten out from a bent-over position.
Here's the exercises for a W-I-D-E THICK back!
Bent-over Rows: This is on of THE BEST back exercises and should be the staple of any serious back workout. These build width and thickness in all areas of the back. If you have lower back problems, go very light at first or do Dumbbell Rows (see next).
One Rep: Load up a bar on low supports (just lower than your hands when you're standing), or on the floor. Pick up the bar starting with a shoulder width grip. The grip can be varied wider or closer. It works best to use and wider overhand grip or a narrower underhand grip. You can switch grips or widths each set or each workout.
Bend forward at the waist to a 45 degree angle or lower keeping your head up and back arched. Your legs should be slightly bent. Always look straight ahead or up during this exercise, this forces your lower back into an arch and prevents injury! To hit the center of the back and build thickness, pull the bar to your chest as in the picture below. To work the lats for width as well as thickness, pull the weight up and back into your lower abdominals. The motion should be like sawing wood with both arms. Click on picture for a video clip.
Click on the picture or here for a video clip of the underhand variation. The way shown will work the middle of the upper back and build thickness. For working the lats better and creating more width, as well as thickness, do them as in the video clip
T-Bar Rows: These work the middle of the back and the lower lats very well.
One Rep: Stick one end of an empty bar in a corner and load weight on the other end. Straddle the bar with your back to the corner and keeping the legs slightly bent, bend forward at the waist and pick up the loaded end of the bar gripping just inside the collar. Alternatively, you can use a small "V-grip" handle placed under the bar. Pull up and back as far as possible, then lower.
One Arm Dumbbell Rows: These are similar to Bent-over Rows and may be used alternately.
One Rep: Place a reasonably heavy dumbbell on the floor beside a flat bench. Put one knee, say, your right one, on the bench with the other on the floor, extended behind you. Hold onto the bench with your right hand, and pick up the dumbbell with your left hand and hold at arm's length. Pull the dumbbell up and back (again, the motion should be like sawing a log) to the hip, then lower it slowly. Do all the reps for one arm, then switch to the other.
Seated Rows: This is the next best exercise to bent-over rows. It is done using a low pulley and blocks or platforms for your feet to push against, with a narrow grip "V" handle.
One Rep: Position yourself in front of a low pulley and place your feet on the blocks, or platform. Lean forward and grip the handles, keeping the legs slightly bent. Pull back on the handle until your back is straight (90 degrees) and continue pulling your arms in and thrust out your chest at the same time. Slowly let it return to the starting position. Always look straight ahead or up throughout the exercise to force your back into an arch and prevents injury.
Lat Machine Pull-downs: These are done using a Lat machine, which is a high pulley with pads that your knees go under to hold you in position with a long bar (3 to 4 feet) with the ends usually bent down. The exercise is very similar to Chin-ups, but enable you to use more or less weight, depending on your strength level. The grip can be varied from very wide to hands touching. If you use the narrow grip (less than shoulder width) it is best to go underhand (palms up-facing you). For the wide grip use overhand (palms down-facing away from you). These can be pulled down to the chest area, or to behind the neck. Bringing the bar to the chest works the back better but going to behind the neck is beneficial too. Do both in your workout.
One Rep: Hold the bar in your chosen grip (see above) and position yourself in the machine with your knees securely under the pads. Pull the bar down to your upper chest, or behind the neck, squeeze your back muscles for a second and return to the starting position.
Chin-ups and Pull-ups: These are still one of the best back exercises, the only drawback is it's difficult to add weight to them once you master your body weight, or if you're just beginning, your might not be able to even do one. If you can do more than a couple, add them to your program and try to add one more rep each week. When you can get 20+ reps try using a dipping belt to add weight, or hold a dumbbell between your ankles. Use the same grips as in Lat Pulldowns.
A "chin-up" uses an underhand grip while a "pull-up" uses an overhand grip.
One Rep: Hang from a chinning bar using the chosen grip (see above) and pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar. If using a wide grip, just go until you can see over the bar.
Deadlifts: I've saved the best for last! This exercise works the whole back, as well as the Hamstrings, and almost every other muscle in the body. Do these every one or two weeks, and never on the same day as Squats.
One Rep: Load a barbell and place on the floor. Stand so your toes are under the bar, bend forward and grip the bar in a one hand over, one hand under grip (this prevents the bar from rolling out of your hands). If using wrist straps use an overhand grip for both hands, space your hands about shoulder width apart. Look straight ahead or up throughout the movement. Bend your knees into a partial squatting position, keep your back straight, look ahead or up and lift the weight using your legs and back. Keep the bar tight to your body, it should almost be in contact the whole way up. At the top of the lift, arch your back and hold for a second then lower back to the floor. See my friend Rainer demonstrate with 315 lbs. here!
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