Extraordinary Back Training

By Yohnnie Shambourger

It’s not unusual to find a competitor with huge arms. It’s not unusual to have sweeping quads or a Hercules size chest. But to dominate a field of elite athletes year after year after year. The common denominator is always the same. You most have an extraordinary BACK! Just ask Lee Haney! Just ask Dorian Yates!

The back is the centerpiece of your physique. It defines your symmetry. An effective lat spread can give you the appearance of wings. But to often many athletes rob themselves of their full back development when training. Since you are unable to see this body part while you are training, unknowingly mistakes are made. These mistakes can hamper your growth and stall your advancement in the sport.

Back training requires a pulling action. The first major problem happens when you employed too much biceps power into the movement. This is a common problem with beginner bodybuilders as well as your most experience professional. It’s a natural reaction to pull with your arms first then employ the back as a secondary muscle group. This is wrong! You are training back, think back! Initiate the pulling action in the back first. Shift the stress of the weight pass your biceps and onto your shoulder blades (latissimus dorsi). This muscle group is much larger and more powerful than your biceps can ever be.

The second major problem happens when you attempt to pull heavy weight without using wrist straps. To often your grip will give out before your back will. Using wrist straps allows you to relax your grip and concentrate on the section of your back you are targeting. Without the straps you will find yourself tiring and gradually shifting the emphasis from your back to your arms. So when the judges ask for a back double bicep pose, all they will notice is how big your arms are and the lack of size and definition in your back. Never train your back without wrist straps!

Now lets design your back training program. Remember the major muscle groups in the back are trapezius, posterior deltoid, teres major, rhomboid, latissimus dorsi, and erector spinae. To effectively stimulate these muscle groups you should divide your back into three focus points, the upper, middle, and lower back. This will make it easier to concentrate on your total back without neglecting areas you cannot see. When training anyone of these three focus points you should only feel the stress in that target area of the back. If you don’t, then you will immediately recognize that something is not right and start making adjustments to correct it. Those adjustments could be as simple as changing the height of your seat, readjusting your hand position, or just relaxing your arms and slowing down your movements.

Which exercises are most effective when training the back? There are many choices but the most common exercises are:

UPPER BACK – Upright rows
Cable pulldowns
Wide grip pull-ups
T-bar rows (using a high grip)

MIDDLE BACK – Bend rows
Seated mid-row machine
One-arm dumbbell rows
T-bar rows (using a lower grip)

LOWER BACK – Dead lifts
Long-pulley rows

Food for Thought! When performing these exercises keep in mind these points.

Upright Rows – Always keep your elbows higher then your hands. Don’t rush this movement, slow deliberate reps are best! Never allow your upper body to jerk backward placing the lower back into excess extension or hyperlordosis.

Cable Pulldowns – Its natural to start the movement with your arms – don’t do it. Initiate the movement in your back by pulling your shoulder blades downward. Relax the stress in your hands and arms, so you can concentrate on that back.

Wide Grip Pull-ups – This exercise can be very demanding on your body during the off-season when you are very heavy. So be careful, you can easily strain your shoulders. Always warm-up before performing this exercise.

T-bar Rows (high grip) – Keep your back straight. Try to keep your body close to parallel from the floor. Avoid standing high during this exercise. That happens when the weight is to heavy and you over compensate the movement. Draw your elbows upward pinching your shoulder blades together.

Shrugs – Never lower your head down to your shoulders. Keep the head up and bring the shoulders to the ears. Don’t roll your shoulders.

Bend Row – Great exercise! Most effective when perform at the start of your back training routine. Keep your back straight and pull the bar into your waist, not towards the chest.

Seated Row – Keep your chest up and into the pad, don’t over extend your arms. Over extension on the eccentric phase of the exercise will shift the stress off your back and turn your back workout into an arm/shoulder workout.

One-Arm Row – Keep elbows close to your body. Start with the weight in a full extension position then draw the dumbbell up and back towards your hips.

T-Bar Row (lower grip) – Keep elbows close to your sides. Remember not to over extend your reach on the eccentric phase of the exercise.

Dead Lift – Be careful! This exercise could cause lower back pain. So take it slow and don’t start off to heavy. Keep the back straight, head up and the bar close to/touching the body.

Long-Pulley Row – Don’t rush the exercise, slow and deliberate movement. Draw your elbows back keeping them close to the body and chest up. Careful not to jerk the lower back.

Hyperextension – Keep your hips on the pad. If your hips are to far on the pad you will no longer be train lower back, instead you will be training hamstring.

Now that you have the facts you can go and retool your back training routine. And the next time you step on stage they won’t just notice the size of your arms. They will also notice… your extraordinary back.