Weak Point: Back
If you’re anything like most lifters, you’ve basically neglected your back for your entire training career. Sure, you’ve got a “back day,” and you do some pull-downs and rows. Hell, maybe you even deadlift once in a while. But let’s be honest, the people who really do what it takes to build a barndoor back are few and far between. Going through the motions just won’t cut it – you’ve got to get primal and tug on some heavy weights, week after week, year after year.
That being said, a lagging body part will always improve more quickly if you’ve already made good progress on the rest of your physique. You’re not going to get a massive back overnight, but start hitting it hard – REALLY hard – and you’ll see some astounding gains. Here are a few ways you can quickly bring your back up to speed, and finally start looking strong from every angle.
Row to Grow
When it comes to building overall size in your lats, rhomboids, and traps, nothing beats heavy rows. And yes, cable and machine rows have their place in your program – but you’re not going to reach your full potential without free weights. If you’re not pounding away at barbell and dumbbell rows, now’s the time to start!
Don’t listen to the naysaying form-nazis, either. While it’s certainly important to feel the movement in your back, you’re never going to get big by “squeezing” light weights. If there’s any exercise that allows for some strategic “cheating,” it’s the row. Whether you’re using a barbell, dumbbell, or T-bar, use enough jerk to get the weight moving, and contract your back as HARD as possible. Don’t turn the exercise into a shrug, but don’t be afraid to slap another plate on the bar and get after it.
Bring your Deadlift to Life
If you could close-grip bench 405, you probably wouldn’t be whining about small triceps. If you were squatting five plates for reps, you’d have some awesome leg development. And if you get your deadlift into the 600+ range, you’ll be damn sure to have a respectable back.
Does this mean you won’t build a great back without hitting those numbers? No – but you will absoulely make gains if you improve this lift. Sure, the deadlift is a full body exercise, but it taxes your erectors, lats, rhomboids, and traps like nothing else. If you add 100 or more pounds to your current max, your body will simply HAVE to add more muscle to your back.
Still, you shouldn’t just go tugging on near-maximal weights every week. The deadlift is most effective for mass-building when done for sets of around five reps. Throw on a belt, use straps if necessary, and work like a dog at improving that five-rep max. Throw in a few sets of eight to ten for good measure, and hit a few heavier singles every few weeks.
Get on the Bar
Some guys claim that pull-ups aren’t necessary for bodybuilding or powerlifting, but frankly – they all have small backs. Just like anything else in training – or in life – the hard stuff is what gets you the most results. You can piddle around with pull-downs all you want, but nothing is going to give you that incredible back width like weighted pull-ups.
If you’re too weak to knock out sets of ten or more, do NOT “work your way up” with pull-downs. The movements may look similar, but you’re just not going to make big improvements on pull-ups without actually doing them. Use the assisted pull-up machine, or better yet – do band-assisted pull-ups. If you don’t already have a good set of resistance bands, now’s the time to invest – they’ll come in handy for years.
Frequency for Mass
Your back will benefit from frequent training more than any other body part. Pay no heed to the people who scream “overtraining” at the mere thought of hitting a body part more than once per week. Tons of successful bodybuilders use two back sessions per week, and plenty of powerlifters do pull-ups or rows every time they lift.
Exactly how often you train your back will depend on the type of program you’re using. If you’re on a body part split, start hitting back twice per week, and condense your other sessions if necessary. Vary the exercises a little bit, and don’t deadlift EVERY time you train, but stick to the basics.
If you’re using an upper-lower or full body routine, you can probably stand to do some back work every time you’re in the gym. Pull-ups should be done at least twice per week, more if you’re really weak at them. Do free weight rows as often as your lower back can handle them, and use cables or machines when you’re feeling beat down. And of course, always make sure your deadlift numbers are improving. Prioritize your back this much, and you’re bound to see some quick, massive gains!