Breaking Down the Back
Ian Harrison's Personal Tips for Building a Better Back Exercise Routine
When training back I have three distinct categories of exercise.
1. Pull downs/pull ups: Any movement where you are pulling from above and down. These are generally considered width exercises.
2. Rowing movements: Barbell rows, dumbbell rows, and cable rows. These are great for building thickness of muscle.
3. Pullover movement: A pullover movement is ideal for building both width and thickness. It can be used either as a finishing movement or as a movement to pre exhaust the muscle.
How to Emphasize Lat Involvement
When training back, one of the most common mistakes I see when people train their back is that they are pulling with their arms. When working out your back, imagine your hands as hooks and your arms as a connection to your lats. As you pull, drop the shoulder blades down and back towards the hips (scapula retraction) to emphasize the lat involvement during the full range of motion.
To fully develop lats throughout the full range of motion, all exercise movements should be done in the most controlled way possible. This will emphasize lats and not bicep or trap involvement.
Did you know: When bodybuilders refer to lats, they are speaking about the latissimus dorsi. This is a large, flat back muscle that stretches from side to side, behind the arm. It is the broadest muscle of the back and the largest muscle in the upper body.
Use Wrist Wraps
Due to the relatively heavy weights used during a back workout, I recommend using wrist wraps to aid in grip. The forearm really shouldn’t be stronger than your lats and this helps you focus your energy on the back muscles instead of worrying about your grip
Pull ups and Pull Downs
If I decide to use chin ups or pull ups in my routine, I will start by warming up on a pull down machine. Then I perform the chin ups or pull ups, so that my reps are not limited by pre exhaustion.
A great alternative to the traditional pull up is the Vbar chin. This unique movement hits the lower lats.
For rowing movements, I generally use barbell rows with an over or under grip. If you have issues with your wrist flexibility you can use an EZ bar fit under grip rows. You can also incorporate a hammer row or a cable row with a rope or regular handle.
It is important not to twist your body during one armed rows, which can cause muscular imbalance. If you notice you are twisting, try double dumbbell rows, rowing two dumbbells at the same time, to avoid any twist in the body.
My final movement, if there’s anything left after the previous two, would be a pullover performed in a pullover machine. This allows a full stretch for finishing off the lats. You can:
1. Use a cable standing up facing the stack
2. Laying down on an incline bench facing away from the stack
3. With a dumbbell while laying across a bench
Change-Up Your Routine
If I began with a pull up/pulldown movement, I would move to a rowing movement next. I would reverse this order in the next workout. Never duplicate the same workout in the same month.