Without a doubt, training back is one of the most challenging and demanding workouts you can undertake. With the amount of muscle mass involved and the muscles fibers to be covered – commonly including the upper and lower lats, teres major, rhomboids and middle traps – you must use a variety of arm and body positions as well as grips to hit your back from top to bottom. While there are specific exercises target each one of these areas, creating a thick, massive back requires multijoint moves designed to hit all of these muscles. Pull-ups, lat pulldowns, and cable rows are part of a complete back program, but here are four exercises I believe to be the most effective for building back mass and thickness.
It‘s called the king of exercises for a reason. Deadlift is the best multipurpose compound exercise you can do to increase strength and muscle mass on a number of different muscles. It works virtually every muscle, including the back, lower back, and legs etc… For your back region, this exercise is the most efficient combination of movements for building thickness and size. Everything starts with your lower back. Nothing builds your lower back like the deadlift. But it isn’t just a lower-back exercise. As you move through your range of motion and transition from the lower part of the lift to the upper lockout phase, your lats, traps, and other upper-back muscles take over. At the top of the movement, you’re holding a very heavy weight in a dead-hang position, which places immense pressure on your traps.
How to do it:
Here’s how to do this exercise: Stand in front of a loaded Olympic bar with your feet about hip-width apart. Then squat down with your back at about a 45-degree angle to the floor and grasp the bar with an alternating grip, slightly wider than shoulder width. Keeping your abs pulled in tight, pull the weight upward by pressing down with your legs; continue the lift until you’re standing upright, the bar at arms’ length in front of you. With a controlled movement, reverse the motion and lower the weight back down to the floor, using your legs as much as possible.
2. Bent-over Barbell Row
Unlike deadlifts which also targets other muscle groups besides the back, bent-over barbell row focuses almost entirely on the back to add quality muscle size, thickness, and shape. Depending on your grip and the width of that grip, you can target your back muscles from top to bottom.
How to do it:
To perform it, grasp a barbell with an overhand, wider-than-shoulder-width grip and bend at the waist until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor. Keep your knees slightly bent and the bar at arms’ length. Moving only your arms, pull with your lats to bring the bar to your abdominals (not your chest), squeezing your muscles hard for a count at the top, then lower. To get all of the benefits that the barbell row has to offer, perform it first in your back routine, doing 8-10 reps for four sets. Also change grips and hand spacing from set to set, or workout to workout, in order to encourage complete back development.
3. T-Bar Row
This an old-school move used to thicken the middle and outer back. T-Bar row was a favorite for Arnold for its ability to add thickness and width on the middle back as well as provide a great stretch in the lats.
How to do it:
Stand with your knees slightly bent and grasp the handles of a T-bar machine. Position your torso at about 45 degrees to the floor with the weight at arms’ length. Without moving your upper body, bring the weight up to touch your chest and hold for a moment at the top, then lower it under control to the start. Using standard 45-pound plates could limit your range of motion, so if possible, use smaller plates like 25s and 35s. To help prevent low-back injury, concentrate on drawing your navel in throughout the exercise, as well as maintaining the arch in your low back. Remain in the bent-over position throughout the exercise, allowing your chest to rise only slightly as you bring the bar upward. To better target, the lower lats, keep your elbows close to your sides as you pull the bar up. Flaring your elbows decreases effectiveness.
4. One-Arm Dumbbell Row
The One-Arm Dumbell Row is a good exercise for building thickness in the lower and center back. This exercise help give your back muscles a workout with all of the benefits of free weights by allowing you to work each side of the back independently. Each side of your body will have to lift the same load, and you’ll engage several smaller muscles as stabilizers as you lift.
How to do it:
Put one knee on a bench, lean forward and brace yourself with the same-side arm; hold a dumbbell at arm’s length in the other. Keep your body steady as you lift the dumbbell to your hip, then lower.
This is an exercise you can really feel if you do it right. You get that deep stretch at the bottom and the nice contraction in the lat at the top. But if your focus is on going super-heavy you’re not going get the full effectiveness out of this movement
To emphasize thickness and size, do this routine of power movements every second or third back workout.