Developing a complete back can be rather difficult. As you are working muscles that are out-of-
sight it can be tricky to constantly engage them. Unlike a muscle such as the biceps, that you can easily stare at and focus on while performing any movement for it, the back muscles are nearly impossible to keep an eye on while you work. That is why the back, more than any other muscle group, has to be trained by feel.
The muscle-mind connection is not nearly stressed enough to lifters. Often people will simply try and push, pull, yank, or toss the heaviest weights they can handle. While this does work on a general principle of overloading a muscle, you tend to lose out on getting the maximum development out of the target muscle group.
One of the biggest differences between being training for strength (athletes or strongmen) compared to bodybuilding is that your sole goal in bodybuilding is muscle development. Yes, you will gain strength and power, but that is the by-product.
So how can you better facilitate muscle growth?
A key point is to focus on exercise form and fostering a better muscle-mind connection to ensure your focus is directed properly on the target muscle during the exercise rather than just moving heavy weight.
Master Back Building Tips
That is not to say you should use some serious heavy weight and mass building exercises when working your back, because you should. But, you also need to mix in exercises that can be done with an emphasis on form.
- The Shoulder Blades – One of the biggest keys to working back movements such as rows and pulldowns is to constantly try and squeeze the shoulder blades together. When you are pulling down you should try and bring them together as your elbows get to your shoulders and continue that squeeze until your elbows are near your ribs. The same goes for rows but the squeeze occurs as the elbows near the ribs and moves past them.
- Elbows – Concentration on the elbows is a key way to de-emphasize the forearms and biceps. People tend to focus on the hands and arms while yanking the weight. Really the key is the elbows. It is not the weight you are lifting at the hands, but it is weight the elbows are pulling through a range of motion. Back exercises are pulling motions but you need to pull from the right spot which is never the hands.
So how can you incorporate these two ideas into your back workouts to get more focus where it needs to be and build bigger lats? One of the best methods is to incorporate some lighter, high-rep sets in the beginning of the workout and then add one focused exercise on the end. Here is an example routine:
- Deadlifts – 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps (because heavy deadlifts are still a critical exercise to back mass)
- Wide Grip Pulldowns – 2 sets of 20 reps (reps should be done slowly, 3 seconds pulling, 1 second squeeze, 3 seconds back up)
- Barbell Rows – 2 sets of 20 reps (same cadence as above)
Then just do your normal back routine. The idea is to really warm up the back muscles and help focus your attention on them and not your arms with slower pace, high rep exercises. Then your mind will be focused on proper form as you switch to your normal routine. At the end of your workout add:
- Seated Cable Rows – 2 sets of 15 to 20 reps (again with the slow cadence)
If you have ever studied a large number of bodybuilding routines of champion caliber lifters you will find that the majority of them use a back routine that finishes with higher rep cable rows. The reason is simple; it is a great exercise to really focus on squeezing the muscles for maximum fiber activity at the end of the workout.
By making a few small, but important adjustments to your current routine your lat development should see some big gains as you learn to feel the muscles more and create better contractions rather than just ‘going through the motions’.