Back to Basics

11 Dec

A Guide to Improving Your Back

The back and its related musculature are difficult to see on one’s self and as such is often not trained with the same intensity of other more visible body parts. As a group the back is second only to the thighs in the amount of muscle it contains. When developed it gives the physique the much sought after ‘V’ shape and provides depth to the upper torso.

The back, unlike most other body parts is comprised of many different muscle groups, many serving a similar purpose. In the majority of back exercises, all of the back muscles will be utilised. What changes is the extent of involvement from each one, dependant on the actions involved in the movement (Pulldown vs Row for example).
For simplicity sake I like to divide the back into 3 main areas and then target each section with one key exercise per workout. The 3 are:

  1. The Middle Back comprising the powerful Latissimus Dorsi (Lats), the largest muscle in the region, which can be seen as the “wings” at the side of the body. They are responsible for bringing the upper arm towards the body from a variety of angles, and are heavily involved in any action where the elbow remains close to the torso. Most close grip rowing movements target this part effectively.
  2. The Scapula region containing (a) the Teres group (major and minor) lying directly under the rear shoulder and are often mistaken to be part of the Lats.(b) the Infraspinatus, along with the Teres muscles they attach the upper arm to the scapula . These muscles are the most activated when the elbows are out to the side and are brought from high to low. Wide Pull downs and Pull Ups are movements that are target these muscles.
  3. The Upper back, encompassing the Traps (upper, middle and lower) and Rhomboids (major and minor). These muscles bring the shoulder blades together and with the rear delt are responsible for the “chunky” look. Starting with the elbow at chest level in front of the body and continuing along the same plane to finish behind the body activates these upper back muscles . Wide Grip Rowing movements are best here.
A-Scapula B-Middle C-Upper
Wide Grip Pulldown Close Grip Pulldown Wide Grip Seated
Wide Grip Chin Up Single DBell Row Hammer Row
Hammer Pulldown V Bar Seated Row Wide Grip Barbell Row


Perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps for each exercise but change the order of exercises every workout in this fashion:

ABC, BCA, CAB. Complete 3 of these cycles then pick 3 new exercises for the same angles and repeat.