Carving a well-shaped, embossed back is quite a difficult task that many people find impossible – especially beginners. I can even say that I myself am still working hard for the development and completion of this muscle group.
Hence the idea for this article, in which I want to share some basic (and my favorite) back exercises and why I focus on them.
But I also think that in order to get the most out of our back training and train it fully, we need to be aware of exactly how these exercises work and which muscles work. Therefore, without going into complicated terminology and details, we will briefly get acquainted with the anatomy of the back muscles and their functions.
Simplified anatomy of the back muscles
The back is a large muscle group that consists of more than one muscle. In fact, the muscles entering it are many and conditionally the anatomy divides them into two parts – superficial, which participate in the movement of the shoulder girdle, and deep – located directly on the spine.
For our purposes, we will pay attention mainly to some of the superficial back muscles that shape its appearance. But we will also focus on some of the deep-seated ones, which are also involved in back exercises.
Here are two charts – the first is quite simple and includes the main muscles that we will address in the article; the second is a little more detailed and includes the other back muscles.
- The trapezius is a multifunctional group of muscles in itself, with three parts – upper, middle and lower. In short, its various parts are responsible for the maintenance and movement of the neck and shoulders.
- The rhomboid muscles (rhomboid major and rhomboid minor), located below the trapezius, serve mainly to pull the shoulders back (retraction) to the spine, and also help in their movement up and down.
- The broad dorsi muscle (latissimus dorsi) pulls the arms towards the body, raises the ribs and expands the chest – in exercises such as pulling and rowing.
- Erectors (erector spinae), located along the spine, are responsible for its maintenance, movement (bending, straightening, turning) and actively participate in a number of exercises.
For optimal training for the back, it must load and develop well those muscles, which will subsequently shape his vision, as follows:
- A well-developed trapezoid to form the upper back.
- Developed wide back muscles to provide us with the desired V-shape of the back.
- Shaped rhomboid muscles to give a nice relief in the middle.
- Healthy and highly developed erectors, forming the lower and middle part of the back, giving a complete look to the whole muscle group.
Roughly illustrated, here’s what I mean:
A well-developed back of the shoulders is also an important aspect of the finished look of the back, but I will devote a separate article to them in the future to examine them in detail. However, I want to make it clear that most complex back exercises also strain the posterior deltoid muscle (pars spinata), so you will definitely develop it as well.
In general, this is part of the anatomy of the back in a very tight and simple form. If your topic is interesting, there are enough comprehensive and reliable sources of information in the literature and the Internet. And to keep the article tight and easier to read, I’ll go over the substance.
How to build an effective back workout?
The rule is general and does not apply only to the back, but to any muscle group:
If you want to build shapely, good-looking muscles, you should rely mainly on heavy multi-joint exercises, taking a load of 80-85% of the maximum (1RM) that you are capable of. That is, you have to train intensely.
As for specific back training, we rely on multi-joint exercises with levers and dumbbells, in combination with some fitness machines. And then – and isolating, lighter shaping exercises.
Heavy, intense exercise means fewer repetitions of a series – about 6-8, and sometimes even less. The important thing here is to gain strength, and with it comes muscle development. They go hand in hand.
You will find more tips for organizing your back training at the end of the article. Now, let’s look at the exercises.
My top 6 exercises for a wide, embossed back
Attached to the name of each exercise is a link to a video with the correct performance.
1. Rowing with a barbell
I guess you are not surprised that I include this exercise, because it is one of the main in the arsenal of any serious fitness enthusiast and many professionals. Simply because it works effectively and puts a full load on the muscle group in the back.
- Stand with your legs slightly bent, grab the barbell with your reach and arms slightly wider than your shoulders.
- Lean forward at the waist so that the lever comes to knee level.
- Inhale and pull the lever so that it touches the abdomen. Do not change the position of the back.
- Return the lever to its original position and exhale.
2. Deadlift with barbell
Like rowing, deadlift is also a multi-joint exercise that loads multiple muscle groups throughout the body. He can easily find his place in back training as well as in leg and buttock training.
If for the purpose of the article we ignore the other muscle groups that it loads, specifically in the back, deadlift works well for all the major muscles I described above – the broad back muscles, erectors, rhomboid muscles and most of the trapezius.
This is definitely quite a technical exercise and requires serious attention and control to perform properly and safely. For beginners, I would recommend starting with just the weight of the lever or dumbbells until they learn the technique.
- Stand facing a barbell placed on the ground, with your legs shoulder-width apart.
- Squat so that your hips are parallel to the floor. Keep your back straight and slightly bent back.
- The grip should be wide enough for the arms to go right up to the thighs. The chin and gaze should be forward and upward.
- Take a breath and lift the barbell, the effort should come from both the legs and the waist. Keep your shoulders straight.
- In the uppermost position, the legs and back are fully straight. Do not lock the joints in the knees and do not lean back.
- Lower the bar slowly and in a controlled manner back to the ground.
3. Rowing with a T-bar
Rowing with a T-bar (the so-called “bear”) is a variation of the classic rowing, but it also loads very well a large part of the back muscles – trapezius, broad back muscle and others. It can be performed both with a barbell and a machine, as I am a supporter of the first option.
Execution (with barbell):
- Assemble the T-bar by loading the lever on one side only and locking the other side with a weight.
- Grasp the lever using a V-handle.
- Straighten your waist, tighten your abdomen, and lean forward slightly.
- Pull the weight towards your chest, trying to pull with your back, not your biceps.
- After reaching the weight to the chest, hold for a second and lower it to almost complete straightening of the arms.
4. Pulling a horizontal pulley
Pulling a horizontal pulley is a great exercise for developing the upper and middle back (mainly the trapezius and broad back muscle). In addition, it loads the forearms, as well as the back of the deltoid muscle (shoulder). It is performed on a machine and a handle for a narrow or wide grip can be used.
- Sit on the rowing pulley and grasp the handle you have chosen.
- Step firmly on the legs of the stand and stretch them, keeping them slightly bent and not locking the joints. Keep your back straight.
- Pull the pulley toward you, tilting your torso back slightly, bulging your chest, and pulling your shoulders back.
- Return the pulley slowly and in a controlled manner to the starting position, leaning the torso slightly forward.
- Keep your back straight during the entire exercise to avoid injury.
5. Dials with a wide grip
In my opinion, push-ups can be included in any back workout and are one of the most widely known classic exercises in fitness circles in general. However, they also require some preparation and a lot of strength, so it is not surprising that most beginners avoid them.
But they also have a very good alternative. If they are unbearable for you – try pulling a vertical pulley in front of your chest.
They put a complex load on the entire muscle group of the back, as well as the posterior deltoid muscle, biceps and even the muscles of the forearm.
There are many different variations of dialing, but my advice is to start with the main two – dialing with a wide and narrow grip, and then upgrade from there.
- Grasp the lever with a wide grip and relax your legs.
- Inhale and pull up until the lever is as close to your chest as possible.
- Slowly lower to the starting position and exhale at the end of the movement.
6. Bring the upper pulley with straight hands
This exercise is also complex and loads a number of muscle groups – back, chest, shoulders, etc. In our back training we can turn to it for an isolated load on the broad back muscles and it is appropriate to be set as one of the last exercises in it. If the workout is combined with another muscle group, such as the shoulders or triceps, exercise is a good option for a smooth transition from one muscle group to another.
- Place a rowing lever on the upper pulley and grasp it with a grip slightly wider than the shoulders.
- Take a step or two back and bend your knees slightly, keeping your back straight.
- With your arms in front of your body, slowly and in a controlled manner push the weight down until it reaches your thighs, then slowly return to the starting position.
And some quick tips for Building an optimal workout
- As I said at the beginning, focus on multi-joint basic exercises with high intensity – 80-85% of the maximum load you can take. To stimulate muscle growth, you need to train hard. Set heavy multi-joint exercises at the beginning of your back workout and combine them with 1-2 lighter isolation exercises that you can include towards the end.
- Monitor your progress and try to have a constant progressive load to stimulate the muscles to become stronger and develop. With power comes volume.
- Train hard enough, but not too hard. Overload can be a serious problem, especially for beginners. Get well acquainted with the basic elements of training and choose the load not only according to the goal, but also according to your abilities.
- Training alone is not enough. I guess you already know, but still – if you want to develop and shape the muscles of the back, combine your workouts with a complete diet.
If you are determined to get the wide, embossed back that everyone dreams of, get ready to fight – a serious fight. If you were hoping to find some secret recipe or magic pill for success here, I will disappoint you.
The back is one of the largest muscle groups in the body and requires extreme perseverance and a lot of work to load optimally and develop. And yet – if there is motivation and discipline, there will certainly be results. Success!