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Training Back 101

Last Updated: Jan 08, 2012 03:18PM MST
In bodybuilding, its just as important to look good from the back as it is from the front. From the front we expect a thick chest, broad rounded shoulders and a nice set of abs. From the back we have one major thing to look for- a thick wide freakish back! This is one of the problems most people have(looking good from the back). It could be many factors- their waists are too big which takes away from the taper, its thick but not wide enough, or it just doesn't have enough mass! With the following routine, any dedicated workout enthusiast should be able to pack some thickness and width on their frame!
The links posted in this article give a stardard clip of what the exercise should look like… however, many times I add alterations to the modern technique, so use it simply as a guideline.
Barbell Rows: Like with every bodypart, it's necessary to thoroughly warmup before hitting the weights hard. Aside from legs, back is probably one of the most injury prone workout days. We put stress on our lats, lower back(big problem area!), traps, biceps, rear delts, etc.  Saying this, its definitely a good idea to maybe even do two solid warm-up sets with a light weight. After the warmup we will hit 4 sets super heavy to failure. This is going to work the whole back a great deal. 
I find it more beneficial to lean farther forwards than you see most guys doing. Lifting the weight to your stomach from a bent 90 degree angle will hit your whole back better than a slightly bent back. Slightly bending will focus more of the weight up onto your traps and take away from the lats, lower and middle back. If this stresses the lower back too much, especially on heavy sets, throw a belt on. The rep range should do 8-12 for the first two sets and up the weight on the last two doing 6-8 reps. These should all be to failure.
Widegrip Lat Pulldowns: Next we'll move onto a width exercise, This will help with that nice V taper in back. Hit this for 4 sets concentrating on each contraction. It's often debated what the proper form is for this exercise, but personally, I lean back about 30-45 degrees while doing my reps. Try not to swing a lot if you're leaning back. I feel you can lift more weight more comfortably in this position and I also feel it hits the whole lat more effectively. I almost always stick with 8-12 reps for 3-4 sets on this particular exercise. 
If you'd like to add this at the end of your workout instead, doing a drop set for 3 sets will really get your back pumped up. Select a weight that you can get for 12 reps. Do them, then drop the weight by 1/3 (i.e. from 200 to ~140) and pump out as many reps as you can get. Some slight swinging is O.K. with drop sets, as your forearms and biceps will tire quickly.
Close-Grip Low Rows: I find this exercise to be great for detail in the mid back area as well as back thickness. I keep the reps on the higher side with this, not usually going below 10-12 at any given time. Do 3-4 sets of this at 10-12 reps. Don't lean back too much while pulling back, instead, keep your body straight while pulling to your stomach. When letting the weight back down, its ok to lean a little forward, and actually hits the lats nicely as well.
Dumbbell Rows: These are great for overall backwork, as well as hitting each side of the back independently. Choose a weight you can do for no more than 12 reps and rip out 8-12 reps on each side. While doing these rows, keep the same position as you`did for barbell rows. Keep the ROM(range of motion) shorter on the way down to keep the pressure on your back. Going all the way till your arm straightens out will take the pressure off your back and transfer it to your bicep. I know biceps are great, but we're focusing on back here guys!!! Do this for 3 sets.
Deadlifts: This is the king of back lifts! Those lifting for size often do these at the end of back day, opposed to those looking to improve their deadlift strength. The reason for putting it at the end is that after you already focused on each area of your back, the deadlift will totally exhaust your entire back at the end of the workout. Keep the reps between 8-12 and lift as heavy as you can for this rep range. Do this for 3 sets, or 4 if you still have the energy. I prefer an overhand grip- you may not be able to lift as much, but its better for symmetry and less chance of injuring your traps and shoulders.

Sample Workout:

  • Barbell Rows: 4 sets (8-12 for 2 sets, 6-8 for 2 sets)
  • Lat Pulldowns: 4 sets (8-12 reps)
  • Close-Grip Low Row: 3-4 sets (10-12 reps)
  • Dumbbell Rows: 3 sets (8-12 reps)
  • Deadlifts: 3-4 sets (8-12 reps)
Follow this for a month, and if you notice one area of your back lagging, prioritize the exercise that targets that area. Switching up the routine once a month is important. Whether its switching the order slightly or replacing one exercise for another, you need to do it to keep growing. Muscles grow to handle the stress you put on them; once they can handle that stress, they stop growing. So, keep increasing weight and intensity and switch up your routine often for ultimate growth!
Good luck guys!
Why do Deadlifts First? 
Most of it is explained in the article.. For the bodybuilder it can be a great way to finish off your back routine and totally exhuast the entire back.
For example, have any of you have heard of "pre-exhausting"? It is commonly used by the bodybuilder who is trying to pretty much annihilate any particular bodypart. The most common use of pre-exhausting I've seen is doing some sets of leg extensions to warmup and pump tons of blood into the quads, then going right over to the squat rack and repping out some squats until the quads literally can't take it anymore.
This isn't the most effective way to up the numbers of a particular exercise, its to pump the muscle up to the extreme and cause the most fiber activation possible. If you have a huge ego for deadlifting and are trying to get those numbers way up, I would surely do deadlifts first. However, those looking for more of a bodybuilding frame with a super thick,full and symmetrical back may want to give this routine a try.
I've put deadlifts first, middle and last and honestly I like each way. I simply find placing it last to be better at totally rounding off your back day.

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