Back Training: The Most Effective Exercises To Get A Stronger Back

Franco Columbo

In this article, you’ll learn what makes an effective back training workout. Although the one thing you must do to ensure your back workout is going to be effective. So that you can build muscle and strength. Is to start it off with heavy deadlifts. But if you can’t do this due to a previous back injury then you can just substitute the deadlift with some heavy rows or pull-ups/chin-ups.

You might not get as strong compared to if you were doing heavy deadlifts. But you’re still going to be getting stronger at some important back exercises.

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of back training we’ll first talk about the anatomy of the back and how you can best train every muscle.

Back Training: First You Need To Know The Back Musculature

Firstly to grasp effective back training. You don’t actually need to know that much. You just need to make sure that you target each of the muscles of your back. Using the appropriate exercises. Remember to build any muscle you need to progressively increase the weight/ reps with proper form. Thus stronger over time.

Secondly the main muscles of the back are:

The Trapezius ( The upper back )

Latissimus dorsi

Rhomboids

Erector spinae

Teres major and minor

Infraspinatus

Back Musculature graphic

1. The Deadlift, It Trains All Of The Back’s Musculature

Most Importantly, the exercise that trains all of the back muscles ( and is the most effective) is the deadlift. The deadlift also trains almost every other muscle in your body. Some people believe it’s just an exercise for a specific muscle group (the back) but even though the back is the primary muscle worked this couldn’t be further away from the truth. The Main muscle the deadlift works is the erector spinae. It also works your glutes , hamstrings and every one of those muscles in the infographic above.

However, the Deadlift and the squat are probably the most technical exercises of all. Likewise, they are the hardest to learn. If you’re like me and deadlift didn’t feel that good at first then I’d suggest you just keep working on it and experimenting with different deadlift variations such as the hex bar deadlift and sumo deadlift. Eventually, you’ll grasp this vital movement.

Rounding Your Back And Deadlifting

Arguably the hardest part of learning how to deadlift is setting your back ( this is the one most important thing you can do to ensure that you reduce the risk of injury). Above all keeping your lower back in a neutral position is extremely important. But some people will just be more likely to get back injuries (due to many different factors) than others.

For example, a guy named Bob Peoples Shown Below. Held the deadlifting record (for 25 years)of 329 kg at a bodyweight of only 181 pounds. But Bob deadlifted with a round back. As a result of this, he actually shortened the lever arm and this allowed him to lift more weight.

Bob Peoples the deadlift expert

Because of the Shortened level arm. This resulted in the bar travelling a shorter distance from the floor to lockout.

But Bob Didn’t round his lower back to any dangerous degree. He rounded his upper back slightly. Which is actually fine for your back if you’re well versed in the deadlift.

Back Training: The Deadlift Makes Your Traps Pop

The stronger you get at the deadlift. The bigger your whole body, back and traps will get. As long as your nutrition and recovery are taken care of appropriately. Meaning you need to eat in a 10% calorie surplus and get at least 7 – 9 hours sleep every night.

Here is a picture of how this lift benefited my back development and how it will help you too.

Before focusing extensively on getting stronger at compound exercises and the deadlift.

Back training before focusing extensively on deadlifts

After focusing on heavy deadlifts and compound exercises.

After focusing on heavy deadlifts extensively

The key for a natural weightlifter really is to just lift heavier weights with proper form over time. Make sure that’s your number 1 priority.

Focus On A Neutral Back Position

Back Training - The Deadlift

That is to say, if you’re new to the deadlift you should focus on making sure that you tick the 3 boxes for performing a correct deadlift. The fact is, everybody’s anthropometry ( the size and structure of your limbs and body ) is different. As a result of this, it means that everybody’s deadlift will naturally look different. But no matter what, if you focus on getting these 3 things below right. It will result in a correct deadlift.

1. Your shins Must Lightly Touch The Bar And The Bar Must Be Over The Middle Of Your Foot

Firstly this will put the bar in the most efficient position to be pulled in a straight line. To clarify, think about it like this. For instance, gravity moves up and down. Therefore if the bar is too far forward or back from the midfoot, this won’t change the fact that gravity still moves in a straight line.

Thus if the bar is too far forward or backward of the midfoot you’ll have to waste energy bringing the bar from an unfavourable position to over your midfoot. Because of this, you’ll also be your strongest when the bar is directly over the middle of your foot.

So, with these things in mind, there are three criteria for a correct starting position for the deadlift. The back must be locked in extension, the bar must be touching the shins over the middle of the foot, and the shoulders must be out in front of the bar so that the shoulder blades are directly vertical to the bar with straight arms.

2. Your Back Must Be Locked In A Rigid Fixed Position

To clarify, you don’t need to overemphasise this position. Just look at the picture above to get a clear picture of how this looks. The fact is You’re going to be stronger if you do this. Why? Well, its because when your back is locked into rigid extension you’re going to be using your back musculature a lot more efficiently than if you were just to sandbag the weight ( a common term for just lifting weights with no regard for from).

If you round your lower back excessively when deadlifting there is a much greater chance of injury. And you will be transferring the stress of the load to your ligaments and vertebrae instead of the Erector spinae muscles. You’re also much stronger if you use proper form. As a result of Proper form, you will be able to lift the most weight.

3. You Should Be Able To Draw A Straight Line From The Middle Of Your Foot To Your Shoulder Blades

Your Shoulder blades must be in line with the bar. And the bar should be over the middle of your foot. This creates the most efficient pull. If Your shoulders are too far in front of the bar then you’re going to have to waste energy and increase the likelihood of injury by having to jerk your shoulder blades back over the bar when initiating the lift.

Every deadlift that ever gets pulled. Only comes off the floor once the shoulder blades are in alignment with the bar in a straight line.

Step By Step Deadlift Form

  1. Stand above the bar with your feet shoulder-width or just slightly narrower.
  2. Grip the bar at about shoulder-width, Touch your shins on the bar lightly ( don’t move the bar away from your midfoot )
  3. Extend the back into a rigid neutral position
  4. Take a deep breath into your diaphragm and hold it for the lift.
  5. Squeeze the bar as hard as you can and lift it until lockout.
  6. Don’t overextend your back at the top.

For a fantastic teaching of this exercise check out Mark Rippetoe’s video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2OPUi4xGrM

The Trap Bar Deadlift

The Trap Bar deadlift is a fantastic deadlift option if you struggle to keep your back in extension at the bottom position of the deadlift. With the trap bar deadlift, the handles are higher up and this means that you don’t have to get as low in contrast to conventional deadlifting. Making the exercise much easier to do then the conventional or sumo deadlift.

For a more in depth explanation of the trap bar deadlift read the article below.

https://www.strongerbyscience.com/trap-bar-deadlifts/

The form for the trap bar deadlift is very similar to the conventional. But because the handles are higher you are lifting the bar over a shorter range of motion so you can lift more weight.

But if you don’t use the high handles then you’ll not be able to lift as much weight.

If you can’t use the low handles then using the high handles is fine. For an in-depth video check out the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlV1h64_pFM

The Sumo Deadlift

The Sumo deadlift technique tends to be harder to learn than the conventional and trap bar deadlift. But it can feel better for some people. For instance, the sumo deadlift works your quads and abductors slightly more than it does in comparison to the conventional deadlift. And the conventional deadlift works the back slightly more.

For the sumo deadlift form check out the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDlOSfu-zHY

2. The Barbell, Dumbell And T Bar Row

Rows deserve a place in your training plan. These exercises both develop the lats and the upper back to a great degree. And will really help support and strengthen your deadlift.

Rows train your:

Latissimus Dorsi (lats).

Teres major.

Posterior deltoids.

Your forearms and biceps.

And when the shoulder blades come together your trapezius and rhomboids contract.

So as you can see rows target a wide range of muscles.

Rows can dramatically bring your upper back up and this can benefit your deadlifting and pressing.

The Barbell Row

With the barbell you’re going to be able to load the most amount of weight onto the bar and ultimately get the strongest.

But this doesn’t mean that the barbell row is the best choice. All rows can have their place in your training plan.

Regarding the form check the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9efgcAjQe7E

The Dumbell Row

The Dumbbell row can be a great exercise to use. This is because when (supported by a bench) it puts very little strain on your back. So for some people (especially with back injuries), it can be a safer option to put in your training because of the reduced back strain. As opposed to the barbell row.

The form is below

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYcpY20QaE8

The Chest Supported T Bar Row

The Chest supported row can be a great option. And it puts very little strain on your lower back. If you’ve previously had back injuries and can’t do heavy deadlifting. This exercise can help you build a bigger, stronger back. It can also be a great accessory exercise to perform after your heavy deadlifting.

Form below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usyYceih-sI

Back Training Effective Exercise No 3 Chin Ups/Pull Ups

pull-ups and chin-ups are some of the greatest exercises for your back beyond a doubt. Whether your new to the gym or more advanced, pull-ups/chin-ups can be super hard.

But first I’ll differentiate the difference between these fantastic exercises.

Chin-Ups Vs Pull-Ups

Chin-ups are done using a supine grip (palms facing you) And they engage your biceps to a greater degree then pull-ups.

Whereas Pull-ups target your lats slightly more and biceps a lot less. They are done using a pronated grip.

Both of these exercises work the latissimus dorsi and teres major and trapezius. They both work the biceps and forearms (but as I said before they do this in slightly different ways)

Regarding these two exercises, one isn’t inherently better than the other. They both deserve a place in your training. It makes sense to do one variation like the pull up for one phase and the chin up for the second phase. Alternatively you could just get really good at either of them as this will have carryover to the other exercise.

The form for the pull up is below

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuuyDNGrCI8

Chin Up

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtRHAE7bqR8

If you can do these weighted then by all means do them weighted. But if you can’t, just focus on good form for reps until you feel like they’re easy enough to add weight. I’d try to get 10 good pull-ups/ chin-ups before doing them weighted.

If You Just Focused On the Above It would Be All The Back Training That You Need To Do

The fact is that the exercises listed above are going to be enough for you to reap the benefits and get stronger and bigger from your back workouts.

If you start your exercises with the king of all back exercises (the deadlift) and then you perform some sort of horizontal row followed by a vertical pull ( pull up or chin-ups) you will be targeting and strengthening all of the muscles in the most effective ways possible.

Thats not to say that other exercises don’t have their merits.

Because they do.

Back Training : Honourable Mentions

The Lat pulldown – The lat pulldown can be done in the supinated (palm facing you) or pronated position (palm not facing you) and It targets basically the identical muscles as pull-ups and chin-ups. If you can’t yet perform a full pull up/ chin up then start with the lat pulldown and focus on getting as strong as possible at it. Or alternatively, you can do negative pull-ups. This is where you raise yourself over the bar and slowly lower yourself into the bottom position. This strengthens your lats and your upper body.

The form is below

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAwf7n6Luuc

And when I talk about the lat pulldown I’m referring to the cable lat pulldown (not the lat pulldown machine) the reason for this is because cables closely mimic free weights more than machines and are more functional and useful in general.

The seated cable row – This is a great horizontal row substitute and doesn’t put that much strain on your back as opposed to barbell rows. This exercise targets the majority of your back. Mainly the lats, teres major and posterior deltoid. All of these back exercises have carryover to your biceps. All pulling movements do.

This is a great exercise and feel free to add it in your program.

Form is below

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sP_4vybjVJs

Back Training – The Leg Exercise That’s also A Back Exercise

The Barbell squat is A full-body movement and Its main function is to train the quadriceps and your glutes. But the secondary muscle group that a lot of people don’t know the squat works is the erector spinae. If you focus on getting a strong squat this will massively help strengthen and build your erector spinae/ spinal erectors.

This is why a lot of men and women who train in powerlifting and in strongman have such big frames. Its because they focus on the compound lifts like the deadlift and squat.

The Conclusion On Back Training

  1. To get a stronger, bigger back you don’t need to know that much. You just need to get stronger at a few exercises like the deadlift, row and chin/pull-ups.
  2. To really develop a good back you need to be consistent and get stronger at these multi-joint compound exercises.
  3. Don’t overthink these exercises. Watch the form videos and then start doing. To get good at something you first need to start and be consistent.

To see how this article fits into a proper weightlifting program check the link below.

https://henrypaget.com/2020/04/27/muscle-strength-building-routine-to-get-you-to-the-intermediate-level/

And for a women’s routine click below

https://henrypaget.com/2020/05/23/5-mistakes-women-make-when-trying-to-achieve-fitness-success/

Thanks for reading.

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