A lean, sculpted midsection is often heralded as the prized chess piece of the upper body physique. In reality, a massive, v-shaped back carries just as much street cred. You just don’t hear about it as much as the “six-pack.”
The question then becomes what it is the best way to add mass to your back? You need to know a little about anatomy to answer this.
The back is actually a complex region of the body. It contains a large muscle group called the latissimus dorsi, another sizeable muscle group called the trapezius, a smaller group called the rhomboids and a strip of long muscles that span the length of the spinal column called the erector spinae.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Focus your attention on these areas with the right five exercises and you will build gorgeous, sexy mass in no time.
The first one is called a dumbbell bent-over row. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and hold the weights by your sides. Bend your knees slightly, then bend at the hips and let the dumbbells hang straight down with your palms facing your body.
Your back should be about 45 degrees to the floor at this point and you should have a straight line from the back of your head to your tailbone.
Keeping your abs tight and gaze fixed forward, pull the weights up and hug your arms in by your sides. Stop when the weights are right by your hips and hold for a second. Make sure to twist your wrists as you pull the dumbbells up so your palms face your sides. Slowly lower the weights down until your arms fully extended and repeat.
Pay attention to your breathing pattern when doing these. Inhale as you lower the weights and exhale as you lift them. As a rule of thumb, always exhale on the exertion of force.
The bent-over row primarily targets the lats, which run at an angle from the mid-lower back up underneath the shoulder blades. The rhomboids, which are located between the shoulder blades, as well as the lower trapezius also get targeted.
The next exercise on the list is good old-fashioned pull-ups. In historical times, it was mandatory for students to be able to reel off a dozen or so of these babies with flawless, seamless technique.
Unfortunately, a lot of schools today don’t even have PE class anymore so there’s a good chance the kids can’t do a single one. You on the other hand will be able to build your way up to a number like 10 or 12 once you know how to do them properly.
Start by hopping up and grasping a pull-up bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Push your hips slightly forward, tighten your abs forcefully and pull your shoulder blades down and inward. This is called a hollow body position and it is often overlooked by most people who attempt to do pull-ups.
Maintain a stiff body as you bend your elbows and pull yourself up in one steady motion. Stop when your chin rises above the bar and hold for a second. Slowly lower yourself down until your arms are fully extended and repeat.
Pull-ups target the lats, rhomboids, traps, biceps and abs in one fell swoop. If they should become easy, weave a kettlebell through the chain on a dipping belt and strap it on.
So far you have been exposed to a dumbbell and body weight exercise. Now it’s time to reach for a barbell to do deadlifts.
You would be hard pressed to find a rival exercise that builds power, strength and size like the deadlift. The movement pattern is not fancy or complicated, but the exercise yields an amazing return on investment.
Stand behind a weighted barbell that’s lying on the floor and position your feet about shoulder-width apart. Slowly push your hips back as you bend your knees and grasp the bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
Your back and thighs should both be about 45 degrees to the floor with your gaze fixed forward at this point. Keep your abs tight and pull the bar off the ground in one fluid motion. Pop your hips forward as you do this and stop when your body is straight from your heels to the back of your head. Rest the bar against your thighs for a full second, slowly, lower it back to the floor and repeat.
Not only do deadlifts target your lats, but they also hit your rhomboids, lower traps, erector spinae, hamstrings and glutes.
For a variation, use an over/under grip. I would also recommend wearing flat-soled shoes or no shoes at all while doing these. This will help improve your force production and keep you more balanced. Lastly, make sure to never round your shoulders when doing deadlifts. It looks bad, it feels bad and it IS bad!
Let’s bring a pulley machine into the mix. A lat pulldown is a probably one of the most incorrectly performed exercises in a gym. You see all kinds of actions like swinging the body back and forth to pulling the bar behind the head to rounding the neck.
You won’t be making any of those mistakes because you’re going to follow my instructions.
Before you start the exercise, sit on the seat and adjust the pad so it sits snug on the top of your thighs. Now step out, grasp the bar with a wide, overhand grip and carefully sit back on the seat with your thighs pinned. Your arms should be fully extended at this point and your gaze should be straight ahead.
Keeping your body as still as possible, pull your shoulder blades down and inward, then pull the bar all the way down to your chest. Hold for a second, fully extend your arms to raise the bar and repeat.
This exercise targets your lats, lower traps, rhomboids and biceps.
Last but not least, let’s go back to a dumbbell exercise and throw pullovers into the mix. Not only will these contribute to that coveted V-shape, but they will also develop those finger-like projections found on the upper, outer ribcage called the serratus muscles.
Lie face-up on a bench while holding a dumbbell over your chest with your hands stacked on top of each other. The weight should be vertical and your hands should be pressed against the inside of one weighted end.
Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, lower the weight down behind your head toward the floor in an arcing motion. Stop when you feel a good stretch on the sides of your back and pull the dumbbell up to its starting position. Hold for a second and repeat.
You may see someone doing this exercise with their body perpendicular to the bench and their head hanging over the edge, but that puts a lot of torque on the neck. Stick with the lengthwise position and you won’t have to visit the chiropractor later in the afternoon.
As with anything else, perfect practice makes perfect. Practice your exercises with quality form and you will succeed at building that massive back you always wanted. Just remember to always start light, master the movement pattern, then crank up the resistance.