Bodybuilding For The Back
By Dennis B. Weis " The Yukon Hercules"
It has been said that the pillar of a
man’s strength and vigor is in
his back. A man might have massive muscular arms, rugged formidable legs, superb
abdominals, championship deltoids, and a powerful Herculean chest but without
a colossal, powerful and fully developed back, he will be found lacking! It
is not too much to suggest that he won’t be a complete bodybuilder in
many ways. He will lack that brute lifting power, be handicapped in certain
selected athletic events and his physique will appear unbalanced. As a matter
of fact, pain, discomfort, low energy and lack of virility can often be additional
results of a weak or neglected back. Society in general suffers pain especially
in the lower back of such epidemic proportion that it afflicts more than 80
million victims annually. In the face of the facts presented, it’s hard
to believe that any intelligent bodybuilder could possibly overlook this important
group of muscles, isn’t it?
Yet, at many of the bodybuilding gyms I visit and
the physique contests I attend, I find ample evidence that a large number
of bodybuilders consider
a completely developed back of minor importance. At many of the physique contests
I have attended either in the capacity as a spectator or that of a judge, the
contestants posing routines reflect this attitude, with eighty-five or ninety
percent of their poses covering the rest of the body and often only a single
rear view back pose position is thrown into the posing routine as an after-thought!
Still, nothing can be more impressive than a great back pose which depicts
mass, depth, granite hard definition, separation, shape and symmetry. Do bodybuilders
fail to understand this because they can’t see this part of the body
so easily from a rearview, in the mirror?
Olympic lifters invariably have powerfully developed
backs; the mere act of performing the snatch and clean & jerk lifts and the associated assistance
exercises insures that. When power lifters practice deadlift movements, they
too are guaranteed superb results in back development and strength. I do believe,
though, that many of today’s bodybuilders do not work on developing the
back enough! I am sure that most bodybuilders would realize a satisfying gain
just in the area of overall physical strength if they would devote some time
to serious exercise of the back, instead of relying only on developing the
lats at the exclusion of the other associated muscles in the back.
Similarly ignorant in this matter is the average
athlete. He may be aware that he needs great legs, body power, fast reflexes,
endurance and drive, but
he may never realize that all of these existing qualities depend on his back!
With a properly planned back program, the back can be made more flexible, more
enduring, more capable in every way and much, much stronger. When the back
is in perfect condition, an athlete can run faster, jump higher or farther,
play the selected sport harder, twist more, move quicker and put more drive
into each game. Why don’t more coaches realize that their stellar athletes
could be better and their best performance even greater, simply by giving them
Since I feel so strongly that proper back development
is an important oversight by most bodybuilders, I would like you to stop
for a moment to analyze your
own back training program. How many different back exercises are you performing
now? What are you specially doing for the lower lumbar (Erector Spinae Group)
back area, for the posterior deltoids, for the lower lats, for flexibility,
for endurance? Chances are good that you will have to admit neglect in your
own case and, believe me, you’re not alone! Take a good look around the
gum during your next workout if you need any further convincing about the importance
of the back and its neglect by the average bodybuilder of today.
As you may have noticed after looking at some of
the bodybuilders in the gym, the lower back or lumbar section is probably
the weakest muscle link in the
entire associated back structure. The most remarkable thing about training
this region of the back is that it can be improved 50-100% in just three to
four weeks by doing such exercises as Power Cleans, Stiff-Legged Deadlifts,
Prone Hyperextensions, Regular Deadlifts and Close Grip "Sumo" Squat
Deadlifts. There are many more good exercises which will stress the lower back
but these are the top one percent with the Prone Hyperextensions and Stiff-Legged
Deadlifts being my all time favorites. If I could recommend a program for bringing
up the strength of the lower lumbar section of the back, it would have to be
the Finish Deadlift Routine which was originated by Jaska Parviainen back around
1980. This particular program consisted of 3 cycles of 6-7 week durations with
an exercise mix of Stiff Legged and Conventional Deadlifts utilizing rep schemes
from a single to doubles, triples, fives and tens. Scope and space does not
allow me to go into detail about this excellent program (which was published
in the March 1991 issue of Power Lifting USA magazine).
Prone Hyperextensions would be another strategy I would suggest using for
the lumbar region also while keeping the following commands in mind:
1) Slowly arch (non-ballistically) up to where your
shoulders are level with your pelvic girdle and down to a 60° angle from
a horizontal position to the floor.
2) Hold the terminal point of contraction statically for 5 to 30 seconds.
3) Lower slowly at a rate of 5 to 30 seconds.
4) Keep the back flat, especially at the beginning of this exercise and never
allow it to round forward.
Some excellent exercise selections for the long fibers of the upper Lats include
the classic Pullups and Lat Pulldowns. On these particular exercises, taking
a shoulder width grip on the bar tends to use more of the biceps of the arms
but will develop the lower fibers of the lats, while a wider than shoulder
width grip will activate the upper lat fibers maximally while using less of
the bicep muscles of the arms. Pullups for many bodybuilders (especially those
who weight over 175-pounds) or those who have bodyweight fluctuations from
day to day) can become a complicated process because the upper torso must maneuver
around the fixed bar. The opposite effect is experienced using the free floating
The (late) Vince Gironda, "The Iron Guru", keyed in the bodybuilding
world many years ago regarding maximum stimulation of new lat growth and width
when he strongly suggested (Vince didn’t suggest, he told us) doing pullups
to the chest or sternum area. Vince’s theory regarding this was and is
to this day that the lower the position of the bar, be it the fixed pullup
bar or floating free lat bar, relative to the chest or neck, the greater the
stimulation on the lat muscles.
It takes quite a while to master the patented Gironda pullup to the sternum
so while a bodybuilder is working that exercise to perfection, he (or she)
can do Lat Pulldowns where the bar touches the sternum or low pec line. Remember
that the upper body is inclined back at 30 degrees from vertical, high arched
chest, and try to drive the elbows into the sides of the ribcage. A secret
is to keep the elbows out to the sides to activate more lat and less bicep
If you opt to do the Lat Pulldowns Behind the Neck, be sure not to drop your
head forward or hunch your upper torso forward in an effort to touch the bar
to the back of your neck. If you find yourself doing this, generally it will
mean that the exercise poundage is too heavy. There are a couple of techniques
you can apply o this exercise or any exercise for a particular muscle group
which will keep you from using too heavy a weight and having to cheat your
way to a completed rep. If you want to make each set of lat exercises 200%
more intense, you can do so by:
1) Performing 3-5 second contractions and extensions. Both the contraction
and extension of the resisting movement should take 3 to 5 seconds on each
and every rep in the full range of the muscle action. It is a very good idea
to do super low reps from time to time at the rate of 10 seconds in the contraction
phase and 5 seconds in the lower phase.
2) Total Stop Pauses. On each and every third rep,
stop the rep at some particular range of the movement. If you can’t,
then the poundage is too heavy.
Exercises for acquiring incredible thickness and
density in the middle back would include those movements in which the elbows
are allowed to travel back,
behind the plane of the upper body. These exercises include Barbell Bent Over
Rowing (Always pull elbows higher than leveled flat back arched position.)
and it’s variations. Seated Horizontal Long and Short Pulley Rows with
Handles, and Leverage (T-Bar) Rowing. With these particular exercises, there
is a slouching effect which is caused by a phenomenon known as flexion-relaxation
especially when the body is bent over and not supported. Ideally, the upper
body should be kept at a high angle of flexion during rowing motion type exercises.
Another situation that will cause a slouching forward effect while rowing is
if the lumbar region is pre-fatigued from previous lower back exercise such
as the Close grip "Sumo" squat dead-lift. Therefore, to maintain
proper exercise form, it is a very good idea to adapt the interdependency of
muscle group principle where you work the lats, and middle back at the beginning
of your exercise program and then finish off your back routine last by working
the lower lumbar (Erector Spinae Group) with deadlifts and hyperextensions
I have talked to quite a few bodybuilders and they
have told me that they just can’t get the proper stimulation and pump from their lat exercises.
After watching them, I can see why. Most bodybuilders use their biceps too
much when doing lat work and should learn to pull with the lats exclusively,
bending the arms only when they have top. This can be accomplished very efficiently
by using a "false" or thumbless grip, Conway Lat Straps, Power straps
or Joe Meeko Power Grips. These items will take direct bicep action out of
the movement (by keeping the palms high on the bar) and allow for more pure
pulling with the strength of the lats only. Another way to arouse lat width
and thickness is to arouse lat width and thickness is to hold each contraction
for a count of six seconds on perhaps every third rep (on Lat Machine Pulldowns,
hold the bar at the base of the neck for six seconds), while mentally visualizing
yourself squeezing an apple between your rotated shoulder blades. One of the
tricks to force the lats to do more work is by performing what is called scapular
rotations. Larry Scott, two time Mr. Olympia describes this rather unique exercise
in his new best selling book Loaded Guns. This book can be purchased at: www.biophase.com.
I will now outline a few back training programs for unlocking the Secrets
to Rapid Development for strength, width and thickness.
If you are a beginner and lack depth in the spinal-erectors
and mid-back, here’s a program that will remedy this problem.
1. Seated Long Pulley Rows 2 X 10-12
2. Barbell Bent Over Rowing with a curl grip 2 X 6-8
3. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts 2 X 15
1. Wide Grip Pullups to the Sternum 3 X 8-12
2. Bent over Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raises 3 X 10-12
3. Close Grip (4" thumb to thumb grip) Barbell Bent Over Rows 3 X 8-10
4. Prone Hyperextensions 3 X 10-12
Advanced Back Program:
1. Wide Grip Pullups to Chest
(on completion of the positive phase, the bar should touch 3-inches below the
width should be just wide enough so that the forearms are never parallel during
phase of the exercise execution)
2. Lat Pulldowns to Chest (as described in the article)
3. Seated Long Pulley Cable Rows
On exercises 1 and 2, your hands are forward utilizing
a "false" or
thumbless grip in order to put more stress on the lats and not the biceps.
Alternate all three of the exercises for 8 reps and 5 burns on each set. No
rest at all between sets and only minimum rest of 30 to 60 seconds between
series. You can finish of this program with one set of prone hyperextensions,
going to positive failure. Another variation of a pumpout set at the conclusion
of the 3 back exercises would be to do the Lat-Pull with expander cables. Hold
them by the handles overhead, arms straight, palms facing; then pull sideways,
stretching the cables until they touch the upper clavicular chest (collar bone),
arching the back and looking up at the ceiling. Use a cable resistance which
will allow you to do 15-20 reps.
If you wish to structure some of your own personal
variations from the back programs presented in this article, be sure to reassess
your present development.
If you are getting width, but not enough density, or lower lumbar strength
and development, then use more of the exercises that will bring the problem
area into proportion ("balance"). Don’t forget that Herculean
trapezius development is important to total back development. Dead Hang Cleans,
Shoulder Shrugs, Upright Rowing and High Pulls are some of the best direct
movements for "attacking" this area.
Intermediate bodybuilders might consider a moderate/high volume approach and
do 8-10 sets for the back, while advanced bodybuilders do 12 to 15 sets. Back
development and strength grows very quickly when cultivated.
You have my sincere best wishes in your quest for
a flaring "V-Shaped
Back" laced with granite hard muscle and super human strength. Stay flexed!!!