A Guide to Training Back: For Both Thickness & Width
Training Back can be difficult for some of us because it's hard to develop a good mind-muscle connection.
Most have difficulty because we can't see our back when we train it.
So that means we have to train it focusing on a different sense, that sense being feeling.
To me, there's no better feeling than a solid back pump.
I'm going to break down the form of a few of my favorite back exercises so you too, can experience a solid back pump.
Let's start with form when trying to target inner back thickness.
We all know that to target back we need to focus on exercises with an emphasis on pulling.
But it goes beyond just being able to pull the weight.
I'm going to start with explaining my form during duel standing dumbbell rows.
Duel Standing Dumbbell Rows:
Starting from the ground up, you can see my feet are just inside shoulder width apart.
Knees at around a 45 degree angle.
With my trunk and torso running close to parallel with the ground.
My latissimus dorsi (the muscle group that resembles "wings") is in complete extension.
When your lats are in complete extension, it should feel as if the muscle group rolls around your ribcage to your sides, in particularly, below your armpits.
You can achieve this by relaxing your shoulder blades and allowing the weight to pull your arms down.
Make sure to keep your core engaged through the whole exercise.
When firing into flexion, again starting from the ground up, your legs should remain in the same position.
Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together, rolling your shoulders back while pulling your elbows up and behind you.
What helps me most is imagining as if there were a string through my elbows pulling up and behind me.
This exercise, when executed properly, will help you grow a thicker upper back.
Now that we covered a standing rowing exercise, lets discuss the seated cable row variation.
Seated Cable Row:
One of my all time favorite back exercises when looking to achieve a thicker back.
The form is very similar to a standing row, keeping feet planted around shoulder width apart.
Keeping an around 45 degree bend through the knees.
Again, my latissimus dorsi is in full extension, feeling the most stretch through my mid-upper back with my shoulder blades are relaxed and lat's pulled under my armpits.
The stretch is also felt through the rear deltoids and continues down the arms.
When in full flexion, you can see my shoulders are rolled back and my shoulder blades are squeezed, causing my chest to pop outward.
Like stated for the duel standing dumbbell rows, you should imagine a string pulling back through your elbows.
Again, this is my favorite rowing variation when looking to grow a thicker, more defined back!
Now that we went over both a standing and seated row exercise that target the thickness of the inner back. Let's discuss a couple exercises that'll improve the width of your back.
Starting with the high cable pullover, using the EZ Bar variation.
High Cable Pullover (EZ Bar):
My favorite back exercise when looking to increase width of your latissimus dorsi.
Starting from the ground up, my feet are roughly shoulder width apart with a slight bend through the knees.
My trunk and torso are roughly at 45 degree angle with the ground, with arms fully extended at the same angle.
Like all back exercises when at full extension, you should really focus on feeling the stretch.
The stretch should be focused through your outside lats, below the armpit and should run through your rear deltoids and arms.
Now into the flexion of the exercise.
Keep your form the same from the ground up through your waist.
As you bring the EZ bar down towards your waist, you should start developing a slight bend through the elbows.
Rolling your shoulders back and pushing your chest out.
You should feel a tight squeeze through your outer lat. spread beneath the armpit.
Continue to imagine a string pulling through your elbows, down then behind you.
Sometimes it helps to do a 3 second static hold while in full flexion to really understand the feeling of how the muscles activate!
Onto the next exercise that predominantly increases the width of your back, the wide grip lat. pulldown.
Wide Grip Lat. Pulldown:
First, adjust the seat so you're locked in with minimal movement.
This will take any momentum out of the exercise, isolating the latissimus dorsi.
When in complete extension, you should feel a stretch through your core, obliques, outer lat. spread, that runs through your rear deltoid into your arms.
Make sure you have arms in a supinated position, not just your grip.
This will put an even bigger emphasis on your latissimus dorsi to do all the work while minimizing how much biceps are recruited in flexion.
During flexion, focus on having a tight core while puffing out your chest.
Also focus on squeezing your elbows together along the plane of your back. (Not literally because it's impossible.)
You should feel the flexion through your mid-upper back, from below the armpit in towards your spine.
Like the high cable lat. pullovers above, incorporate a 3 second static hold at the bottom of each rep to develop a great mind-muscle connection.
So far we covered 2 exercises designed to target your inner back that improve thickness, along with 2 exercises designed to target your outer back that improves width.
4 Key Takeaways:
- For any variation of rows, focus on letting your outer latissimus dorsi spread out, below your armpits in extension.
- During flexion with any row variation, focus on keeping your core tight, puffing your chest while squeezing your shoulder blades.
- For both row and pulldown variations, imagine as if there is a string pulling through your elbows.
- To better your mind-muscle connection, incorporate static holds during flexion for a minimal of 3 seconds. (Holding max flexion for 3 seconds)
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