Answers To Frequently Asked Questions On Building A Broader Back
How would you define your back training? If you’ve been pushing the weights for a while, you’ve probably discovered that certain bodyparts are rather stubborn. (How about a show of hands for those who want trade-ins on their calves?) Surprisingly, the back usually falls in this category for many people, but rarely does it get the full attention it deserves.
To the discerning eye, your back can either close the deal or seal your fate when it comes to having the total package. Think about it: without flaring lats, you can’t achieve the desired V-shape. Your back also supports much of training, providing the strong stabilisation required for all types of shoulder, chest and arm movements.
Yet the back isn’t an easy thing to prod, requiring a consistent, multi-pronged approach to hit the various areas, from the erectors in your lower back to your mid-back muscles and outer lats. They all need to be addressed if you want that full-blown, complete package of dense, symmetrical, inter-twining fibre.
Whether you’re a determined beginner who’s eager to develop solid training habits or a weathered veteran looking to get your back on track, you probably have numerous questions on this sometimes enigmatic muscle group. Should I do behind-neck pull-downs? Should I concentrate on barbell or dumbbell rows? Is there really a difference wide- and narrow-grip rowing movements? Read on for the complete story.
Q: Should a beginner use pulling straps during back training?
A: Bodybuilders rely heavily on grip strength during their workouts, and that’s especially true during back training. You’ve probably heard the old saying, “If you aren’t using straps, you aren’t training heavy enough”. This stands to reason, because your back can take so much more pounding than your forearms ever could. Determining when to actually start using straps during a back workout becomes the important question.
You should use straps when you get to the point where you can’t move the weight effectively. You need to let your forearms do as much of the work as possible before resorting to straps.
During your back workout, train both with and without straps. When your forearms begin to give in, throw the straps on and keep going. Remember, your back is much stronger than your forearms. Never let your grip compromise your back training.
Q: Because the back contains so many muscle groups, what’s the best way to warm it up?
A: As with any other bodypart, warming up the back is important if you want to maximise your training efforts. Choose an exercise that can stress a variety of muscles, like the pulldown, the seated row or the pull-up; these movements stress not only your lats but also the rhomboids, the traps and even the erector spinae of the lower back. With whatever exercise you choose to warm up, make sure you start out light, work your way up and don’t rush into the heavy work. By pump, you send a message to your back to get ready for the battle that lies ahead.
Q: I’ve heard that when doing the pulldown, either as a warm-up or as a standard set, I shouldn’t go behind the neck. Is this true?
A: A lot of people project their head forward too far (while pulling the bar down), and in doing so create stress on the cervical spine. But it’s a great exercise, especially as a finishing movement. If you face away from the machine, the bar comes down perfectly and you don’t have to jerk your head forward. And not having the knee support automatically reduces the amount of weight that you can do.
The pulldown is a very effective exercise when done correctly. Keep your chest up the entire time, and think about squeezing the middle of your back. You can alternate front pulldowns (bring the bar to the very top of the chest) or behind the neck, just make sure you don’t bring the bar down too far, use very heavy weights or push your head forward in a jerky fashion.
Performed correctly, the pull-down is a valuable addition to your exercise arsenal. The pulldown is a great way to achieve the V-taper, both for beginners and the highly trained.
Q: I really like seated rows, but what difference does it make if I use a wide or narrow grip?
A: Make no mistake; you don’t necessarily turn on and off the inner and outer parts of your back by changing your grip width. Both your inner and outer back muscles are recruited during each movement, but their relative contributions will change. By doing close-grip movements, you can zero in on the middle portion of your back, and with a wider grip you can slightly change the emphasis to your outer-back region.
Whether you are a beginner, or a pro for that matter, you should do a few close-grip and a few wide-grip movements. Changing your grip to some degree throws the emphasis to different parts of your back. You need to hit everything so your back will reflect complete development.
Yet if you have sloppy form during seated rows, hand placement becomes secondary in importance. Keep your chest up during the entire movement and don’t lean too far forward or backward, which puts undue stress on the lumber spine. If you want a huge back, you have to go all the way down with your head and chest up, and then pull the bar into your belly. Dig deep, but do it correctly.
Q: Since the back is such a large bodypart, does it make sense to train it separately or should I pair it with another body part?
A: Dedicating one full training day to back is a popular method among many trainers. You have a lot of landscape to cover, and because the back muscles are generally strong and can withstand a lot of repetitions and weight, a great deal of effort is required to break down the muscles to spur growth.
At the same time, training other body parts along with back does have its advantages. Train back with biceps and hamstrings because during the back training, the arms and legs get hit as well.
The key is to devise a scheme that fits your lifestyle and training habits. If you don’t have as many days in the week to train as you’d like, you might have to combine body parts; in this case, it may work well to pair back and biceps, since your bi’s get some work during back training – just be sure to do your back first. If you have the time, consider giving your back its own day, especially if it needs extra attention.
Q: When doing bent-over movements, are barbell rows a better choice than dumbbell rows?
A: Any way you choose, the bent-over row is a landmark exercise for building an awesome back. During the dumbbell row, you can concentrate on one side of your body while you support your body with the other arm. During the barbell row, you focus on the entire back and rely on stabilising muscles such as your erectors, abs, glutes and legs for support. Mixing the two into your routine is a win-win situation.
When it comes to bent-over rowing, many movements can do the job quite well. Why not try a Smith machine or a T-bar version? If you choose the method you’re most comfortable with, you’re more likely to stick to it each workout. But don’t forget to incorporate different methods workout-to-workout to keep your training fresh.