Bodybuilding Back Exercises For Mass, Shape, and Thickness
The best bodybuilding back exercises are those that are simple, exhausting, and effective. Most lifters who have a hard time engaging and developing their lats, usually lack the proper training knowledge. It’s surprising to see that even at the professional level; bodybuilders are competing and winning competitions with weak backs.
If you want to develop your back to its maximum potential; you need to leave the modern bodybuilding mentality behind and start training old-school. Machines can be great tools for the average lifter but they ultimately won’t yield the results that free weights can. If you add these movements to your back routine, you will grow.
The deadlift is the king of all exercises; only bested by the squat. If you’re not accustomed to doing this exercise, it’s probably due to all the horror stories that famously made their way online. There’s a big chance that some of these stories are actually true; the deadlift is a very dangerous movement that should never be underestimated. Performing it incorrectly can potentially lead to both minor and serious injuries, so, why am I recommending it?
If you perform the deadlift correctly, there’s no reason why you should have to worry about injuries. Although it may look easy – it’s a lot more complex that it first appears to be. Perfecting this exercise will unlock a whole world of gains. Your back will become bigger and thicker, your core will be a lot stronger – and your strength will transfer to other important lifts like the squat.
Some bodybuilders claim that they don’t perform this exercise because it can thicken their waist, but it’s not true. Waist size is genetic and can only be modified by developing the abdominal and intercostal muscles through direct work; doing this is quite difficult and can take many years to achieve. It’s common knowledge that you should do plenty of research and try to get your deadlift form right before even attempting to go heavy.
Most lifters who get injured do so because they practice improper form and try to go way too heavy. If you’ve never deadlifted before – start your way up from the bar and try to do sets of fifteen or twenty reps. Doing high-reps will stop you from going too heavy and enable you to create a strong mind-muscle connection. Once the exercise is perfected; there’s nothing wrong with going heavier and testing your limits.
Next up in our bodybuilding back exercises list is the rack pull. Although it’s very similar to the deadlift; it’s better at isolating the lat muscles and emphasizing the contraction. A lot of lifters share mixed opinions on the proper way to perform this exercise; some claim that the bar should be set up under the knees while others prefer it above. I personally think that the best way to do it is parallel with the knees; as this eliminates the leg muscles from taking over the movement.
The setup and exercise execution is identical to the deadlift – the only difference being that the bar will be resting on a cage/rack at knee level instead of the floor. A lot of bodybuilders love to do this exercise because they can go a lot heavier than the deadlift and target the whole upper-back area. It’s also a lot safer and won’t place as much stress on the lower back. Doing these will strengthen your deadlift and give you wicked pumps.
The purpose here is to go as heavy as possible; making sure that the lats are contracted through the entire motion. Don’t bounce the weight and never lose control during the set; as doing this highly raises the risk of injury. If you add rack pulls to your routine, you will quickly notice improvements in your trap development and upper-back thickness.
Going heavy is important but not crucial as there’s always a potential risk of injury when pushing it too far. If you can’t perform eight clean repetitions with a certain weight – you need to drop it and focus on maintaining proper form. Performing low repetitions with crazy weight won’t contribute to your back development; if anything, it will work against it.
The barbell row is one of the most underrated exercises in modern bodybuilding. Back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s – the barbell row was a staple in every bodybuilder’s back training routine. Even up to the early 2000s; bodybuilders like Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler used them to develop their Olympia-winning backs. No matter how you put it – the barbell row is obligatory for building a massive back.
There are two ways to do these; traditional and reverse (underhand) grip. Traditional barbell rows target the lats, upper back, and traps; reverse grip isolates the lats entirely. Reverse grip didn’t really become a thing until Dorian Yates – who arguably built one of the best backs in history- made them popular.
The reverse grip can be very beneficial but it can also be dangerous because it puts the bicep tendon in a very weak position. Dorian Yates, for example, tore his bicep doing underhand rows with over 400lbs. For this reason -just like with the deadlift- bodybuilders like to typically use a standard grip.
With that being said, if you use proper form and leave the ego at the door; you shouldn’t have to worry about pulling a muscle. Some experts believe that most muscle tears occur in individuals who use anabolic steroids. The reasoning behind this is that (with steroids) the muscle grows faster than the tendon and therefore can’t support the extra weight; placing a lot of pressure (heavy weight) will inevitably lead to an injury.
Now that there are a hundred different types of row machines out there; bodybuilders have completely forgotten about the dumbbell row. As simple as this movement may first appear – it’s a lot more difficult to perform than it’s made out to be. When doing these, you need to focus on pulling with your elbows while always maintaining full control on the negative by slowing it down.
Whether you do this on a bench or resting on the rack; the body’s position should always be the same. Even though you don’t want to arch your back or swing the weight; you still want to be able to stretch your lats as much as possible while lowering the dumbbell. Squeezing the dumbbell at the top of each rep will enable you to incorporate more muscle fibers.
This is one exercise where you don’t want to go too heavy on; no matter how enticing it may look. I’ve personally made the mistake of rowing 200lb dumbbells before (with decent form) and got nothing out of them. The heavier you go, the harder it is to control the movement.
Try doing these with moderate weight for sets of between fifteen and twenty – you’ll feel an incredible pump and stretch. There’s also nothing wrong with eventually increasing the weight; as long as you maintain the same rep ranges and form. Do them this way for a couple of months and your back will have no other choice but to grow.
There’s no substitute for a dumbbell pullover; cables and machines aren’t going to cut it here. If you want a strong mind-muscle connection and your lats to pop – you need to add dumbbell pullovers to your routine. Although the classic nautilus machine is a gem and works very well; you can get equal results by doing these with a dumbbell on a bench.
Just like the rest of the bodybuilding back exercises that we just talked about – you don’t want to go heavy on the dumbbell pullover. This particular exercise is all about the stretch; going crazy heavy isn’t going to give you any better results. To do this exercise, pick a weight that you can comfortably (but not too easily) do fifteen repetitions with and aim for twenty.
You can do these laying flat on a bench if you’re not familiar or comfortable with them, or across the bench if you’re more experienced. Stay tight during the motion and try to go as far down as possible without placing too much stress on your shoulders and elbows.
Even though it’s true that the dumbbell pullover is typically used for chest development – it’s just as good for building the lats. I perform this exercise twice a week; once for chest laying flat on a bench and a second time for back, laying across the bench. Depending on how you perform this exercise – you can easily target different muscle fibers.