A big back is something most men love, or at least the ones who are working out. It makes your whole torso look bigger and shows your strength. Plus, a nice V-shape just looks cool. True, most men show off their fit bodies with large biceps and a six pack, but a good back is truly impressive. When you are ready to hit the gym to work your back, you have a wide range of exercises to choose from. This can be a bit overwhelming and many people don’t know where to start and what is best. We are here to help! With our guide to build back better – you will get that big back that you have always wanted.
Growing and creating that big back isn’t just about hitting the gym and going full out in beast-mode. Training is just one part of puzzle. A healthy and protein rich diet is definitely as important, just as is a good night’s sleep. Remember, you actually do all of your growing while sleeping, not in the gym. And you permit the growth when coupled with the right amount of nutrients to actually make the growth possible. Looking for great protein snack? Check our article here.
Hitting the back in the gym is my personal favourite training day. I just love the exercises and I hope you will too after reading this guide. When you are new to working out or bodybuilding, your back muscles aren’t developed and the exercises seem hard, but as soon as the results start to show and muscles start to take shape, you will be able to squeeze them better and enjoy the results even more. So let’s get going!
The back consists of a large number of muscles. There are too many to mention here, so we will stick to the more important ones for your training.
Your back muscles are important in many movements during your daily routine, like turning, lifting stuff, moving your shoulders and arms and more.
The lats (latissimus dorsi) make up a large part of your back. Because they are so large, they also help you shape your back and are essential for a big and broad back. The lats start at the upper arm bone (the humerus) and run from there to the shoulder blade, thoracic spine and thoracolumbar fascia, a membrane that covers the deeper back muscles. These muscles make sure you can move and rotate your shoulders.
The trapezius is another large muscle and consists of 3 parts. The upper part runs from the just underneath your skull to the clavicle. The middle part starts at your spine and runs to the shoulder blade. The lower part covers the same route, but starts lower at your spine. The trapezius muscles also make shoulder movements and shrugging possible, as well as lifting your arms.
Finally, the rhomboid muscles are hidden deep under the trapezius and run from your thoracic spine to your shoulder blade. Though not directly visible, they do play an important role in the turning movement of your scapula.
The Benefits of Workout Your Back
Building a big back isn’t just fun, it is also very useful and has some great benefits!
Posture. The reality of life is, that many people spend most of their days behind a computer. When you are slumped over a keyboard all day, you can imagine this isn’t the best thing for your general posture. It can actually create a poor posture and muscle imbalances like rotating your shoulders forward shoulders and rounded back. Luckily, training your back will help you fix these issues and prevent it from coming back as long as you keep training.
Injury risk reduction. Due to the poor posture we just mentioned, lots of people are also prone to injury and back pain. I’m sure many people will recognize these little pains in their lower back or these sour shoulders after a day behind a desk. Training for a big back will help you get rid of these little pains, discomfort and reduce the risk of future injury due to your trained muscles.
Boost your other exercises. What many people don’t know is the fact that a solid back workout will also help you grow your weaker muscles. For example, a stronger back will also allow you to improve your bench press! Want to grow a bigger chest? Don’t forget your back. A strong back will offer optimal support for your spine and all muscles in your upper body, which will cause you to perform better in other exercises.
With all these benefits, you should be eager to hit the gym to build that bigger back. So let’s get to the meat and the potatoes and show you the best exercises and how to execute them properly.
The Best Exercises to Get That Big Back You Have Always Wanted
When you go to the gym, you will have everything you need to perform the exercises. But when you are confined to your own house, you can still do these exercises as well. To optimize your back workout, it would be best to have a least a few things like a barbell, some weights and a push-up bar. If you want to know more about building your own home gym, please read our article on the top 5 hardware you will need for your home gym.
The deadlift; one of our favourite exercises ever. This is not just an exercise for a bigger back, but almost a full body workout. It is simply one of the best compound exercises you can do and it works your back, legs, shoulders, hips and arms, as well as your core and abs. This is the exercise that powerlifters do on TV and can be used to lift incredible weights. However it can also be used with lower weights to build muscle by volume. Technique is key, so make sure to perform it well.
How to do a deadlift
To perform the deadlift properly, start with the barbell in front of you and your feet at shoulder width. Your back is flat and your hips are pointing back. Now bend your knees slightly, so you can grip the barbell. Your grip is also slightly wider than shoulder width and your palms are facing inwards. Keep your back straight, your chest up, squeeze your core and back and straighten your arms. Now lift the barbell from the floor while you pull your chest and your shoulders up. Lift the bar to hip height and then slowly lower it again to just above the floor. This is one rep. Keep tension on your muscles and continue for 3 sets of 10 reps.
The last 1-2 reps should be difficult to do, but no so much that you lose form. You can also go for a slightly harder path, but only when you have mastered the exercise and you are well warmed up. Use so much weight that you can only perform 4 reps. Another option is to go start pretty light and increase the weight with each rep and go until you can’t execute anymore with proper technique. Then go back to the starting weight, lowering the weight with each rep.
The pull-up is another great exercise that focusses on several muscle groups in your body. It will work your back, your core and your arms. Your abs will also burn when you keep your body stead during the exercise.
Even though the pull-up is a bodyweight exercise, it is very tough. Especially when you weigh a bit more (180 pounds or more), your will find this a hardcore exercise.
All you will need for this exercise is a pull-up bar. There are various models on the market which can be placed against the wall, ceiling or as stand-alone equipment. You can also make one yourself with some wooden poles and a steel bar. We don’t recommend the ones (door bars) that are placed above or between doorposts. When you look these up on Youtube, you will know why.
How to do a pull-up
Use an overhead grip on the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Now squeeze your shoulder blades together while pulling yourself up. While performing the exercise, you should squeeze your back and core muscles. At the highest point, your chin should be close to, or slightly above the bar.
There are several variations to the pull-up, which will help you get that big back you have always wanted.
The chin-up is the most widely known variation. Your palms are facing your body while gripping the bar, and your hands are narrower than shoulder-width. This will utilize your biceps more, but also works your back and core. Most people find this variation more easy to do because of the higher strength in their biceps.
There is also the neutral grip pull-up, which is executed with your palms facing inwards and your hands very close together.
The bent-over row is a great all-round exercise for you back, as it targets all the main muscles like the lats, traps and rhomboids. It is perfect for isolation of these muscles and you will quickly feel them burn after this exercise. This is a great exercise for building the thickness of your back. You also work your arms, shoulders, core and legs, which makes it even more effective.
This exercise can be done with just a barbell, but also on a power cage with low pulley, or a cable machine. You can also use dumbbells or kettlebells in each hand, making it super versatile and great to do wherever you are.
How to do a bent-over row
You start this exercise basically similar to the deadlift, with the barbell on the floor and your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend over so that your torso is almost parallel to the floor and grab the barbell by placing your hands (with a supine grip) slightly wider than a deadlift grip. All you need to do now is put your weight on your heels by leaning slightly back and row the barbell towards your body, until it touches your belly button. Your knees are bent during the exercise.
The movement is the same when you perform this exercise with dumbbells or kettlebells or even the cable machine. By using a cable machine or low pulley, you can vary the placement of your hands by placing them palms up, or palms inwards. You will require different grips to make that work, but it van target your lats even better, promoting that big V shaped back.
Try to aim for a slightly lower rep count. 6-8 is a great number of reps, and the last 1-2 should be hard to do without losing form.
The lat-pulldown is very similar to the pull-up, but this time you bring the bar to your chest instead of your chest to the bar. When talking about building a bigger V shaped back, this is often the first exercise mentioned. Due to working with cables, you create a constant tension on your muscles, which causes them to work extra hard even though you are moving less weight when compared to a pull-up.
As with most exercises in this list to get that big back you have always wanted, you can do several variations, depending on the grip you use. It is basically a light pull-up and can be used to increase your strength towards doing full series of pull-ups. However it also offers a great option to keep full tension on your muscles and really focus on your form, which will stimulate muscle growth.
How to perform the lat-pulldown
Sit down at the cable pulldown machine and put your knees under the pads to prevent you from flying up. Grab the bar with a wide grip. Keep you torso up right and your core under tension and pull the bar down to just under your chin. Your shoulder-blades should be squeezed and pointing downwards as much as possible and your elbows come as close to you torso as possible for optimal squeeze in your lats. Do not move your elbows behind your body, keep them in line with your torso.
While many people instantly think that the wide grip lat-pulldown is the best variation, this is not necessarily true. Using a close grip with neutral hands (palms inwards) offers an even greater range of motion and thus a longer time under tension for the lats.
I usually mix the lat-pulldown handles, going from wide grip, to neutral close grip, to underhand grip, all similar to the variations of the pull-up. This way you are sure to work all the right muscles in your back and build the biggest overall width.
The T-bar row is looking very similar to the bent-over row, but it is different for the ability to use bigger weights. It is a great compound exercise for working your working your mid- and lower back, as well as your lats. By keeping your elbows close to your body, you can really squeeze and work those lats.
Pro-Tip: Exercises, like this one, using heavier weights should be done at the start of your workout.
You will need a barbell, some heavy weights and a close grip that can also be used for close grip pull downs or close grip rows. Simply load the weights onto one end of the barbell and press the other end firmly in a corner of your room, or a core plate (also called a landmine). It is best to use plates of 10kg due to the size. Bigger place, will reduce your range of motion and thus affect the effectiveness of the exercise.
How to do the T-bar row
Start by placing the barbell on the floor and load it up with weights. Put your feet on both sides of the bar and bend forward to hold the grip. The more you place the grip away from the weights, the heavier the exercise. We like to put the grip right behind the weights. Your torso should be at an angle of about 30 degrees to the floor and your back is straight at all times. Your knees are bent. Now row the bar to your chest while pulling your shoulder-blades to each other. The weights should touch your chest at the highest point. Lower the weight again until your arms are straight, but keep the weights off the floor. This is one rep.
Aim for 8-10 reps, where the last ones are hard to perform. Keep the perfect form at all times.
Single Arm Row
Last but not least in our list of exercises to get that big back you have always wanted is the single arm row. As with the other exercises, there are several variations, but they all really work your lats and increase your grip strength. As this movement is working one side of your body at a time, it is great for addressing muscle imbalances.
The best way to perform this exercise is either rest one hand on a bench, or lean against a dumbbell rack (or something similar). For convenience, we will use a bench to describe the way it is done. This is an exercise that is best done with heavy weights, so after you have mastered the movement, be ready to scale it up!
How to do a single arm row
Start by standing next to a flat bench. Place your left knee and your left hand on the bench. Your right foot is firmly on the floor. Grab the dumbbell with your right hand, palm inwards and lift if from the floor. Your back is straight during the whole movement and parallel to the floor. Now row the dumbbell to your side, while squeezing your lats. Your elbow passes your torso. Now lower the weight again in a controlled manner. This is one rep. Perform 8-10 reps with one arm and then switch to the other side.
A variation to using the dumbbell is using a barbell with weights on one side, just like the T-bar row. Place the empty end of the bar in the core plate and position the bench and your body so you can perform the exercise similar to what we’ve just described.
There you have it; build back better – the best exercises to get that big back you have always wanted. These are all great for building a superb V-shape back. Like we said before, please keep in mind that working out is just one part of creating the perfect body. Eating a healthy and varied diet is just as – or even more so – important as is a good night’s sleep. Having troubles sleeping? Read our article on “Bedtime Yoga”, where we will help you relax after a stressful day and make you sleep like a baby.
We hope you are motivated to hit that gym, or start working your back at home. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. Also don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter, to be the first to know about new articles, cool reviews and healthy deals!